Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Girl Who Loved Sherlock Holmes: A near lifetime love affair with my fictional opposite

The other night I re-read The Final Problem while waiting to watch the last episode of the second series of the BBC Sherlock.  I remembered the first time I read the story. It was from my school library and I stayed up until 2:30 on a Wednesday night to finish it. For me, at that moment, there was no looming alarm clock in the morning or a sleepy day of classes ahead, there was just me and Sherlock and Watson who, at the time (and maybe still ) were my best friends.

We fictionally creative people spend life as outsiders: flooding moments which lead us to figure that no one on earth understands us and that, in turn, we fail to understand them has us fleeing to literary counterparts whose world we feel neatly fit into.

Throughout my latter elementary school years and well into high school, I felt safest between the shelves in the library, on one of those little rotating stools, revisiting my Sherlock stories. When I first read A Study in Scarlet my fingers trembled as I turned the pages excitedly. When my grade 10 english teacher assigned The Speckled Band and Silver Blaze as actual REQUIRED reading, I did a happy dance.  I could hang out with Sherlock and Watson for SCHOOL and not just for fun.

As I grow older and as the Canon has become as much a part of my psyche as the other books which guided me through my formative, book wormy years, I have attempted to deconstruct what it is about Holmes and Watson that fits into my flighty little brain. I am eccentric, overly emotional, wracked with an anxiety disorder, prone to guilt and panic, intuitively religious, exceedingly, romantically imaginative--- everything that the asexual and rigid Holmes disdains...

So why, then, why him... with his cold, automaton-like machine-like calculations and odd, irrepressible habits and imminent genius and arrogant demeanour and coke-addiction and three pipe problems and ethereal grey eyes and aquiline profile and penchant to squeak obnoxiously discordant strands of music from a violin....why him?

When the 1881 Beeton's Christmas Annual first threw itself upon the greater reading populous, readers ached for a new edition of the Strand and for the notes from John H. Watson's famous military box thrown into the world in full-fledged splendour, exposing a mind of such great importance and significance he would become not only immortal; but universally mourned when thought to be dead at the hand's of his (insignificant?) creator.  These characters were so much larger than life that many thought they were real, actual, earthly-habitants.  A great mind with great deductive prowess and his awed flatmate and friend.

When I first visited Baker Street, I didn't allow myself to contemplate the fact that the home I was touring was fictional that the persons to whom the museum was dedicated never actually lived. I was, instead, enamoured by the authenticity of the room's layout and by the thousands of letters people still addressed to Mr. Holmes of 221B Baker Street.  The literary pilgrimage was one of immense emotionally charged self-satisfaction. I was paying homage to a collective part of my psyche, my emotional upbringing, to two of my closest friends.

The pages of the 56 short stories and 4 novels have been read to shreds by me. I own dozens upon dozens of tomes, encyclopedias, pastiches, annotated and unannotated editions, biographies, works of religion and philosophy all indebted to the Great Detective.  No one can convince the part of me that construes such fascination with his world is an imaginative one.

On my dream trip to Austria I went out of my way to get to Meiringen, just to see where Holmes had "perished" (and wonderfully escaped) at the hands of the dastardly Moriarty.  The plaques therein and the museum devoted to Holmes' Swiss connection didn't seem to be relics of a fictional universe; rather part of a wonderful history--- a history I had faith in; bought into, loved and respected.

The plaque in London outside of St. Bart's which commemorates Holmes first introduction to Watson, the room at the Toronto Reference Library dedicated to one of the largest collections of Conan Doyle memorabilia in the world.... the mythos, the legend, the time-stopping, heart-grasping wonderment of it all continues to beguile me. As I learn more about myself and excavate the pieces and fragments which make up the individual I have become, this world is an indelible part of it.  I owe my fascination with Victorian London and, subsequently, my passion for its literature to the smoky lanterns, rattle of hansom cabs and murderous fogs pervading Baker Street.   Holmes and Watson's famous quotes, their moments of sarcasm, their colourful humanity pepper so many of my constant thoughts and speech.

And yet.... despite my ongoing passion and my determination to stalk the deceased Doyle's roots in Edinburgh this summer--- in an act of yet ANOTHER literary pilgrimage dedication to this fascination-- I am constantly questioned as to why.... why a bookish, romantic, imaginative and anxious girl metes out such literary investment to a calculating machine...

Everyone else as thrilled as I was when Benedict finally put that hat on?

It's because he's my opposite. Panic attacks in high school and university and nights spent sleeplessly, endlessly worrying found me seeking Baker Street for comfort.  Why? because it's a measured world. Baker Street and Baroque music, together: you know his methods, you know his calculations, his moods, his rigidity, his asexuality.  He never wavers in self-confidence the way I always second-guessed myself, he is never prone to doubt- the way I always thought I was doing wrong. He is assured, predictable, intelligently logical---everything I am not.

Sherlock Holmes is not swayed by bouts of imaginative fervour: he knows that there is a measured reason for everything and there is comfort in his ability to know all.  Where people, futures, puzzles, problems, conflicting and abnormal doubts plague human minds like mine, his brain was beyond that.  There is solace in his ability to unravel what we cannot.

For a girl raised in the spirit of evangelical religiousity: where rules regaled and faith took place of sight and touch and sound, so materializing Holmes' world offered a needed counter.  He is so forthright, he is so steady.... there is nothing that will surprise or haunt or trouble you about him.   He is everything that I am not.

Watson's adoration of Holmes and his continued awe-stricken fanaticism and enchantment mirrors my own. My love for Watson is just as potent as my love for Sherlock because we are both emotional, romantic and intelligent people--- unashamed to be baffled by a mind that, like clockwork, omits anything supernatural, unexplainable, borne of fraught imagination.

Thus, my overly emotional response to the predictable end of The Reichenbach Fall was precipitated by my engaging in the collective troubles and sorrows of two very close friends.  True, the television medium portrays Holmes and Watson in a myriad of ways: some more similar to my earliest mental images as others (thus my deriving what I find authentic to the source material and what I think strays); but the new contemporary vision just secures my own faith in Holmes and Watson. They are century agnostic.  They are not confined to the Victorian world of fog and smoke, they are as integral to our collective conscious as readers and seekers as they were when Doyle first created them.

I do love my deerstalker--straight from Baker St.

There is comfort in knowing that their fictional world exists and that the same imaginative plight that awaited me in surreptitious splendour the first moment I stole into their world and the hundreds of times I revisited will always be there: like magic, metric, measured enforcement.

They say that opposites attract and Sherlock Holmes, being in every way, shape and form my opposite, continues to be the great literary love of my life.


Ruth @ Bookish Ruth said...

I feel like I could have written this myself. Right down to the panic attacks. You just perfect encapsulated everything I love about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, far, far better than I could have ever expressed it. Bravo!

Rachel said...

thanks for stopping by, ruth! always nice to meet another sherlockian who feels as passionate about our friends holmes and watson as i do! :)

Arun said...

Always a pleasure to meet a Sherlockian :)

I too like the BBC Sherlock. Great acting, music and clever references to the canon make this a must watch.

Have you tried the Russian adaptation with Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes.