With sexual harassment cases involving prominent figures dominating the news, I suppose it was inevitable that someone brought up the name of Sherlock Holmes . . . even if just to declare his innocence. That occurred on Twitter yesterday, and the feed has been so fast and furious of late that I can't even find the tweet to give that person credit. I have to agree with them, though.
Sherlock Holmes has a pretty clean record when it comes to his dealings with the fair sex. Even in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, when he's confronted with a beautiful and confused naked woman in his sitting room late at night, he's a good guy. Watson, however, instantly assumes Holmes did something . . . but then, Watson is the problem when we start looking at the duo's ways with women.
I know, I know, Watson is our buddy, our pal, and probably just in love with Sherlock, according to the greater portion of today's fans. But when you get back to his primary courting episode, recorded by his own hand, problems do arise.
While we tend to think of Watson as noble, in the original novel The Sign of Four, he is needy and out-of-work and takes advantage of a terrified woman in a stressful situation to jump-start his social life. He portrays himself as a nervous innocent, but when you look at what actually happened there, questions can be raised.
One of the sure signs of predatory behavior in the workplace is that man who takes advantage of a power imbalance to satisfy his needs. In The Sign of Four, a frightened client coming to the one professional who can help her is definitely a situation with a power imbalance. If Mary Morstan had shown up at a new psychiatrist's office and that psychiatrist had asked to keep his buddy in the room for their sessions, and the buddy asked her to marry him in the next forty-eight hours, we'd definitely be going "WHAT THE . . . ?" But the consulting detective business, being new at the time with no defined professional standards, it doesn't come up.
Of course, dating wasn't easy in the 1880s. We didn't even have the word "girlfriend" in usage in a male-female sort of way until the 1920s, and if families didn't help you out early on, asking a woman to coffee probably wasn't a handy option. But the "it was a different time" line comes up a lot of late, so we might not want to trot that one out right away.
Watson's sudden courtship of Mary Morstan has room for a much larger study than this early morning blog post has room to do. One could even see its flaws as reasons that the Watson-Morstan marriage actually didn't happen as expected, and the timeline troubles we've always seen with the doctor's unnamed wife are party the fault of his sudden proposals to clients. (Even if he was just desperately trying to beard his true feelings for his room-mate.)
But at least Sherlock Holmes is clear, as far as I can see. But since we just have Watson's testimony about his own relations with the women of three continents, you do have to wonder.