What consociates Prince Albert Victor, son of the Prince of Wales and second in line to the throne, with Sherlock Holmes is their cognition with the Cleveland Street. The Cleveland street scandal occurred in 1889 when a homosexual male brothel in Cleveland Street, London was discovered by the police. In The Hound of Baskervilles, Doyle clandestinely mentions Holmes hiring a ‘telegraph boy.’ Aristocrats of England were a regular at the Cleveland brothel where young telegraph boys also served as prostitutes.
Holmes’ queerness has always been a matter of contention. Whether or not Holmes is gay was never indisputably answered by Doyle but R.G. DeMarco optimistically remarks that Doyle has left trails “that a discerning well informed reader could immediately follow.”
In The Five Orange Pipes, one of Holmes ‘client is killed on the Embankment. The Embankment, like Cleveland, was a famous homosexual gliding area, although Holmes acquaintance with the area is never clearly illustrated in any of Doyle’s other works.
The idea that Holmes could in fact be gay originates from his and Dr. Watson’s relationship. Doyle makes no effort to hide Sherlock and John’s over affectionate relationship. Doyle explores their relationship through various works. He often reveals how Holmes and Watson shared intimate looks and professed their love and need for each other. In The Adventure of the Three Garridebs Watson gets wounded. Holmes becomes crestfallen and immediately rushes to Watson’s aid dismissing his client’s presence. Holmes becomes aghast, so much so that Watson narrates, “It was worth a wound- it was worth many wounds- to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask.”
Holmes and Watson’s relationship has a symbiotic aspect too. Watson brings in domesticity required to ground Holmes and Holmes brings adventures into their lives. However, their relationship far transcends the boundaries of friendship. Even when Watson marries, he continues to visit Holmes, until finally when both his marriages end and he rejoins Holmes at 221 B Baker Street.
Holmes’ apparent disinterest in marriage and the opposite sex is often a cause for suspicion of his gayness too. Although, it’s not until the 70’s that the question if Sherlock Holmes is actually gay is comprehensively speculated. In The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, (1970) Holmes ‘pretends’ to be gay, but it’s only with Sherlock Holmes (2009) with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law that the idea gains a concrete ground. However, it is BBC’s adaptation which boomingly states the great detective to be gay. Nevertheless, Benedict Cumberbatch, who starred as the detective in the adaptation in an interview stated, “He’s asexual. He doesn’t want any, and it’s very purposeful on his part.
“The discovery of an unpublished manuscript by John H. Watson may well engender in the world of letters as much skepticism as surprise.” Nicholas Meyer wrote in his introduction to The Seven Percent Solution. Holmes’ cocaine addiction is no secret. It is mostly about him trying to come to terms with his childhood traumas (later revealed in the novel that it was Holmes’ father who had murdered his mother and that Moriarty was her lover) or accepting is stoic and apathetic nature. Holmes’ never tried to fit in. When Meyer adapted the novel into a screenplay he deviated a bit from Doyle’s’ image of Sherlock. Meyer’s Sherlock was rather flamboyant and flirtatious.
The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ by Larry Townsend came out in 1971. The book is a Holmes’ cannon, erotic novel concentrating heavily on Sherlock and Watson’s relationship both emotional and physical. Mrs. Hudson, is completely absent throughout the course of the novel and unequivocally every other character is gay.
When guesstimating Holmes’ relationship and his sexual orientation, we often miss one of his most important conjunctions. Holmes’ impassivity to the opposite sex is quite clear, his relationship with ‘the woman’ isn’t. Irene Adler featured in Doyle’s short story A Scandal in Bohemia. Sherlock never once took her name. He would always address her as ‘the woman’. In spite of his dispassionate behavior towards Adler, Holmes’ admired her. Whether the admiration could lead into a romantic or sexual arrangement was never made clear by Doyle. However, in the Holmes’ cannon, Adler is often Holmes’ only female love interest.
No writer in the Victorian era could ingenuously create homosexual characters. However, they would leave evidences and clues for the readers to pick upon. Doyle did the same. Holmes’ and Watson lived together. They often used terms of endearments to address each other which ranged from ‘my dear’ to ‘my ideal helpmate’ and ‘the man whom above all others I revere.’ Doyle’s personal life too could be an object of reference. Doyle and Oscar Wilde shared a very close bond. Wilde was very forthcoming of his taste. He was put to trial in 1895 on trail and incarcerated. In 1904 Doyle wrote The Three Students, where Watson states “”It was in the year ’95 that a combination of events, into which I need not enter, caused Mr. Sherlock Holmes and myself to spend some weeks in one of our great University towns.”
In The Final Problem, Holmes asks Watson to flee with him to the ‘continent.’ The punishment for homosexuality and crimes related to homosexuality ranged from imprisonment to chemical castration. The ‘continent’ was either France or Italy where the aristocrats and other rich folks could flee to, to avoid persecution. According to DeMarco, “that’s quite a large clue that Doyle hides in plain sight.”
Holmes’ relationship with Watson and the page boy are just one of the many things that make readers question his queerness. Holmes’ gayness has always been a matter of speculation. In most cases Watson’s heterosexuality is presumed and it complements Holmes’ apparent homosexuality or asexuality. It’s needless to say that Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was a man of dubious morals and an ambiguous sexuality.
- A Study in Lavender by Joseph R G DeMarco
- The Seven Percent Solution by Nicholas Meyer