All the world's a stage!

Theories and Facts,

or, why does the idea that Sherlock Holmes is asexual seem to be so unregarded?


In the ACD stories Sherlock Holmes is canonically asexual (”canonically”, as in: it’s not like he literally says that but explaining why he’s *not* requires much more mental gymnastics than just going with what is portrayed by his words, actions, and non-interest in canon), but in pretty much every adaptation ever made, people feel the need to shoehorn in a love interest (usually Irene Adler, who honestly deserves better). [And this is despite the fact that I rather enjoyed most of the Mary Russell novels.]

“This is indeed a mystery,” I remarked. “What do you imagine that it means?”

“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. But the note itself. What do you deduce from it?”

[A Scandal in Bohemia]

In the ACD stories Sherlock Holmes is canonically asexual - ”canonically”, as in: it’s not like he literally says that but explaining why he’s not requires much more mental gymnastics than just going with what is portrayed by his words, actions, and non-interest in canon. Why then, in pretty much every adaptation ever made, do people feel the need to shoehorn in a love interest?

(usually Irene Adler, who honestly deserves better).

[And this is despite the fact that I rather enjoyed most of the Mary Russell novels.]

Even more annoying: the great amount of Holmes/Watson fanfic that exists. And doesn’t acknowledge this fact/possibility/large amount of canon material.

I don’t have a problem with the ship in theory [though I don’t ship it] and have even read and enjoyed a few stories with the ship.

The reasons for the ship’s popularity are obvious - Holmes and Watson are always the two main characters (in whatever adaptation) and media with an intense focus on two main characters always has a lot of shipping of those two characters together, by default.

There’s also the influence of The Game - that is, the reading that takes it for granted that, if Watson did indeed exist, and was a chronicler, he may have elided some things - which would also go far in explaining small plot holes. So from there you can have anything from Holmes and Watson were lovers to Holmes was actually Jack the Ripper, and was killing aliens from space who were trying to take over the world. [This story actually exists, in an anthology, though I can’t recall the name of it. It was awesome.]

But I think there’s a difference between saying, “well, I see x but I do/don’t headcanon it because of personal preference” and what seems to be this general assumption that the original stories and ACD’s portrayal of the character must be “wrong”, or he’s lying…

•either because Holmes hadn’t met the right girl yet (Irene Adler again),

•or that he was too into detective-ing to bother...

(and honestly that argument doesn’t work because it ignores the fact that :
1] if someone “doesn’t want to bother” they probably had a reason for it [of course it’s going to end up being because of some hidden trauma right???]
2] he certainly found time to bother being Watson’s friend for ages and it didn’t interfere with work and they actually lived together. It’s not like the presence of people made him miserable as long as they respected the devotion he had to his passion and also enjoyed it???
[again with the fact that I liked the Mary Russell novels - if Holmes was ever going to get together with a girl it would be someone like her, and despite some plot-annoyances the novels spend a lot of time creating a great and believable relationship])

If Holmes has said he’s not interested, and Watson has said he’s not interested, he’s probably not interested.

Yes, you can headcanon that they’re lying [like that movie I never got around to watching where Watson was the detective and Holmes was an actor and basically the whole thing was a scam] *edit: thanks to Susan for commenting and reminding me of the name! It's "Without A Clue"* but if you’re going to take the premise that *most of this story is true* and the characters are not total liars, why is it that this point in particular still gets treated, quite extensively, as though it’s either a symptom of Holmes being secretly traumatized, incredibly badly socially adjusted, or a misogynist?

(like he was a little, ok, but he was also an incredibly respectful character in the series toward women [regardless of his personal feelings] and Irene Adler was a big part of him realizing that women could be smart [gasp] and that’s why he admired her so much [not only because she was a woman-who-was-smart but because hardly anyone, woman *or* man, had ever managed to get one by him and he totally respects that] and he actually did have character development over the many stories [shocker] and had great sympathy for people without means being screwed over by other people, especially if they had strength of character [and can I also say the portrayal of women in the ACD stories is miles better than in some of the more recent adaptations which is honestly sad])…

Anyway. It does feel somewhat disrespectful of the character, to me, to not only not acknowledge but almost actively try to re-write the interpretation of Sherlock Holmes like that??? Like, whether or not Sherlock Holmes was actually asexual, aromantic, or just decided not to do “Love” for “Reasons”, this is still an active part of his character. And if it’s totally ignored/brushed aside, in adaptations, that’s not really respectful of his character, whether that’s his sexuality or his choices or his Secret Trauma or whatever.

And most of the time, it’s not done for an interesting, valid reason [again, back to the Mary Russell novels, which I think goes from the premise, “what kind of person would Sherlock Holmes actually fall for and how would a partners-in-detectiving relationship of that sort between two insanely smart people at this interesting historical period actually work out?” and does it well] because most adaptations sort of just, throw this in there, like, “well obviously Holmes was interested in sex or romance because… … … he just was ok,??? what are we going to do without sexual tension? How can you have a relatable character without that??? we need the narrative shortcuts pls” [and on the other hand, usually ignore the part of Holmes that is actually *nice* and compassionate, despite being a bit brusque, because it isn’t… manly? Or something?]


[Below, some quotes which I haven’t bothered to do analysis on because that would take forever and turn into a paper talking about a zillion different things relating to Holmes’ relationship to emotion over the series and his character development, empathy with other people, Holmes and women, Holmes and marriage - all this is to say that these quotes can obviously be interpreted many different ways, and can have multiple shades of meaning; but it’s interesting to note that even as Holmes realizes, over the series, that emotion doesn’t have to be the plague, the idea of love is always in hypotheticals.

And there are probably more quotes I have forgotten.]


A Scandal in Bohemia -

“It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer–excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.”

The Sign of Four -

*edit— found another quote! :)*

[chapter 2] “What a very attractive woman!” I exclaimed, turning to my companion.
He had lit his pipe again and was leaning back with drooping eyelids. “Is she?” he said languidly; “I did not observe.”

[chapter 12] “Miss Morstan has done me the honour to accept me as a husband in prospective.”
He gave a most dismal groan.
“I feared as much,” said he. “I really cannot congratulate you.”
I was a little hurt.
“Have you any reason to be dissatisfied with my choice?” I asked.
“Not at all. I think she is one of the most charming young ladies I ever met and might have been most useful in such work as we have been doing. She had a decided genius that way; witness the way in which she preserved that Agra plan from all the other papers of her father. But love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment.”

The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton -

“You would not call me a marrying man, Watson?”
“No, indeed!”

The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot -

“There is my story, Mr. Holmes. Perhaps, if you loved a woman, you would have done as much yourself. At any rate, I am in your hands. You can take what steps you like. As I have already said, there is no man living who can fear death less than I do.”
Holmes sat for some little time in silence.
“What were your plans?” he asked at last.
“I had intended to bury myself in central Africa. My work there is but half finished.”
“Go and do the other half,” said Holmes. “I, at least, am not prepared to prevent you.”
Dr. Sterndale raised his giant figure, bowed gravely, and walked from the arbour. […]
“You would not denounce the man?”
“Certainly not,” I answered.
“I have never loved, Watson, but if I did and if the woman I loved had met such an end, I might act even as our lawless lion-hunter has done. Who knows?”

BONUS - probably the best friendship moment between Holmes and Lestrade because that is perfect.

“Well,” said Lestrade, “I’ve seen you handle a good many cases, Mr. Holmes, but I don’t know that I ever knew a more workmanlike one than that. We’re not jealous of you at Scotland Yard. No, sir, we are very proud of you, and if you come down to-morrow, there’s not a man, from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable, who wouldn’t be glad to shake you by the hand.”
“Thank you!” said Holmes. “Thank you!” and as he turned away, it seemed to me that he was more nearly moved by the softer human emotions than I had ever seen him. A moment later he was the cold and practical thinker once more. “Put the pearl in the safe, Watson,” said he, “and get out the papers of the Conk-Singleton forgery case. Good-bye, Lestrade. If any little problem comes your way, I shall be happy, if I can, to give you a hint or two as to its solution.”