Mrs. Watson: Untold Stories

I found the author’s previous Sherlockian work, My Dear Watson, a chore to get through, but this followup took a different approach that I much preferred.

In that earlier book by L.A. Fields, the premise is that Holmes and Watson are lovers, and the un-first-named Mrs. Watson knows that. The book then consists of her making jealous remarks about them while retelling great amounts of existing stories and cases. She doesn’t like Holmes much at all, for obvious reasons, and as such, it’s an unpleasant read, boring in its redundancy.

But Untold Stories is much more enjoyable! Mrs. Watson seems to have come to better terms with the need to share Watson with Holmes, so the nasty tone of the previous has mellowed (although she’s still no respecter of his image). Plus, each of the eight stories contained here, told through diary entries covering 1921-1939, includes biographical details about a notable queer person. It’s “Mrs. Watson Learns Queer History From Sherlock Holmes,” the book.

Mrs. Watson: Untold Stories cover

I call them stories, but the chapters are really thin excuses for the short histories. In the first, the trio have gone to Australia, where Mrs. Watson works on climbing a mountain, Watson writes a story about an author who creates and then is controlled by a possessed young man (all 18 pages included, and I found it a struggle to get through), and Holmes tells of the circle of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas.

We meet Mrs. Watson’s cousin, who is being adopted by her friend George (short for Georgina) to legalize their Boston marriage, as two independent women committed to each other. Holmes shares some headlines about Nell Pickerell, a woman who kept being arrested in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s for dressing as a man and inspiring women to kill themselves for love of him.

A visit to London to stay at the Savoy spurs stories of Tchaikovsky. A chess game is punctuated with tales of kings and queens and their lovers. Walt Whitman’s relationship with his biographer Horace Traubel anchors a Christmas visit. A Halloween party brings both a put-down for the local busybody and stories of Bram Stoker’s fascination with Whitman. Colonel Hayter (from “The Adventure of the Reigate Squire”) reappears, and Watson finds comfort in the poems, and life, of A.E. Housman on his sickbed.

The book somewhat peters out, with weaker material at the end, but I found this a fascinating way to learn once-scandalous details about queer creators I wasn’t previously aware of. Holmes’ waspish voice makes it all more interesting. Note that if you’re looking for Holmes/Watson content, there’s nearly nothing with the two of them together, as the book is told from Mrs. Watson’s perspective.

(This review originally appeared in the first issue of the So Far Down Queer Street journal.)

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