The Atlantic

The Troublesome Women of Sherlock

The BBC show seems to have difficulty fitting female characters into its universe. But it isn’t Arthur Conan Doyle’s fault.
Source: PBS

When Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Mary Watson, Dr. John Watson’s wife, in 1903, it was in such perfunctory fashion that he didn’t even mention her by name. In “The Adventure of the Empty House,” Watson is astonished to discover that Sherlock Holmes is alive, having thought him dead for more than three years. Holmes briefly details to Watson how he survived his fight with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls, and Watson muses on his friend’s return, and his reaction to Watson’s own state. “In some manner he had learned of my own sad bereavement, and his sympathy was shown in his manner rather than his words,” Watson writes. Thus was Mary dispatched: briefly, nonspecifically, and in a way that focused on Holmes, acknowledging his humanity while emphasizing his unshakable professionalism.

Conan Doyle’s axing of Mary was primarily utilitarian. He’d intended to retire Holmes and Watson as characters in 1893’s “The Final Problem,” killing off the esteemed detective, but fan outcry had obliged him to revive them

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic2 min readMedical
The Atlantic Daily: The Battle to Contain the Pandemic Enters a New Phase
Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox. President Joe Biden delivered his inaugural add
The Atlantic8 min readAmerican Government
How Biden Plans to Beat Republican Obstructionism
History suggests that Joe Biden and the Democrats are going to have a tough two years and a disaster in the midterms. Here’s their plan to avoid that.
The Atlantic8 min readAmerican Government
Trump’s Parting Gift to Joe Biden
Tension within the Republican coalition over the Capitol riot could push GOP-leaning voters into the new president’s camp.