A Softhearted Sherlock Holmes
The term softhearted, when associated with the character Sherlock Holmes, seems like an oxymoron. But since the Great Detective has become an iconic fixture in literature, films, and television, I feel it’s worth mentioning that he’s not always unfeeling or cold-hearted. True, he’s not the type to circle February 14th on his calendar, but there are several instances where his heart, although not worn on his sleeve, was in the right place. In the original Canon and in the many recent adaptations, Holmes’s kinder, gentler side emerges on occasion. Here are a few of my favorite examples of Holmes expressing heartfelt emotions toward his friend/flatmate, Dr. Watson, and “the woman,” Irene Adler.
In the short story, “The Adventure of the Three Garridebs,” Killer Evans shoots Dr. Watson in the leg, causing Holmes to rush to his friend’s side, uttering “You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you’re not hurt!” The wound was superficial, and according to Watson, “It was worth a wound—it was worth many wounds—to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask.”
In the last 2012 episode of CBS’s Elementary, Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) names his newly discovered bee species, Euglossa watsonia, after Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) to show his deepest gratitude for helping him combat his drug addiction and deal with the pain caused by girlfriend/nemesis Jamie Moriarty (Natalie Dormer).
Although Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) professes not to have any friends in the BBC’s series, Sherlock, he gives a moving best-man speech at Dr. Waston (Martin Freeman) and Mary Morstan’s (Amanda Abbington) wedding. However, the speech begins on an unsettling note. “I’m afraid, John, I can’t congratulate you. All emotions, and in particular love, stand opposed to pure cold reason I hold above all things.” He elucidates for several minutes disclosing his negative views on God, marriage, and all things sacred, causing the wedding guests to fidget. Then his humble (yes, he can be humble) side emerges. “John, I am a ridiculous man redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship.” John and Mary smile and the guests relax. He wraps up with “Today you [John] sit between the woman [Mary] you have made your wife and the man [Holmes] you have saved. In short, the two people who love you most in all this world.” Does this Holmes actually say he loved his friend Dr. Watson? Seems so.
And then there’s Irene Adler. Many Holmes fans scoff at the idea of Holmes having feelings other than admiration for Irene, one of only a few people, and the only woman, who outsmarted him. But would mere admiration cause him to keep her photo in his desk drawer as a memento?
In Guy Ritchie’s second Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) film, The Game of Shadows, Holmes takes Irene’s (Rachel McAdams) handkerchief as a keepsake after Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) murders her. Later in the film, on a boat to France, Dr. Watson (Jude Law) observes Holmes pressing the hanky to his nose for a final sentimental sniff before sadly tossing it overboard to float away on the waves.
In CBS’s Elementary Holmes was involved in a romantic relationship with the most deceitful and notorious Irene Adler/Jamie Moriarty (Natalie Dormer). Despite the pain she causes him, he actually admits he loves her. And in the Sherlock episode, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” although Holmes is shocked at seeing Irene (Lara Pulver) dressed in her battle gear, or lack thereof, his feelings become evident at the end when they exchange a sultry and sweet smile after he rescues her from a near beheading. This might not be love, but saving her from losing her head surely means he cared.
Oh, here’s another example: In a recent episode of Elementary, Holmes, out of loneliness (Dr. Watson is spending time with boyfriend Andrew, and Holmes’s new protégé Kitty Winter has disappeared), engages in a ménage a trois with two women he has picked up. He doesn’t express feelings for them, but at least he seems happy.
Kathleen Kaska writes the Classic Mystery Triviography Series.™ Her The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book was a finalist for the 2013 EPIC award in nonfiction. Kathleen also writes the Sydney Lockhart Mysteries. Her latest, Murder at the Driskill, features a twelve-year-old female Sherlock Holmes impersonator.