“Time and time again, generations have shown that they need Holmes. Something in his assured blend of omniscience and infinite tenacity, humanized with intriguing character flaws speaks deeply to our need for solutions to the problems of our own very different world today. We watch him and the faithful Watson our reliable narrator descend the 17 steps from their upper story rooms and out into Baker Street, and we feel reassured.” –Stephen Fry, “Sherlock Holmes” Audiobook*
Since Sherlock Holmes wanderings and through the years of our continued partnership, I have observed that this life he has chosen affords him the tremendous chances for growth and change required by a genius mind. Early on in our association, I once laughably attempted to define his limits. I believe I am more suited to do so now. He once invited me to study Winwood Reade’s The Martyrdom of Man. I found it to be the history of mankind through Reade’s mind and experience. Its wide ranging view of the world filled with the progression of growth and innovation of man through the ages. I believe Holmes was attempting to open my mind to how a genius views the world every day. Its totality and its breadth. How man in the aggregate was capable of forming and destroying great cultures. And how an individual man could affect another form of transformation.
I still find Holmes the gentleman I met at Bart’s Hospital chemical lab, yet, with a sharply deepened skill and forbearance. He is a logical, brilliant, driven, scientific thinker. Yet underneath I find him at times deeply moved, or in a state of suppressed excitement, tense with emotion, his eyes shining with amused exultation and even touched by the softer human emotions. At others he is filled with intensity of feeling, furious, agitated, or acutely impatient, venomous, anxious, dissatisfied, disappointed, exhausted, depressed and shaken, annoyed, or filled with ennui. He could also be soothing to a client, with a twinkle in his eye, joyful, happy, glad, and shouting with triumph.
Holmes is enthusiastically interested in every aspect of his life and a few of mine. He is a kind man, is remarkable for his easy courtesy, and harshness is foreign to his nature. What he abhors is also the mark of his genius, the mediocrity that grinds on through generations without awareness, less alert intelligence’s than his own, closed-mindedness, and the blindness of prejudice.
His focus, his mind, his masterly grasp of a situation, his keen, incisive reasoning, and his quick, subtle methods for disentangling the most inextricable mysteries make him the perfect consulting specialist. The man I once again gratefully share rooms with is not a recluse, but is completely absorbed in the science he alone chose to study and to establish. His amazing powers of deduction and analysis combine so splendidly he presents them as pure science yet so finely tuned he considers his practice of them an art form.
Holmes is a vibrant human being, a Bohemian gentleman free and open to the experimentation his life offers and his genius craves. He values imagination and trusts his intuition in all things. How this stretches his experience and the growth that emerges from it is as exciting to him as to me. He is just better at hiding it. Holmes says that breadth of view is one of the essentials of the detective profession, and the interplay of ideas and the oblique uses of knowledge are often of extraordinary interest. For him, all knowledge comes useful to the detective. This broad view is also the natural environment of the genius mind.
There is one area I found a welcome development in my gentleman friend. It began here, in London, with his contest with the woman. Holmes made an admission to me once that he never loved. For if he did he might act just as our Cornwall murderer–and kill the one who murdered his beloved! As surprising as this statement is, it is an admission of the deep intensity of his feelings towards women or one particular woman. And the reason he keeps such feelings in check. Holmes appreciates a woman’s instinct and impressions, intelligence, and beauty. He shows a remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealings with them, and above all that one face a man might die for. On this subject he is as open to experimentation as in the rest of his life. For there is nothing that genius will exclude from possibility. What he gains is the loss of a certain blindness, plus an acceptance that a divergence from the aggregate sometimes leads to the conclusion that some ladies are uniquely different.
Here I charge myself for my previous misunderstanding. I am a chronicler, not an astute reasoner. If he says emotion is anathema to his life, I write it down. It isn’t the first time he pulled the wool over my eyes and won’t be the last. Yet, even I can understand when a gentleman lives with his biographer he may want to erect a certain amount of privacy. And his masques fool me every time.
Our friendship is another area of favourable variance, yet, there is much I have left out of my narratives. Not out of humility as Holmes accuses, but in my attempt to highlight his singular heroic nature. First of all, Holmes’ compassionate adoption of me as his flatmate. With his astute observation skill surely he could see my desperation, yet it is delight at the idea of sharing his rooms with me that he expressed. Throughout our early years, his offer of ready praise for my attempts to grasp the links of his ever mysterious chain of events, his pains to explain his method, and finally, his acknowledgement of our friendship and partnership are proof of the growth of our society. His good graces over all my failures and his clear expressions of friendship over my evolution, our partnership grows together or apart, it is never stagnant. How could it be when Sherlock Holmes is one of the factors in it? His mind is as wide as the world. He is always open to its subtle changes, and most ready to act when necessary. I am grateful to be by his side, but especially during times of distraction as in Cornwall. My leadership won that day. Even genius finds it difficult to entertain creative intuition and dangerous reality at all times.
Although he cultivates the ability to adopt an actor’s role, or suppress his expression when facing a client or a villain, his feelings are there below the surface as he astutely translates the emotions of others as a keen judge of human character. Above all this relentless criminal agent loves challenge, precision and concentration of thought. It is my experience that he also enjoys a certain degree of risibility, plus solving the puzzle and bringing along those around him. Instructing me and the Scotland Yarders, who are open to it, is, I think, a special joy to him. As is his enthusiastic virtuosity on the violin, the sweetness, delicacy and harmony of a composer of no ordinary merit. I am glad to say, he considers me a conductor of light to his genius, yet I know he is not done surprising me in the pinch of the game.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes Canon stories referenced for this essay: A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Red-Headed League, A Case of Identity, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, The Adventure of Silver Blaze, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box, The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist, The Adventure of the Red Circle, The Adventure of the Dying Detective, The Valley of Fear, His Last Bow, The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, The Problem of Thor Bridge, The Adventure of the Illustrious Client, The Adventure of the Retired Colourman.
The original version of this essay was published in Volume 8, Issue 2 (December 1st, 2020) of Proceedings of the Pondicherry Lodge, the official journal of The Sherlock Holmes Society of India, edited by Jayantika Ganguly.
Gretchen Altabef is an MX author of Sherlock Holmes novels. Mondadori Publishing has contracted to translate her novels into Italian. Ms. Altabef strives to emulate Dr. John Watson’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary style. The first, These Scattered Houses, is in Holmes’ own voice and resourcefully chronicles the last two months of his ‘great hiatus’. The second in the series is, Remarkable Power of Stimulus. After 3 years away, Holmes finds London awash in murders, No. 221B under siege, anarchists threatening Paris, and the return of Irene Adler. Fully aware he is being watched by Moriarty’s men, Holmes steps out of the cab into Baker Street knowing he will find Watson’s friendship and unerring aim are as dependable as the British Rail.