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Triangle Desire and Homosocial Bond in Sherlock Holmes

Categories: DesireHolmesTriangle

Triangle Desire and Homosocial Bond

When talking of triangle desire, one needs to know that desires of individuals are rather simple in that it only needs a subject and object. As one’s desires becomes increasingly more complex a mediator appears and the triangle is complete. This is at least what Mr Girard’s theory states. So, Mr Girard’s theory in its essence has three components, the mediator, Mr Holmes in this case, the subject Dr Watson and the object which is the crime.

In A Study in Scarlet (1887) Watson has no idea what Mr Holmes’ profession is before considering the flat share. Despite this, Mr Holmes’ appeal intrigues Dr Watson even more when he discovers Mr Holmes’ actual field of work. In Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s interpretation of this relic, Watson finds Holmes fascinating upon the first encounter and does not think twice about joining Mr Holmes in his criminal investigation. This specific attribute of Dr Watson creates a red thread through every interpretation of Dr Watson.

The best comparison is that of a child, since initially he is curious, then he investigates this strange phenomenon and lastly, he is willing dragged into the fascinating world of mystery. Here, one sees Mr Holmes, the mediator, being the one dragging Dr Watson, the subject. Additionally, Mr Holmes influences the crimes which need to be investigated since everything is driven by his personal interest in a certain crime.

In proximity Mr Holmes and Dr Watson are close since they live under the same roof but intellectually, they are rather far from one another.

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According to Girard ‘their spheres of possibilities penetrate each other and that is why one can classify their relationship as “internal mediation.” Despite this notion Dr Watson does not hide his admiration for Mr Holmes and his methods of deduction, which are typical of an “external mediational” nature. Dr Watson is perfectly aware that Mr Holmes is not without faults in his personal life, but in his professional life he is spot on. The example below from A Study in Scarlet wonderfully shows both sides of their discussion of the crime:

‘I’m not going to tell you much more of the case, Doctor. You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all.” “I shall never do that,” I answered; “you have brought detection as near an exact science as it ever will be brought in this world.” My companion flushed up with pleasure at my words, and the earnest way in which I uttered them. I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty.’ (Doyle A Study in Scarlet pp. 88-89)

This quote also shows Dr Watson’s admiration of the detective and how he idolises Mr Holmes when it comes to his occupation. But it also tells how Mr Holmes is an ordinary man with extraordinary abilities

As far as their friendship goes it is difficult to place it in either external or internal mediation since it is right in the middle. One may even argue it is the happy medium. But Mr Girard seems to see these celebrated characters’ companionship is a case of internal mediation. Moreover, they may challenge and even rival each other, at some points even argue and discuss but it is unlikely they will despise one another. On the contrary, their companionship flourishes because they have a mutual respect for each other and agree that loving the thrill of the chase is admirable. Even though, Mr Holmes is Dr Watson’s mediator they desire the same thing, namely, to solve the mystery. In the BBC version, Dr Watson even tries to befriend Mycroft’s assistant Anthea despite her not being part of the crime he and Holmes are trying to solve (McGuigan 2010: 34:43). This attempt to befriend a lady shows that Dr Watson has more on his mind than simply the crime. The reason why this particular friendship fits excellently into Mr Girard’s theory is because it simply shows the complexity of friendship itself.

On another note, in Mr Holmes and Dr Watson’s long, illustrious career in both the written and visual sphere there are indications that they share a homosocial bond. There may not be any clear evidence on said bond but as far as Polasek is concerned: ‘Through the homoerotic subtext of the series is one of the most explored themes in Sherlock fan fiction.’ (Polasek 2012: 53) In the original novel scholars have argued that the living arrangements are not favourable. In BBC’s version, however, this arrangement is played for laughs especially when Mrs Hudson asserts that they are romantically involved. (McGuigan 2010: 14:24) Mrs Hudson’s assumptions may not be true but these famed men do share a strong homosocial bond. Taking this bond into consideration, some argue that these men are far more than merely friends, but whether or not this is true depends entirely on how we interpret the material. It may prove a challenge to find any evidence for Mr Holmes and Dr Watson’s relationship being more than just friends or colleagues in the original material. By way of contrast, BBC’s version is in favour of portraying them as more than simply friends. This portrayal is once more evident when they are enjoying dinner in a small local restaurant and are mistaken for lovers. The stranger’s mistake takes place while the two friends are discussing whether or not arch-enemies are something one can have:

Sherlock: ‘What do real people have, then, in their· “real lives”?’

John: Friends? People they know, people they like, people they don’t like· Girlfriends. Boyfriends·

Sherlock: Yes, well, as I was saying, dull.

John: You don’t have a girlfriend, then.

Sherlock: Girlfriend? No, not really my area.

John: Mm. Oh, right. Do you have a boyfriend? Which is fine, by the way.

Sherlock: I know it’s fine.

John: So, you’ve got no boyfriend, then.

Sherlock: No.

John: Right. OK. You’re unattached. Like me. Fine. Good.

(McGuigan 2010: 50:11-51:00)

This conversation tells the viewer quite a bit about the characters relations to one another going forward. Plus, its shows that both men are willing to accept the other for who he is and caring for one another is a priority in order for this relation to work. Plus, this chat indicates where they have each other and how their quiet comradeship may grow into something beautiful. Mr Lavigne likens Mr Holmes and Dr Watson’s comradeship to that one experiences in ‘buddy cop’ (Lavigne 2012: 17) movies and shows. Above this, he observes that the union of these two characters ends up being so close that all one needs to find out what the other knows is his facial expression.

One form of homosocial bond which is not represented in the tales are that of cuckoldry, Mrs Kososky Sedgwick remarks that this type is not present in Mr Sherlock and Dr Watson’s comradeship since a lady is needed for this to be the case. Another way, they maneuverer their relationship around this specific type of homosocial lewdness is by avoiding subordination by mocking one another. Their ability to laugh at not only themselves, but each other makes for a solid base for a healthy comradeship. Yet, their competitive nature when it comes to crime solving may create some pitfalls for their comradeship. This is especially evident when they discuss the evidence retrieved from Jennifer Wilson’s suitcase:

Watson: Pink. You got all that because you realised that case would be pink?

Sherlock: It had to be pink, obviously.

John: Why didn’t I think of that(?)

Sherlock: Because you’re an idiot. No, no, don’t look like practically everyone is.

(McGuigan 2010: 46:11-46:13)

Their crime solving makes it possible for them to build an actual homosocial bond without anyone else interfering. In this scenario, the crimes themselves act as a cuckoldry, which in its essence enables them to spend all day in each other’s company without anybody questioning what they may be doing.

The escapades of these two beloved men do not have a complete absence of females, for instance there is Mrs Hodson, Watson’s later wife and lastly ‘the woman.’ But the most intriguing of the three leading ladies is Irene Adler because she actually comes in between them. Watson falls for her, despite having a wife. In A Scandal in Bohemia (1891) readers are introduced to this mystical, manipulative lady Miss Adler, more famously known simply as ‘the Woman.’ Throughout the narrative she manages to outwit Mr Holmes and thus comes out victorious, which demonstrates that she is a worthy adversary of Mr Holmes and thus catches his attention because of her great mind. As far as the friendship of Mr Holmes and Dr Watson is concerned, one needs to ‘preserve one’s virginity when under siege.’ (Atkinson 2009: 40) The virginity referred to in this instance is that of Mr Holmes because he is supposedly both a biological and symbolic virgin. In the newest interpretation, he mentions that is ‘married to his work,’ (McGuigan 2010: 51:12) and his choice to stay pure plays a vital role in how he performs as a detective, yet his purity does not stop him from having an imaginary relationship with Miss Adler.

No one, besides Mr Doyle, knows what the ‘true’ nature of Mr Holmes and Dr Watson’s relationship really is. Yet through the countless interpretations it has become evident that these two men have built a wonderful friendship. In the age of the internet, theories and speculation have a space to flourish like they have never had before. And, the possible homosexual nature of their relationship will live on in fan faction across the web. Despite, not knowing for sure if Mr Holmes and Dr Watson are romantically involved, there is no doubt that their relationship is complex and especially their homosexual bond adds to this complexity.

Closure of the case

This report set out to investigate what makes the friendship between Mr Holmes and Dr Watson blossom, since Mr Holmes tend to keep to himself. The evidence consists of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original novel A Study in Scarlet (1887) and Mr Moffat and Mr Gatiss’ adaptation of the same story called A Study in Pink (2010-). The hypothesis put forth in this report has its foundations firmly planted in theories such as triangular desire and acts of masculinity.

By reviewing the evidence, one finds that the core friendship has remained untouched despite the view points of the original and the newest adaptation being vastly different. In spite of their meeting being a chance encounter, they quickly discover that their personalities may very well be a perfect marriage. And, a profound friendship gets its chance to sprout from this notion. In many aspects they may seem to differ, yet they find common ground in their excitable and adventurous nature. Neither of them is perfect but they manage to dig out the best in one another. In the course of many explodes, one sees Mr Holmes being Dr Watson’s mediator in their quest for solving the perfect mystery. At first it seems like Dr Watson puts Mr Holmes on a pedestal whereas later Dr Watson realises that Mr Holmes is nothing more than a mere mortal with extraordinary gifts. These features make Mr Holmes and Dr Watson a suitable match which works extraordinarily well.

When discussing male friendship, one often stumbles across idioms such as trust, mutual respect, acceptance and loyalty. These are also building blocks one finds when encountering the friendship of Mr Holmes and Dr Watson. And, most would agree that these essential building blocks are what makes their friendship strong and equal. When investigating the friendship in the evidence presented one could not find many differences. Yet, there was one significant one, namely that of them being viewed as more than simply a pair of good mates, in Moffat and Gatiss’ adaptation, but more akin to soulmates.

Finally, this report may only have concerned itself with the dynamic friendship of Mr Holmes and Dr Watson. It would be equally interesting to examine how women, more specifically the Woman, would impact their relationship. In the 2010 adaption we do see Dr Watson engage with the fairer sex and one do experience how Mr Holmes react to such when Dr Watson invites a lady home.

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Triangle Desire and Homosocial Bond in Sherlock Holmes. (2019, Dec 11). Retrieved from

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