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September 2020 Issue [Readings]

Empathy, My Dear Watson


From a lawsuit filed in June by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle alleging that an upcoming Netflix film about Enola Holmes, the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, depicts Sherlock in an empathetic manner distinct to Doyles later short stories, which are not yet in the public domain. The following is taken from allegations in the lawsuit describing Sherlocks emotional evolution over the course of Doyles career.

Sherlock Holmes was famous for his great powers of observation and logic. He was famous for being aloof and unemotional. His closest companion, Watson, revered Holmes and was generous in his admiration. But to Holmes, Watson was utilitarian—to be employed when useful, then set aside. Holmes did not treat Watson with warmth. Holmes told him, “You have a grand gift for silence, Watson. It makes you quite invaluable as a companion.” Holmes did not even congratulate Watson when Watson told Holmes he was going to marry. “I feared as much,” said Holmes. “I really cannot congratulate you.” “I felt a little hurt,” said Watson. Then all of this changed. The Great War happened. It was no longer enough that Holmes was the most brilliant rational and analytical mind. Holmes needed to be human. Holmes became warmer. He became capable of friendship. He could express emotion. He developed a knowledge of medicine. He embraced modern technologies. He changed from one who cared little for dogs to someone who had great interest in them. He began to respect women. He reacted with warmth and emotion to a woman—quite unlike his famous aversion to women. His relationship to Watson changed from that of master and assistant to one of genuine friendship. Watson became more than just a tool for Holmes to use. When Watson married for a second time and moved out of Baker Street, Holmes described the emotional impact this had on him, calling Watson’s remarriage “the only selfish action which I can recall in our association. I was alone.” Holmes became a partner. When a villain fired a gun and Watson was hit, Holmes said: “You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!” “I caught a glimpse of a great heart,” said Watson. “All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.”

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September 2020

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