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HOLMES CHRONICLER “JAMES” H. WATSON? PART 1

MANY SHERLOCKIANS MAINTAIN the charming conceit that Dr. John H. Watson was the chronicler of the greatest consulting detective. Conon Doyle was merely Watson’s literary agent; see CONAN DOYLE’S OTHER CLIENT: BRIGADIER GERARD PART 1. However there remains puzzlement galore in Watson’s chronicling “The Man With the Twisted Lip.” 

He and his wife Mary are having a quiet evening at home when they’re interrupted by one of her old friends: Kate Whitney comes rushing in and “threw her arms about my wife’s neck and sobbed upon her shoulder.” 

It was clear Kate wanted to unburden her soul with an old friend. “It was very sweet of you to come,” Mary Watson says. “Now, you must have some wine and water, and sit here comfortably and tell us all about it. Or should you rather that I sent James off to bed?”

James?? Sherlockians have pondered for more than 120 years why Mary referred to her husband as “James.”  Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits gleaned from two primary sources, The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, edited by William Baring-Gould, 1967; and The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, 2005; together with my usual Internet sleuthing.

Mary Watson, née Morstan, the Backstory. Dr. John H. Watson meets Mary Morstan in The Sign of the Four, later titled The Sign of Four. (Baring-Gould prefers The Sign of the Four.  Klinger prefers The Sign of Four.)

Watson describes their first meeting, “Miss Morstan entered the room with a firm step and an outward composure of manner. She was a blonde young lady, small, dainty, well gloved, and dressed in the most perfect taste…. Her face had neither regularity of feature nor beauty of complexion, but her expression was sweet and amiable, and her large blue eyes were singularly spiritual and sympathetic. In an experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents, I have never looked upon a face which gave a clearer promise of a refined and sensitive nature.”

“Miss Morstan entered the room with a firm step.” Artist unknown, Sherlock Holmes Series, Vol. I, Harper & Bros., 1904. This and other images from The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

Love Finds a Way. By the end of the adventure, the two are gushing in each other’s arms: “The treasure is lost,” says Mary, calmly.

“Thank God!” Watson ejaculates from his very heart, “Because you are now within my reach again. Because I love you, Mary, as truly as ever a man loved a woman.” 

“Then I say ‘Thank God,’ too,” Mary whispers.

Image by Richard Gutschmidt, Das Zeichen der Vier, Robert Lutz Verlag, 1902.

But what about her “James” slip to come?

We’ll look into this tomorrow in Part 2. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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