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

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