There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for this man if he asked me. I’m dead serious. He could ask me to sell everything I own, give away everything I hold dear, move to some wasteland, and live like a malnourished hermit for the rest of eternity, and I would probably do it.
And all because I’m completely in love with him.
I’m not talking about Benedict Cumberbatch. Though he is absolutely lovely and currently leading my list of Favorite and Devastatingly Handsome Men (Tom Hiddleston is running a close third after DeForest Kelley). And though I am immensely attracted to him and I giggle whenever his nose crinkles as he shouts and I turn into a puddle of Nerd-Girl Goo whenever the editing for “A Scandal in Belgravia” or “The Last Enemy” decides to bare his back for us, I don’t know him well enough to say I’m in love with Benedict Cumberbatch (however, some may disagree with that statement).
I’m talking about Sherlock Holmes.
I was seventeen years old when I pulled a dusty, red-covered, hard-bound book from my family’s community shelf and began to read, starting with A Scandal in Bohemia. I was immediately enamored with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing style, endeared to Dr. John Watson, and struck by the almost dickish manner Holmes discussed his cases.
He was a show-off. And it seemed to me that he kept Watson around for the sole purpose of having a perpetual and awe-struck audience to show off to. And while that would usually really bother me that a supporting character should be so ill-used by the hero, I was all right with how ACD abused Watson.
Don’t misunderstand me. I love Watson. I think he’s brilliant in his own way. He’s a doctor for goodness’ sake. Not just any doctor, either; he’s a surgeon, which I’m sure isn’t the easiest sort of doctor to be. He has his own strengths as a character. He’s able to see things Holmes can’t (or won’t) and he is able to inspire Holmes at times.
But I’m not here to talk about the lady killer of a surgeon. Because though he’s a fantastic man, I wouldn’t do anything for him.
Which, logically, should make no sense. Because who in their right mind would be in love with the socially inept sociopath with classic symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome instead of the gentle, caring and almost perfectly human human? Well, yeah, that would be me. As I pointed out in my post regarding Rorschach, I have an apparent “thing” for men who are somewhat left of normal.
The thing about Holmes, though, is that he’s so completely absorbed in his own head that he doesn’t often see what’s going on in the lives of the people around him. He doesn’t understand why Watson loves the ladies. He doesn’t understand when a woman might fancy him. In some incarnations he does, sure — Robert Downey Jr. or Benedict Cumberbatch — but for the most part, he has difficulty reading women’s emotions.
“I don’t dislike women, I merely distrust them. The twinkle in the eye and the arsenic in the soup…”
“She was the daughter of my violin teacher. We were engaged to be married, the invitations were out, I was being fitted for a tailcoat, and 24 hours before the wedding, she died of influenza. It just proves my contention that women are unreliable and not to be trusted.”
“The most affectionate woman I ever knew was a murderess. It was one of those passionate affairs — at odd hours — right in my laboratory. And all the time, behind my back, she was stealing cyanide to sprinkle on her husband’s steak and kidney pie.”
And even in Doyle’s Sign of Four, he comments:
“I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money.”
At this point, I’d like to point out this does not in any way make him a misogynist. He just doesn’t trust us, something I can’t blame him for. We’re nasty and unpredictable at times. And those last two quotes could perfectly describe a female character I really enjoy plaguing Holmes with, a certain Kate Bennett.
But it seems perfectly clear that Doyle never intended Holmes to be the dashing, handsome hero. Hero, yes. Devilishly good-looking? Not at all. He’s even reported to have said that the artist, Sidney Paget, had drawn Holmes too handsome for his taste.
Holmes was supposed to be the epitome of a thinking machine. He was supposed to keep his mind so focused on the things that really mattered. The information that was pertinent to his work. The chemistry, the law, the doings of London’s underworld. Watson summed up Holmes’ knowledge very well:
1. Knowledge of Literature — Nil
2. Knowledge of Philosophy — Nil
3. Knowledge of Astronomy — Nil
4. Knowledge of Politics — Feeble
5. Knowledge of Botany — Variable
Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
6. Knowledge of Geology — Practical, but limited
Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
7. Knowledge of Chemistry — Profound
8. Knowledge of Anatomy — Accurate, but unsystematic
9. Knowledge of Sensational Literature — Immense
He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
10. Plays the violin well.
11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.
He honestly didn’t even want to bother with anything other than what he already knew. And I find that incredibly attractive. Because he knew what he needed to know and whatever he didn’t know, but needed to, he quickly found out (did that make sense? It made sense in my head). He was constantly trying to expand his knowledge of forensic sciences, of which he was a literary pioneer, though he apparently seems to be heavily influenced by Eugene Francois Vidocq, a man whose last name I’ve been trying to figure out the pronunciation of for the past two weeks — here’s a clue: I can’t do it. Holmes also didn’t solve his cases because he was paid. He did it for the love of the investigation.
Since the first publication of his cases in The Strand Magazine, Holmes has taken on many different forms. I grew up watching him as a mouse in The Great Mouse Detective —
— and I still haven’t found myself tired of seeing him in so many forms. I personally own over twenty DVDs of television episodes, movies, and love. My love for Sherlock Holmes in most of his forms (there’s a version of The Hound of the Baskervilles that is truly horrid) is so well known amongst my friends, that Vivienne gave me more to watch as a Christmas gift last year. She even humors me when I want to write a musical about him working on the Jack the Ripper and Lizzy Borden cases.
But even though I love the man himself, the women in his world are also remarkable. Irene Adler is a character that I almost universally loathe. In the books, she appears once. And because she was cleverer than Holmes once, everyone has decided she is the only woman worthy of being the primary femme fatale in the Holmesian world. And most of the time, she’s written very poorly with the implication that at some point in their history, Holmes and Adler had a romantic relationship rather than just a professional one.
However, I did like the new Adler, played by Lara Pulver in BBC’s Sherlock, which was surprising. She was written in a manner that didn’t repulse me. She had no agenda regarding Holmes until she had been in contact with a certain other individual. She didn’t commit her crimes because she wanted power and influence over her victims. She misbehaved and had evidence of her crimes as insurance against retaliation. I liked that. Made her a little more accessible.
The other woman of note in BBC’s Sherlock (other than Mrs. Hudson, played by Una Stubbs to fantastic results; she’s the perfect enabler to Cumberbatch’s Holmes) is Molly Hooper (Loo Brealey). There’s an excellent essay on why Molly Hooper is the woman who counts here. And I have to agree with it whole-heartedly.
There’s something about Molly that really speaks to me on a instinctual level. She’s intelligent, modest, honest, and adores a man who rarely glances her way. But she has this brilliant sincerity about everything she does and I wish I could be more like her. There’s something about Molly Hooper that I hope speaks to every young girl who watches her quietly, strongly suffer every time she’s in the same room as Holmes. It’s that something that makes her braver than the Irene Adlers and Kate Bennetts of the fictional world. She has to face him, a man who only occasionally remembers her name correctly when they’re working, a man who chooses the femme fatale over her, a man who constantly mocks her without realizing it, and she does it with a smile. Everything she does for him, though he unwittingly tortures her (that disregard for anything not relevant to his cases rears its ugly head again and again in this matter), she does with a smile.
And some hope.
And it’s that hope that inspires me to be better than I am. Because I am not as strong as Molly Hooper. I am not as brave. I am not as patient to wait for a man as she is. But I hope to be. Because until I am, I will always be the bitter, cynical Kate Bennett or the distant, cold Irene Adler. And while society will find those two women as strong, “ideal” female specimens, they terrify me. I don’t want to be like them.
I’d much rather be a Molly Hooper. And like Molly Hooper, I will continue to love Sherlock Holmes. Whether it’s good for my health or not.