Johnlock in canon
Holmes and Watson are very much in love with each other and together:
of all, let’s hear what Doyle calls them: “Sherlock and his
After knowing Watson for a week: “my dear fellow” (A Study in Scarlet)
“My friend and partner” the whole time (eg in Red-Headed League).
After knowing each other for three years, Watson once wakes up in the “morning to find SH standing, fully dressed, by the side of [his] bed” at quarter past seven (Speckled Band). Etiquette was exceedingly important, and Holmes openly flouts convention. It is one of his most interesting traits: he does not believe in the law (cf Charles Augustus Milverton) and therefore would not have any problems with anything that opposes jurisdiction if he is convinced it is the right thing to do.
“It may be remembered that after my marriage, and my subsequent start in private practice, the very intimate relations which had existed between Holmes and myself became to some extent modified.” (Final Problem) – if you ignore the past with the marriage (see below) the only thing that remains is the “very intimate” relationship between them.
Watson certainly is very vocal in his admiration: “the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known” (Final Problem)
The story where Holmes comes back from the dead also shows Watson’s complete devotion: “I find myself thrilling as I think of it, and feeling once more that sudden flood of joy, amazement, and incredulity which utterly submerged my mind”, “When I turned again Sherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me across my study table. I rose to my feet, stared at him for some seconds in utter amazement, and then it appears that I must have fainted for the first and the last time in my life.” (Empty House)
Now to a very conclusive piece of evidence: they are being attacked by a criminal: “In an instant he had whisked out a revolver from his breast and had fired two shots. I felt a sudden hot sear as if a red-hot iron had been pressed to my thigh. There was a crash as Holmes’s pistol came down on the man’s head. I had a vision of him sprawling upon the floor with blood running down his face while Holmes rummaged him for weapons. Then my friend’s wiry arms were round me, and he was leading me to a chair. “You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!” It was worth a wound – it was worth many wounds – to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain.“ [Watson reassures him he’s fine] "He had ripped up my trousers with his pocket-knife. "You are right,” he cried with an immense sigh of relief. “It is quite superficial.” His face set like flint as he glared at our prisoner, who was sitting up with a dazed face. “By the Lord, it is as well for you. If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive. Now, sir, what have you to say for yourself?”“ (Three Garridebs)
Do I have to comment on this? "Depth of loyalty and love”? He’s supposed to be “an automaton, a calculating-machine”.
Holmes has just drugged them with something that works exactly the same way as in “Hounds” (2.2): “The turmoil within my brain was such that something must surely snap. I tried to scream and was vaguely aware of some hoarse croak which was my own voice, but distant and detached from myself. At the same moment, in some effort of escape, I broke through that cloud of despair and had a glimpse of Holmes’s face, white, rigid, and drawn with horror–the very look which I had seen upon the features of the dead. It was that vision which gave me an instant of sanity and of strength. I dashed from my chair, threw my arms round Holmes, and together we lurched through the door, and an instant afterwards had thrown ourselves down upon the grass plot and were lying side by side, conscious only of the glorious sunshine which was bursting its way through the hellish cloud of terror which had girt us in. Slowly it rose from our souls like the mists from a landscape until peace and reason had returned…”
Aha. So he is dying, but what gives him strength is that Holmes is suffering? And the end is just ridiculously romantic.
Mere minutes later: “"You know,” I answered with some emotion, for I have never seen so much of Holmes’ heart before, “that it is my greatest joy and privilege to help you.”“ (Devil’s Foot)
They are breaking into a criminal’s house, and are in danger of being discovered: "I felt Holmes’ hand steal into mine…” (Charles Augustus Milverton) - So when there is a threat, Holmes clearly doesn’t care about propriety, but wants to reassure the doctor instead. What would any author who writes such a scene about a man and a woman very obviously “imply”?
“the man whom above all others I revere” (Thor Bridge) - Hmm… Watson can be quite eloquent.
But the following quotation/situation is my favourite: “It was in the year ‘95 that a combination of events, into which I need not enter, caused Mr. Sherlock Holmes and myself to spend some weeks in one of our great University towns […] It will be obvious that any details which would help the reader to exactly identify the college or the criminal would be injudicious and offensive. So painful a scandal may well be allowed to die out. With due discretion the incident itself may, however, be described, since it serves to illustrate some of those qualities for which my friend was remarkable. I will endeavour in my statement to avoid such terms as would serve to limit the events to any particular place, or give a clue as to the people concerned.” (Three Students)
Or to give a clue as to what really happened. So… Explanation:
1. In the year 1895 there were the Oscar Wilde trials, which caused a great many men who were more or less openly gay to “go on holiday” for a few months.
2. Universities were supposed to be more progressive than cities. Oscar Wilde met Robbie Ross at uni.
3. The “painful scandal” Watson is talking about here is about three students who are meant to sit a Greek exam, but one of them cheats. That’s not a scandal. Even I’ve helped another student to cheat in a Greek exam (Greek can be a horrible subject), and I’m a model student.
4. They had to flee from London because of the public awareness the spectacular trials had caused.
5. But of course Watson could not say it like that, so he had to invent a virtually new case.
Do we want to know more?
“Partly it came no doubt from his own masterful nature, which loved to dominate (…) those who were around him.” (The Hound of the Baskervilles)
But why did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle create a character who would have been imprisoned if he had been a real person and had the authorities known about his illegal preferences? An important question, and more than one point has to be considered to answer this.
Sir ACD’s Sherlock Holmes was heavily inspired by Poe’s Dupin. Poe wrote three stories about Dupin, an amateur detective living in nearly complete isolation in Paris. These stories are narrated by an unnamed narrator, probably a Briton or an American. And their relationship is quite unequivocally a romantic one. Here parts of the first story, The Murders in Rue Morgue:
“Our first meeting was at an obscure library […] where the accident of our both being in search of the same very rare and very remarkable volume brought us into closer communion. We saw each other again and again […] I was astonished, too, at the vast extent of his reading; and, above all, I felt my soul enkindled within me by the wild fervor, and the vivid freshness of his imagination […] I felt that the society of such a man would be to me a treasure beyond price; and this feeling I frankly confided to him. It was at length arranged that we should live together during my stay in the city; […] I was permitted to be at the expense of renting, and furnishing in a style which suited the rather fantastic gloom of our common temper […] Had the routine of our life at this place been known to the world, we should have been regarded as madmen—although, perhaps, as madmen of a harmless nature. Our seclusion was perfect. We admitted no visitors. […] We existed within ourselves alone. It was a freak of fancy in my friend (for what else shall I call it?) to be enamored of the Night for her own sake; and into this bizarrerie, as into all his others, I quietly fell; giving myself up to his wild whims with a perfect abandon […]”
So… I do not think that I have to explain all that much. The so-called subtext is not even subtext here. Paris was – due to the Napoleonic Laws – known as a place where is was possible to have a homosexual affair in relative safety. So it is reasonable to say that Dupin and his nameless friend were indeed lovers.
Now, Sir ACD chose to take those two characters and their flat and – with some minor alterations – wrote his stories about Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson living at 221b Baker Street in London. His characters are based on two men having a physical relationship with each other, and although why he chose to do this, nobody knows, it is a fact. You could make more of this argument, but I think it is enough at this point.
Sir ACD, the upright Victorian moralist gentleman, hated Sherlock Holmes. He told an actor he may “marry him, murder him, or do anything he liked with him”, which not only shows that marriage and death are essentially the same for Sherlock Holmes, but also – and more importantly here – expresses his disdain for his own creation.
I said I was going to talk about Oscar Wilde. Wilde was born in 1854 (the year of SH’s birth – what a coincidence) and represents a type of decadent man known as the dandy. Holmes is a Bohemian, which was considered about as decadent as dandyism, and their lives follow similar patterns. Interestingly enough, Dorian Gray and The Sign of Four were commissioned during the same dinner by the same editor, and it can be said that the two authors were competitors. Wilde, however, was probably the more popular person, and I believe Sir ACD was somewhat jealous of him. Oscar Wilde’s trials are constantly alluded to in 1895 Sherlock Holmes stories, by the way…
I mentioned above that he hated Sherlock Holmes. But how do these two things fit? Sir ACD wanted a good reason to hate Holmes. There is the expression “to laugh up one’s sleeve”, I personally I am of the opinion that is precisely what he did.