damned_colonial: The lamp outside 221B Baker St (221b)
[personal profile] damned_colonial posting in [community profile] queering_holmes
(How much am I loving these discussion threads? THIS MUCH! If you have any more ideas for interesting discussion topics, post them in the discussion prompt gathering thread.)

This is a spin-off discussion that came up in comments on the H/W pairing as type or trope post from a week or so back. You can see the comment thread here.

[personal profile] ingridmatthews wrote:

Book!Canon Watson admits that he is of 'a Bohemian mind', considering himself an writer/artist first, doctor/soldier/husband second. His life with Holmes is considered an exercise in classic Bohemianism, at least to Watson. His attachment to Holmes is partly due to his rejection of rigid male roles, making him queerly delicious.


and...

To be a classic Victorian Bohemian is to place oneself outside of conventions that are supposed to control your life from the moment of waking to what you wear to sleep. For him to self-identify as one is a big thing, at least from my understanding of the movement, which stresses independent thought, rejection of social mores and stress on intellectual arts over appearances (which were *everything* to a Victorian).

Holmes is described as a perfect Bohemian because his use of his vast intellect is his art. (Being a big old drug addict, social disaster and slob probably added to the effect. ;) Watson may be more concerned than Holmes about his standing in society, but like wrabbit said above, there is a little something about him that simply doesn't fit into the Victorian puzzle.


What do we know about bohemianism in the late 19th century? Can anyone recommend things to read on the subject? (I'll mention Cook's "London and the Subculture of Homosexuality", which has a couple of chapters on on Wilde, decadence, aestheticism, bohemianism, Paris, etc.)

To what extent did Holmes and/or Watson actually fit the bohemian stereotype? Does their bohemianism signal queerness? Is that something that readers of the time would have picked up on (think of the publicity around the Wilde trials)? Is Holmes's bohemianism/outsiderness important to his role as detective? And what on earth does Mrs Hudson think?

Discuss!

Date: 2010-05-18 12:59 am (UTC)
lotesse: (holmes_secrets)
From: [personal profile] lotesse
Certainly Holmes' French origins play into troping him as Bohemian, insofar as the term is of French extraction. Perhaps this is why Holmes speaking French is such an absolutely delicious thought?

Date: 2010-05-18 12:04 pm (UTC)
mouseworks: A crop of an orchid shot taken with a Nikon 105 macro lens (Default)
From: [personal profile] mouseworks
The French connection would bring Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarme, Baudelaire, plus, a bit later, overlapping Wilde, Gide (autobiography If It Die mostly a bit boring, but with wonderful part about Wilde in North Africa), not all of whom were gay. Anything on these guys would point you in the right direction.

William Butler Yeats overlaps with your period and wrote a fairly entertaining Autobiography (sympathetic toward Wilde). Few in Bohemian circles/artistic circles would have been upset by queerness, whatever their own orientation. Whitman in the US was also connected to them, different style. French bohemians, other than Rimbaud, would have been more dandyish, I think. Peacock males, repudiation of the male business suit. Women who had affairs (George Sand, others). Someone wrote a lesbian novel in the late 19th Century -- one of Gide's friends, if I'm remembering correctly. Gide is like the young guy learning from the older guys (Wilde got Gide his first boy, an Arab flute player), so the relevant sections of If It Die would be useful). Warning, none of these guy were particularly sensitive to colonial issues, though Gide kept in touch more with his former lovers than anyone else apparently did.

Edgar Allen Poe was huge in France (translated by one of the famous French Symbolists (anything on Symbolism would point you in a useful direction). Poe was an influence on ACD. While Holmes doesn't have all Poe's vices (alcoholics were all too common and far less romantic than a cocaine user), Poe seems to have contributed something to the mix.

William Butler Yeats' autobiography, something on Baudelaire, and Gide's If It Die would be a good place to start. Or just start with If It Die and work backwards. I think there's also a good biography of Rimbaud out there, or watch Total Eclipse with Leonardo DiCaprio which appears to be factually accurate enough.

Date: 2010-05-18 06:55 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] spacefall
Have I mentioned that I love this comm? My only regret is that the topics come a little thick and fast, and I can't dig the books out quickly enough :D As ever, I play the game, so I tend to write from the point of view that Watson's stories are real writings with an agenda :) Apologies in advance for rambling.

The kind of bohemianism Watson admires seems to be that of Poe's Dupin, and perhaps Murger's La Vie de Boheme which he reads in STUD. Dupin in particular represents not only the rejection of convention -- Watson remains a conventional fellow in many ways -- but the promise of an existence superior to the everyday. One can imagine Watson's interest in a man who shuns the mundane world, particularly during his convalescence when judging himself by that world's standards may have been painful. Is he Bohemian by his nature? Perhaps less so than he would like to be. His attitudes to marriage in SIGN suggest he shares conventional mores and aspirations, but also demonstrate how very unequal he feels to the challenge of 'normal' masculine achievement. No wonder Watson is attracted to Holmes's virtuous Bohemianism, and a life that wholly justifies an unconventional path. Perhaps Watson might even have continued along that path and embraced his "natural Bohemianism of disposition" if only Holmes had showed more interest in his writing. As it was, by the time of SIGN, Watson's attitude towards the Bohemian life seems to have become somewhat ambivalent. The thrill of being on the outside (for which, see CHAS *cough*) only truly satisfies Watson when he is able to share it.

...errm, all of which brings me around to the main point, which is that whether or not Watson would be viewed as 'Bohemian' rather depends on which period of his life we're talking about. IMO, Watson's military career and his enthusiasm for Holmes's cases flow from the same spring, and embracing Bohemianism was as vital to the latter as his youthful views on military service must have been to the former. One Holmesian writer (I forget who just now) was amusedly skeptical of Watson's 'Bohemian' nature, claiming that Watson was really conventional to the core. While I'm not sure I entirely agree, I'd tend to say that Watson's 'Bohemianism' on paper is nothing particularly scandalous.

Turning to the second of our two gents...Holmes is a man with little regard for 'normality' or form for its own sake, and seems to actively chafe under the restrictions of polite society (NOBL, SCAN.) He is evidently an artist (albeit of an unconventional sort) and a lifelong bachelor, which places him outside the normal run. In a way, his Bohemianism doesn't so much increase the impression of 'queerness' on the reader as justify it. Holmes is devoted to his art to the extent that he shuns the normal flow of life, which 'explains' his lack of interest in conventional masculine status (becoming the head of a household, supporting wife, children, and servants.) In this context, Watson can report Holmes's status as "not a marrying man" without further explanation. That's not to say that certain sympathetic readers might not suspect a very different explanation, and one of the delights of Cook's London and the Culture of Homosexuality, mentioned above, is that it gives us an example of a reader of Holmes (Ives) who aligns his own queer gaze (and perhaps 'gaydar') with Holmes's insight, naming himself "the Sherlock Holmes of 1000 little peculiarities".) Such a reader might well make something different of Holmes's habits, but to the general reader his careless Bohemianism needn't imply anything more than eccentricity. (His aesthetic leanings might be an easier target for moral censure, if Watson were not so careful to note Holmes's sense of justice. As it is, Holmes strays into dangerous territory with his admiration of crime.)

I know that Strangers has already been mentioned in other threads, and Robb draws attention to the Queensbury libel trial, and Carson's emphasis on the closed curtains and scented rooms of Alfred Taylor's home (see also Foldy's the trials of oscar wilde.) Whether Holmes's odd hours and habits would be viewed with equal suspicion or interest ... well, again, it comes back to Watson's portrayal of Holmes. For someone who is frequently regarded as a naive writer, Watson shows a good deal of care in his description of Holmes's less admirable traits. With the exception of his drug use in SIGN (which might be said to be written at Holmes as much as about him) Watson generally provides some explanation or justification for Holmes's behaviour. Holmes's tendency to shut out the world or lay abed for days is ascribed to his fits of depression. Such 'weakness' might be criticised in itself, but Watson is quick to blame Holmes's illness on overwork -- one of the few acceptable causes for emotional breakdown in men (Janet Oppenheim points to DEVI as an example of this sort of justification in Shattered Nerves -- thoroughly recommended, though it doesn't bear directly on this topic .)

Date: 2010-05-18 11:06 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] spacefall
(PS sorry my comments always come out in such a wanky fashion. Sentences and my brain don't get on sometimes.)

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