Thursday, January 24, 2019

Bonesaw Watson

Tonight's meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Story Society at Peoria's North Branch library was a lively discussion of "The Empty House" and other Sherlockian topics, but one little subject change at the last drew me immediately back to my lodestone of late. What topic? What lodestone?

Well, one of our number who is associated with the Peoria Riverfront Museum, was talking about a medical history exhibit coming to the museum and a book she'd read called The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine By Lindsey Fitzharris. While Lister's career preceded that of John H. Watson by some years, the point brought up was that surgery in the Victorian era tended more toward amputations than actual work in the torso.

And even though Watson came along after antiseptic and anesthesia were both being used, the fact that he was an army surgeon brought back one very grisly probability: Watson was very familiar with, and certainly capable at, performing amputations. It is not an act one wants to readily associate with our lovable teddy bear of a constant companion, but battlefield surgery had long had one major component, and that was . . . well, yeah . . . .

But, the good side!

Holmes and Watson, that merry lark of a movie which I have been rolling in like a hog in cool mud on a summer day, features one scene where Holmes calls upon Watson to get out his bonesaw, which the good doctor seems to have at the ready. At the time, it seemed just one more part of a wacky lark, involving Queen Victoria and "Toilet-sized chunks!" But with tonight's reminder that John H. Watson was, indeed, a Victorian battlefield surgeon, that's just one more insight toward what a well-considered exploration of the doctor and the detective Holmes and Watson actually was.

The Watson portrayed by John C. Reilly not on seems to have that Canonically Watsonian talent on his resume, he seems also used to fighting with amputees, as he announces when the one-armed man they're searching for tells the duo they'll have to fight their way out of the octagon. In Holmes and Watson's universe, did the one-legged Jonathan Small require more of a tussle with Watson in his capture?  Or was it just trouble with those Afghan war patients?

In any case, as always, John H. Watson has just so many aspects to learn and re-learn over time, which makes him an evergreen sort of companion, doesn't it?

As Holmes himself said, "I never get your limits, Watson."

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