“How Marriage Changed Sherlock Holmes”

The next essay in “Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy” is actually “The Curious Case of the Controversial Canon” by Ivan Wolfe, but I’m not going to talk about that one since all it really does is talk about what importance an official canon has, point out that the official canon for Sherlock Holmes is mostly what Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Holmes, note that the French version of the complete works adds a couple of stories, and notes that even some things that Doyle writes aren’t included in the canon.  I don’t really have anything to say about that, so I’m going to skip it to talk about “How Marriage Changed Sherlock Holmes” by Amy Kind.  Which, rather ironically, actually has a relation to canon, since it talks about Sherlock Holmes’ marriage to Mary Russell, which never occurred in the canon and so was only ever captured in a series of books by Laurie R. King, which is meant to focus on Russell herself and not on Holmes.  The importance of canon is to established a baseline of Holmes and his world and characters so that fans can have a more or less consistent idea of the character and world to discuss, and so given that the work where he marries Russell is non-canon all we could glean from discussing how that marriage changed him is the view of Holmes that King herself imagined.  We might end up arguing that it is consistent with the character, but we might just as easily argue that it isn’t and even that he would never have married someone like Russell in the first place.  Thus, the dangers of relying on non-canon works.

While I haven’t read the works — I hadn’t even heard about the series until this essay — Kind’s description of King’s heroine makes me wonder if her first name of “Mary” is actually incredibly apropos.  Mary catches Holmes’ eye at a young age, and is explicitly called his equal in intelligence and observational skills, and meets him in a “meet cute” type of event where she doesn’t manage to observe him well enough to avoid almost running into him, but then immediately impresses him with her observational skills.  She also manages to catch Holmes, who was a confirmed bachelor in Doyle’s works and had only been impressed by one woman, Irene Adler.  Thus, the works do come across from this description as being author insert fan fiction and so it isn’t at all clear how examining this “marriage” would help us see how marriage changed Holmes himself.  It’d always be too easy to argue that any such changes were out of character for Holmes, given that the the marriage itself might be out of character for him.

So I’m not going to bother with that.  Instead, I’m going to focus on Kind’s discussion of love that takes as its inspiration the speech of Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium.  The story that he tells is one where we were originally one being, but have been cleaved into two, and the purpose of love — and presumably marriage — is to reunite those two selves into a whole once more.  Now, when I first read that, my very first thought was that the story would imply that we should find not the person who is most like ourselves, but instead the person who has those parts of us that we lack, like the Captain Kirk we find in “The Enemy Within”, with the two halves split from each other and quite different from each other but also with them being unable to survive on their own.  Thus, it would seem like perhaps the best marital companion for him would be someone like Watson, who has the qualities he lacks and could thus help Holmes fill in the gaps in his personality, at least.

Kind is explicit, however, that Holmes could never have married someone like Watson because they were never really equals in their relationship and so could never have been partners, which is required for the sort of love that Aristophanes talks about.  Watson is no where near Holmes’ intellectual equal, whereas Russell is, and so she can be a partner to him in a way that Watson couldn’t.  While that idea of love does insist that the two married partners retain their own identity — Russell, for example, maintains her study of theology despite the fact that Holmes has a strong distaste for it, at least in part to establish that as something she has for herself — the idea here is that Russell is a good match for Holmes because she is quite a bit like Holmes, and a match that was more like Watson wouldn’t be because that match would be more complementary to Holmes instead of being like him.

It seems to me that both views have some merit.  In forming any kind of partnership, the best ones are ones where the two partners are indeed more complementary.  They both bring different things to the table and are masters of at least the two if not more different spheres that people would encounter in the world.  If the partners were too much alike, then they’d have the same weaknesses and wouldn’t be able to help each other overcome their struggles in the world.  We saw this in the idea of the masculine/feminine spheres that were covered traditionally by the male/female marital tradition, and we also see it in the idea that “opposites attract”.  It does seem like we might, in some way, be attracted to people who provide for and are more comfortable in the areas that we ourselves aren’t that good at, that can negotiate and can help us negotiate those areas that we would like to be in, at least at times, but aren’t really capable of moving in.

On the other hand, “opposites attract” rarely seems to extend to true opposites.  We really do seem to want to have things and important things in common with the people we are attracted to.  If we didn’t have any of the same interests or moved in any of the same circles or had any of the same abilities, we wouldn’t be attracted to them at all, perhaps even as friends.  In the case of Holmes, it’s a good point that someone whose intellect lagged his too much wouldn’t be of interest to him.  He might be able to survive someone who was more supportive to his work and took care of his pragmatic needs and managed his emotions and boredom appropriately, but it does seem more credible that if he was ever to fall in love it would be with someone like Russell or Adler whose intellects matched and could challenge his own.  Perhaps she wouldn’t have to be a consulting detective, but her having some knowledge and interest in the facets that make that up would have to be a boon.  They’d have to have something in common.

But, perhaps harkening back to that comment about identity, we have to concede that the person would certainly have to have some interests in common, but would have to have her own interests as well.  No one wants to be married to someone who is exactly like themselves.  Which leads us away from complementary partners or identical partners to the idea of compatible partners, which would argue that the person we are looking for is like us in the important ways but is different enough from us to also work as a complementary partner.  They share our interests so that the two of us can share those activities and grow closer through them, but have enough of their own interests and, importantly, do not share enough of our interests that we can go off and do our own thing at times, retain our own identity, and have something that we maintain as ours and ours alone as opposed to something the two of us share.

Is Russell’s love of theology enough to make her different enough from Holmes to work as his ideal mate, given their similarities.  I can’t say.  I can’t even say if this analysis of love is correct.  But this is a way for us to be split as per Aristophanes:  in some cases, we possess two halves of the same thing, and in some cases we each possess things that the other lacks.  Considering those things is what, then, ultimately reunites us as a complete whole and thus allows us to find our “soul mate”.


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