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DR. JOHN H. WATSON—FASHIONISTO

SHERLOCKIAN CHRISTOPHER MORLEY wrote that “Watson was a couturier at heart.” Today, maybe we’d say fashionisto, masculinizing the term “fashionista,” defined in Merriam-Webster as “a designer, promotor, or follower of the latest fashions.”

Dr. John H. Watson, chronicler of his friend Sherlock Holmes. Image by Sidney Paget in “The Boscome Valley Mystery,” the Strand Magazine, October 1891.

Watson’s fashion sense wasn’t particularly evident in his own attire, completely conventional for a retired Assistant Surgeon in Her Majesty’s Berkshires. Rather, Watson’s fashionisto tendencies were expressed in his appreciation of the fair sex.

Whereas Holmes was cooly deductive in his analyses of people in general, Watson viewed women of the chronicles with his heart as well as his mind.

The Standard Doyle Company: Christopher Morley on Sherlock Holmes, edited and with an introduction by Steven Rothman, Fordham University Press, 1993.

My primary source for this Watson fashionisto tidbit is Steven Rothman’s fine collection of Christopher Morley’s Sherlockian scholarship, The Standard Doyle Company. Who was Doyle? To hard-core Sherlockians like me, we have the penchant that Arthur Conan Doyle was Watson’s literary agent.

Christopher Morley, 1890–1957, American journalist, novelist, essayist, and poet. In 1934, he founded the Baker Street Irregulars, an American organization of Sherlockian enthusiasts.

In the book’s chapter “Watson À La Mode,” Morley gave examples of Watson’s appreciation of the feminine form: “Typical of Watson is his note on Grace Dunbar: ‘a brunette, tall, with a noble figure.’ ”

Grace Dunbar, with Holmes and Watson. Illustration by A. Gilbert in “The Problem of Thor Bridge,” the Strand Magazine, March 1922.

“He liked them framed in doorways,” Morley observed, “and preferably lit from behind.”

“Am I too fanciful,” Morley asked, “to think that good old John Hamish Watson was the first Victorian to do justice to the earliest white-collar girls? Do you remember Laura Lyons of Coombe Tracy whose fingers ‘played nervously over the stops of her Remington typewriter’? Her cheeks were ‘flushed with the exquisite bloom of the brunette, the dainty pink which lurks at the heart of the sulphur rose.’ ”

Laura Lyons with her Remington. Image by Sidney Paget in The Hound of the Baskervilles, serialized in the Strand Magazine, January 1902.

Morley continued, “Watson never made more candid confession than then: ‘I was simply conscious that I was in the presence of a very handsome woman.’ ”

“Just for the fun,” Morley said, he contrasted Watsonian comments with those of Holmes: Of Mrs. Neville St. Clair in “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” Holmes calls her “This dear little woman.” Watson enthuses, “A little blonde woman… clad in light mousseline de soie, with a touch of fluffy pink chiffon at her neck and wrists… her figure outlined against the flood of light.”

Mrs. Neville St. Clair with Holmes. Image by Sidney Paget in “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” the Strand Magazine, December 1891.

Of Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope, in “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” Watson says, “The most lovely woman in London… subtle delicate charm, beautiful coloring of that exquisite head…white gloves… framed for an instant in the open door… dwindling frou-frou of skirts.” Holmes concedes, “The fair sex is your department.”

Unless, of course, it’s Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

Irene (pronounced “I-re-ne”) Adler, the woman to Sherlock Holmes. Image by J. Allen St. John.

This time, it’s Holmes who gushes, “The daintiest thing under a bonnet. A lovely woman, with a face that a man might die for.” By contrast, Watson remembers “… the superb figure outlined against the lights.”

Of course, there would be backlighting. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

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