Saturday, May 21, 2022

Watson's Room Behind Holmes's Bed

 "There is just room behind the head of my bed, Watson."

The discussion of "Dying Detective" led by Bob Katz at Saturday's meeting of the Sherlockians of Baltimore brought that line to mind again. And it baffles me every time.

The head of a bed traditionally is pushed up against the was, with a few inches in the gap at most. Turning the bed at a diagonal, so it creates a triangular space in the corner of the room, works to leave enough space for a full grown man, but it's a very impractical way to place a bed. 

We must assume Holmes had a solid wooden headboard and not just a frame of metal bars back there. Was it a single width or double? And if the bed was placed on the diagonal was there enough room for Watson to squeeze in and out? Such mundane, practical questions take all of the excitement out of Watson's hidden witness situation and almost beg for something more.

Watsonian apologists love to blame printing errors for problems with his dates and locations, but what if we took this tactic for this bed situation? What if the typesetter left a single letter out?

"There is just [a] room behind the head of my bed, Watson."

Okay, it makes no sense for there to be some little door leading to a little room behind Holmes's bed. About as much sense as it would make to somehow think that it was Watson's room, like he was somehow a little person who lived in the wall behind Sherlock's bed, and just popped out when Holmes would knock him up for a case. Yes, that theory makes no sense at all. 

But it has more charm that Watson's "Maiwand" being actually "space," and his "Jezail bullet" being "cosmic rays" which made his body all rubbery and stretchy and able to slide behind headboards. (That was a reference to the origin of the Fantastic Four's Mr. Fantastic, if you're not a comics person.) Or some theory about Watson actually being a life-size cardboard photograph of some apothecary advertisement doctor that Holmes became infatuated with and would slide behind his headboard when other people were around. That's not charming at all.

So you can see what a problem that weird "behind the head of the bed" line is. 

Was the bed on wheels, so Watson just rolled it out and rolled it back?

"There are the wheels, Watson," Holmes exclaims. "Quick, man, if you love me, crush yourself against the wall, and don't budge, whatever happens!" Okay, so I added the "crush yourself against the wall part." And the wheels were probably just a reference to the sound of the villain's carriage outside.

Watson never really describes how he gets out from behind the bed -- at all. So no help from the other end of that scene. Little hidden room, contortionist Watson, rolling bed? How weird do things have. to get to make that weird conclusion to "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" work?

I have to go to bed now. I sure hope there's no one behind it.


  1. If the headboard of the bed were placed against an outside wall, cold from that wall would be transferred to the bed (or heat in summer if the sun fell on that outside wall). A space would allow air to circulate and modify any discomfort from heat or cold. After all, with heating mainly by fireplace and with fires dying down during the night, anything that made the bed more comfortable would be worth doing. Clearly the space in question was able to accommodate Dr. Watson.

  2. If Holmes said 'There is just room behind...' then he knew there was. A hiding place perhaps. If Watson came unexpectedly, heard noises? Mary needed a quick place to hide.

  3. I imagine that Holmes has stacks of newspapers waiting to be chopped into his commonplace books and Mrs. Hudson made him move them to one wall so she could reach the bed linens.