Almost as long as there have been Sherlock Holmes stories, there have been ardent readers commenting on the stories, speculating on the Conan Doyle chronology, indulging in genteel (for the most part) arguments over the minutiae of time, place, and technique. For example, several times, Holmes mentions his partner’s recent change in marital status: So, how many times was Watson married?
Dorothy Sayers, in a commentary on Holmes, describes the process:
The game of applying the methods of “Higher Criticism” to the Sherlock Holmes canon was begun, many years ago, by Monsignor Ronald Knox, with the aim of showing that, by those methods, one could disintegrate a modern classic as speciously as a certain school of critics have endeavoured to disintegrate the Bible. Since then, the thing has become a hobby among a select set of jesters here and in America. The rule of the game is that it must be played as solemnly as a county cricket match at Lord’s: the slightest touch of extravagance or burlesque ruins the atmosphere.
It is impossible to translate the nuances of “county cricket match at Lord’s” into American English–Little League game at Yankee Stadium lacks the requisite class-related overtone–but you get the idea.
So it’s an exquisite pleasure to find that the Russell stories (which have become “the Kanon” amongst the cognoscenti, K for King) are moving into a Game of their own. For your consideration, a letter received recently from David, a civil engineer from Tennessee, who wished me to see his own interpretation of the Russell/Holmes relationship. First, he explains his background:
I have been reading and collecting Sherlock Holmes pastiches (almost obsessively) since the mid-1970’s. Over the years I have accumulated – and actually read – over a thousand pastiches in the form of novels, short stories, films, radio and television shows, scripts, comics, unpublished manuscripts, and fan-fiction. I wear a deerstalker from fall to spring, and really enjoy playing The Game. I often point out with pride that my great-grandmother and great-great-grandfather were named Watson, my mother and her father were named Rathbone, and my mother’s mother was a Russell. This Game playing drives my wife and son crazy, but as vices go, it’s not too bad.
Almost obsessively? One might, perhaps, argue with a man who goes around in a deerstalker, but as a born Californian, I am willing to grant him a touch of the eccentric. Then my friend comes to the meat of the matter, explaining that he enjoyed The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, although he would have preferred that I stick more closely to the Baring-Gould biography of Holmes (which includes not one but two brothers, and the parentage of Nero Wolfe with Irene Adler.) However:
I enjoyed the next book, A Monstrous Regiment of Women as well, but I must admit, the last few pages, when old Holmes took the twenty-something girl in his arms, seemed to me like something from another book grafted onto the end. I kept buying your books as they came out (in hardcover!) because I’m a collector, but I didn’t read them for a long time – except for O Jerusalem, which took place before the “incident.”
I finally rationalized a way that I could read the remaining books, which I finally found to be incredibly well written and entertaining as well. Since you are the author (or editor, actually), you may be angry with me, a lowly reader, for coming up with this theory, but I believe that Russell, at some point in the 1930’s, loses her mind.
Essentially, my theory is that Holmes was always Russell’s teacher and friend, and nothing more. No doubt she harbored deeply hidden romantic feelings for him. However, I believe that she married someone else in the late 1920’s, possibly a nice Talmud scholar. Later, in the 1930’s, her husband – and possibly their children as well – were killed. Maybe the Nazis had something to do with it. In any case, Russell lost her sanity, and reverted to her deeply-hidden obsessive love of Holmes. She went back and altered her many journals, changing any reference to Holmes from teacher to husband. Once I understood that, I could read all the rest of the Russell novels with much less concern. I feel sorry for Mary, but that’s what I think happened. Of course, you will probably disagree. However, if you examine Russell’s journals more closely and see that the word “husband” looks like it was written in at a later date with a different ink, feel free to work this theory into your narrative.
I have to say, I admire this gentleman’s attention to detail, a characteristic which I am sure makes him an excellent civil engineer. I further appreciate his enthusiasm for buying the books in hardback, even when he has no intention of reading them. And I love the idea of Russell married to a Talmudic scholar.
However, I rather feel that, having picked one alternate universe in with to launch an elaborate game, perhaps one should stick to it.
Any thoughts, out there? Has Mary’s much learning made her mad?