Was Watson a Woman?

In 1934, Sherlock Holmes enthusiast and writer, Christopher Morley, created The Baker Street Irregulars.  Detective Rex Stout was a member of this exclusive Sherlockian literary society but shocked the members when, in 1941, he presented a speech “Watson Was a Woman”.

Rex Stout

Why would Stout even suggest such a thing? Now there had been rumours that Holmes and Watson were gay (so much speculation for two people who never actually existed) so could it be that Stout was just mocking Holmes’ homophobic fans? Or was there another reason?

Stout, in his speech, lists a number of examples where he believes that Watson acts more as a wife than he does as a friend. For example, Watson asks Holmes to play Mendelssohn’s “Lieder” on his violin and Stout cannot believe a man would do something similar. Or that fact that Holmes and Watson are described being together during various times of the day but never at bedtime (obviously for reasons of bon ton). Or that when Watson complains of the thick toxic smoke in the room, Holmes brusquely tells him to go open a window. And when Watson discovers that Holmes is not dead but alive, Watson faints as only a woman would do.

More than proving that Watson was a woman, these examples seem to indicate that Stout shared the same stereotyped misogynist depictions of women as his claim to fame character, Nero Wolfe. Feelings also shared by The Baker Street Irregulars who did not allow female members until 1991.

Lady Detectives

During the Victorian era, a variety of factors facilitated the introduction of a great number of female literary detectives: new technology permitting mass production of cheap publications, the shift towards universal education had more women reading, and the adventures of female detectives provided women with new experiences even if only in their imagination. But something else was involved. Female detectives solved crimes thanks to the kind of reasoning women use so women could easily related to them.

A Study in Scarlet, the first story to feature Sherlock Holmes, was published in 1887. However, way before Holmes, there was a female detective. Revelations of a Lady Detective, attributed to William Stephens Hayward, was published in 1864. A cheap pot-boiler, the protagonist was Mrs. Paschal, a female detective employed by the police. Of her past we know little save that she was widowed and forced to earn a living for herself. And thanks to her intuition and courage became an excellent detective. But this was only the beginning for female detectives.

There are three standardized methods of reasoning: inductive, deductive, and abductive.

Inductive reasoning tries to turn a specific into a generality. If all your life you have only seen white swans, you will assume all swans are white.

Deductive thinking is extracting information from what is already there without adding anything new. All dogs have ears so if Chihuahuas are dogs they must have ears, too.

Abductive reasoning is coming to a conclusion based on what you already know. That is, arriving at a conclusion not based on standardized theories but on careful observation followed by the search for the simplest explanation as to the why behind what’s been observed.

Women have a tendency to prefer the use of abductive reasoning as do female detectives. Look at Miss Marple. Her success was due to her use of abductive reasoning, that is, relying on her own experience as a form of knowledge.

In 2012, Tamir Pardo, chief of Israel’s Mossad, told The Jerusalem Post that women made better spies because they were better at multitasking and, as opposed to men, were better able to suppress their ego in order to attain their objective.

Furthermore, a few years ago, the chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service revealed that the real-life equivalent of Q, a technology expert, in the James Bond movies is a woman.

This said, maybe Stout would have been better off saying that it Holmes, and not Watson, was a woman.


Related: Watson was a Woman? by Rex Stout PDF + The Baker Street Irregulars + The Baker Street Irregulars website + A Study in Scarlet + The Lady Is a Detective + Dorothy B. Hughes’ Noir + Profiling Storytellers + Agatha Christie e Charles S. Peirce: due maestri del crimine legati dall’abduzione + James Redding Ware was a British writer, novelist and playwright, creator of one of the first female detectives in fiction + Women detectives: meet the Victorian female super sleuths +

‘The real Q is a woman’: boss of MI6 makes pitch for female recruits + Female Spies and Their Secrets + They Might Be Giants (1971) Anthony Harvey movie (a Don Quixote Holmes and a female Watson) + Mademoiselle de Scuderi, before Miss Marple there was another spinster detective, Mademoiselle de Scuderi + Israel’s Mossad spy agency on the hunt for women agents +

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