Sunday, September 11, 2016

Did Mrs. Watson live on Baker Street?

My recent consultation with the Sherlockian sages of St. Louis brought a curious thesis into my head. We were discussing "The Five Orange Pips" and the story's point in the Holmes-Watson relationship, about which Watson writes:

"My wife was on a visit to her aunt's, and for a few days, I was a dweller once more in my old quarters in Baker Street."

The general assumption about that line has always been "Watson is married and living somewhere other than Baker Street." (The general question, of course, is "How is his wife on a visit to her aunt's when Mary Morstan had no living relatives?")

Later in the story, Watson also writes: "Sherlock Holmes was already at breakfast when I came down."

That word "down" set off a train of thought that would not be stopped . . . those who re-create the Baker Street rooms take this to mean Watson's bedroom is on the third floor of the building . . . but wouldn't that third floor be 221C Baker Street?

Let's go back to that first line again. Watson says "I was a dweller in my old quarters." We always take that to mean "living in my old quarters" rather than "hanging out in the old sitting room with Sherlock," which it could also be interpreted as. But at the end of the day of hanging out with his old pal, since he had no wife to spend time with, Dr. Watson goes back upstairs to his own apartment to sleep at 221C Baker Street.

We know that Watson eventually bought a practice in the Paddington district following his marriage to Mary Morstan, thanks to details in "The Stockbroker's Clerk." But we also know that Mary didn't have an aunt to visit. So if John Watson had a wife before Mary, then it only follows that he had a different residence as well. And if he married said previous wife at a time when he was more actively involved with Holmes's cases and not yet interested in starting a practice, as 1887 seems to have been, well, is it unreasonable to wonder if Watson just moved with his new bride to some other part of 221 Baker Street, where the landlady and the lay of the land were familiar and agreeable?

And Watson was then just upstairs and at the ready, so when his partner in criminal investigation needed him, he could be right there. Recall, too, that Christmas 1887 marked the publication of A Study in Scarlet, so Watson probably saw himself as having a budding career as an author . . . something that plainly didn't work with either this wife distracting him or Holmes being critical of his work. His later works come after he seems to have given up on that plan and returned to medical practice for his regular income, first writing up Mary Morstan's tale for her pleasure, then resuming writing of his cases with Holmes after Holmes "dies" at Reichenbach Falls.

But in 1887, the time of "Five Orange Pips," all these things had yet to come to pass. Watson was still very close to Holmes, and quite possibly, Mrs. Watson might have been living very close to the detective as well . . . at 221C Baker Street.

What was it that Holmes always said? "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

Well, I don't think a Mrs. Watson living with John at 221C Baker Street is either impossible or eliminated just yet . . . .

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