spacefall ([personal profile] spacefall) wrote in [community profile] queering_holmes2010-05-26 12:00 am

Some Fannish Books

Following on from a trip OT on a previous thread, here are a few fannish books that touch on the subject of Holmes/Watson, sexuality, gender, etc...and I do mean 'touch' as mainstream fandom has been violently allergic to approaching the topic seriously. :p In no particular order...

Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography by Nicholas Rennison
Fictional biography. Includes some inconclusive speculation on Holmes's sexuality.

Ms Holmes of Baker Street: The Truth About Sherlock by C. Alan Bradley & William A.S. Sarjeant
Preview on Google Books
A book rather in the style of old tongue-in-cheek Holmesian writings. Takes as its basis the idea that Sherlock Holmes was female, and sexually involved with Watson (among other men.) There is no particular attempt to discuss Holmes as a trans man, as the writers take it without question that Holmes is female-identified. Some discussion of H/W subtext, Holmes/Stackhurst, and ... Holmes's menstrual cycle/menopause (see warning below). Ends with some bumpf about bio-rhythms. An interesting book in some ways (it's really a modern answer to 'Watson Was A Woman') but while there is something essentially Holmesian in its cheek, it seems like a missed opportunity to discuss Holmes as trans, Victorian masculinity, and so on. Sexism goggles highly recommended for reading (the introductory comment that sexism may be excused because Victorian women conformed more closely to stereotypes pretty much sets the tone.)

In Bed With Sherlock Holmes: Sexual Elements in Arthur Conan Doyle's Stories of the Great Detective by Christopher Redmond
Preview on Google Books
Lotesse has already written an anti-review of this one ;) A discussion of canonical subtext and fannish writings on Holmes and sex up to the 1980s. Some chapters heavier on historical background than others, but with little or no coverage of queer history. Redmond writes from a Doylean POV (that is, he writes about Doyle as an author rather than playing the game) so it's unsurprising that he doesn't venture deeply into H&W's 'lives'. The chapter "A World Without Women" considers "homosexual imagery" mostly based on Samuel Rosenberg's writing*, as well as homoerotic elements of H-W. Despite describing several of the "love scenes" between Holmes and Watson, Redmond concludes that any H/W remains "theoretical" (or perhaps a "joke"?)

While Redmond has frequently dismissed H/W ("of course they are not, although one or two pornographers have chosen to interpret them that way" A Sherlock Holmes Handbook p33 -- bloody charming! ;)) he does quote part of Leslie Fiedler's introduction to The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes:

To be sure, they are both projections of Doyle; but the dependable and obtuse doctor represents everything thath Doyle suspected he had -- choosing the road of respectability -- become; while the "bohemian" detective stands for what he might have become had he chosen otherwise, or rather, had he been able to so choose. The relationship of such masturbatory complementary fantasies is typically rendered in novels (as the comparison with Wuthering Heights suggests) erotically. And there have always been a few readers who have suspected that Holmes and Watosn, after those dinner and theater dates, nights out together at the Turkish Baths, or long smoking bouts which followed the completion of some breathless adventure, may well have ended up in bed together. But if Doyle, in the darkest recesses of his "inner consciousness" imagined them in so supremely antiborgeois an embrace, he does not confess it. We are not given, as a matter of fact, very precise informationr about the sleeping arrangements at 221b Baker Street and so in a sense are left free to fantasize as we will.

I have never even seen a copy of this edition, but it amuses me to see something rather different to the Oxford World Classics introduction to the Memoirs by Owen Dudley Edwards. I have the greatest respect for the writer but ... nothing like getting rid of those pesky queer interpretations right off the bat, apparently!

For some reason, I feel it necessary to follow this with another quote from Redmond's A Sherlock Holmes Handbook:

"...there is more to Sherlock Holmes than this intellectual catalogue; there remain the traits that caused Watson to label him "best and wisest". Such traits are not so easily listed, for they are conveyed to the reader -- as they were to Watson -- through long acquaintance and leisurely intercourse."

Just saying!

Unexplored Possibilities: Some Notes on the Life, Habits and Character of Dr. John H. Watson by John Hall
[steals own description] Unsurprisingly, Hall comes out against the possibility of H/W, but does at least make a vaguely serious (if brief) attempt to provide a rational basis for that opinion. Hall refers to Watson's qualities as a ladies' man, but is honest enough not to rely on it. He make an attempt to dismiss the idea that Watson's marriage to Mary Morstan is a fabrication, mentioning the timing (in the late 80s, when in his opinion the mid nineties would have been a more telling time for the sudden appearance of such a cover -- an argument that may seem odd to many members of this group!), and suggesting that Watson could well have produced a more defensive lie if he'd wished to. Particularly, he wonders why Watson would mention his continued living with Holmes, if there were any risk in it. To me, this verges slightly on the odd argument repeated by some Sherlockians that there is nothing of that nature hidden in the canon, and if there were Watson would have hidden it better. June Thomson is sadly guilty of this, despite some excellent writing on H&W.

Hall also goes on to talk about Holmes's lack of interest in the romantic, which he suggests would extend to men as much as women. As usual, this doesn't address Holmes's personal feelings so much as what might be called his 'policy' on love Hall also points to The Copper Beeches in which Watson is disappointed at Holmes's lack of interest in Violet Hunter. He sees Watson's comment as being fraternal in character, and not something one would expect of a lover. Again, this is very dependant on the sort of Holmes/Watson under discussion, though the topic is certainly one that slashers have raised.

[ETA: Just thought I'd mention, Hall's Sidelights on Holmes caused me to create the slur tag for bizarre sexist and homophobic comments. Funnily enough, I hear he writes about queerness in the Rafflesverse? Just joining in the general atmos of Holmes fandom? *grumbles* A classic Hall-ism: "Many, if not most, men would read this as typical of the tendency of women to blame the men around them for whatever may go wrong, irrespective of where the blame actually lies. It is difficult to say how women would read it." I boggled! ]

A few published pastiches

A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin
A post-canon novel in which an elder Holmes reflects on past and present difficulties. In one chapter, Holmes visits post-WWII Japan where his gay host assumes that he and Watson were lovers.

Sherlock Holmes and the Mysterious Friend of Oscar Wilde by Russell A. Brown
Slightly odd fusion of Holmes & Wilde, with much Queer content.

My Dearest Holmes by Rohase Piercy
Well known slash novel also involving f/f plotlines.

Presumably you could add the book version of Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, but *cough* I haven't read it ;)

* Naked is the Best Disguise: The Death and Resurrection of Sherlock Holmes by Samuel Rosenberg. Most of the freudian crack in Redmond comes from this direction. Rosenberg is very random, but sort of a hoot.

As a relevant PS: one story considered part of the Holmes 'apocrypha' may be of interest. Doyle's "The Man With The Watches" makes only the most oblique reference to Holmes, but the mystery has a strong queer subtext for many readers. At a gay comics panel in 2008, David Shenton mentioned that it was one of the best gay stories he'd read recently. The story was written after The Final Problem, when Doyle had apparently 'killed' Holmes for good and all. Best described as 'bloody sad'.