Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Dearest Holmes by Rohase Piercy

When this slim little volume was first published some years ago it was quite the scandal, greeted with outrage by many Sherlock Holmes aficionados. No doubt many imagined Holmes and Watson entwined in torrid embraces within its pages, but that is not the case, in fact, it is actually quite tame, devoid of sex scenes, this is not at all an erotic book so anyone expecting actual sex scenes or a lifting of the veil of Victorian homosexuality, may be disappointed. It is, on the contrary, very true to the Victorian style and sensibilities of the original stories despite containing subject matter and relationships that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have shied away from in his day. Even the little details are there like the tobacco in the Persian slipper, Holmes’ mouse-colored dressing gown, and the cocaine bottle and the morocco case for the syringe.

The book begins with an explanation that these tales have been withheld from publication until 100 years after the deaths of both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson due to their sensitive nature.

The first story, set in 1887, A DISCREET INVESTIAGE, describes the Case of the Queen Bee. While Dr. Watson grapples with his tender feelings for Sherlock Holmes, the hopelessness of his infatuation with this man who is more like an automaton than a human being, worrying that he will somehow betray himself, and how Holmes will react, as well as the social repercussions at a time when homosexuality was punishable with prison and hard labor. “What was I to do? I was in love with the man. My double life, my nocturnal visits to the clubs and meeting places where I was accustomed to seek relief, had become odious and degrading to me.” After a frantic Miss D’Arcy comes to Holmes after Miss Kirkpatrick, her “companion” (it is inferred that the two ladies are in fact lesbian lovers as they live together on “intimate terms”), disappears after receiving a telegram. She relates a curious tale of secrecy and burned letters. As the tale unfolds it becomes clear that they are dealing with a female blackmailer known only as “The Queen Bee.” And poor Watson, to compound his worries, discovers that he has confided his true and tender feelings to the worst possible person—the blackmailer they are seeking.

The second story THE FINAL PROBLEM, set in 1891, endeavors to fill in some of the gaps in THE ADVENTURE OF THE FINAL PROBLEM and THE ADVENTURE OF THE EMPTY HOUSE which related Holmes’ death and resurrection. By this time Watson, knowing that he and Holmes can never be more than they already are, and that he cannot accept a life of celibacy, or Holmes opinion that Watson is “undisciplined” when he seeks relief and acts upon his carnal urges, has moved out, opened a private practice, and entered into a marriage of convenience with an amiable lesbian named Mary, whom he met during the investigation published as THE SIGN OF FOUR. They are a companionable, friendly couple who provide cover and respectability for each other while leading separate sex lives. Watson, it is delicately explained, indulges in occasional dalliances with men of like persuasion. Mary is off visiting a female friend, her former employer, in the country when Holmes, seeming rather paranoid and on edge, arrives and whisks Watson off to the Continent, explaining that his nemesis, “The Napoleon of Crime,” Professor Moriarty has threatened to reveal some rather indiscreet information about Dr. Watson and the company he keeps. A solider, whose company Watson recently enjoyed, was most likely one of Moriarty’s informants. After Holmes and Moriarty go over the falls at Reichenbach, Watson struggles on, returning to London and trying to hold himself together as grief tears him apart, enduring a bout of brain fever and the loss of his wife. Two and a half years pass, and then Watson receives a mysterious summons to a hotel in Paris. The old friends are tenderly—and chastely—reunited, and though we know they will go on together and resume their old life at 221B Baker Street, it is unclear under what terms—if they will soldier on maintaining a proper Victorian reserve or if they will resume their friendship on much more intimate terms.

This was an interesting book to read, although I am what I would consider a casual Sherlock Holmes fan, I wasn’t shocked by the premise of the book, merely curious about how the author would handle it; I didn’t really have any expectations and, to be honest, had always thought of Holmes as being asexual, I had never really given much thought to whether he ever had a sex life. I thought the author did an admirable job of capturing the flavor of the original stories, better than some Holmes pastiches I have read over the years, and the delicate touch and restraint he employed felt true to the time period, In conclusion, despite the dangling ending, or new beginning, with blanks the reader or perhaps the author if he ever chooses to write a sequel must fill in, I can genuinely say I enjoyed reading this book.

No comments: