Given the Victorian era, a writer couldn't deliberately create an openly (or even quietly) gay couple for public literary consumption. But gay people existed, and had romances. Arthur Conan Doyle knew Oscar Wilde and got on with him very well, and Wilde was not exactly shy and retiring about his tastes, so that's at least some evidence that Conan Doyle personally wasn't homophobic even by Victorian standards.

Holmes and Watson live together for many of the Sherlock Holmes stories. When Dr. Watson marries, he'll drop everything to rush to Holmes's side for an adventure at the slightest request. They refer to each other frequently with affectionate terms:

  • my dear fellow
  • my dear Watson
  • my dear boy
  • my friend and partner
  • an ideal helpmate [synonym for spouse]
  • the best and wisest man
  • the man whom above all others I revere

And that's not even getting into how Watson faints when Holmes reveals that he's not dead in The Empty House, or the show-stopping breakdown Holmes briefly has when Watson is shot in The Three Garridebs.

Also related to Wilde, in The Three Students, Watson says, "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." Wilde's trial for being gay was in 1895, and many gay Londoners suddenly found a reason to take a trip out of the city for a while. I can go on for a while, but the upshot is: there's plenty of subtext and room for interpretation.

Is there clear evidence, or even strong circumstantial evidence, that Conan Doyle was intending to write The Great Detective and his faithful biographer as a gay couple?

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    I know that this question is 2 years old; however, I find all this information to be incredible fascinating. Would anyone happen to have a legitimate source indicating the fleeing of Londoners during 1985? I certainly don't doubt that it happened, just wondering if there are accounts on it by a news source or something.
    – Raven
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 7:11
  • It sounds disrespectful, but there is a modern popular term for the nature of their relationship. I'm mentioning it because it hasn't been mentioned. It's not a good term, but it's nearly certainly the closest: it was a "bromance". Horrifically this is probably a good example of neologism.
    – Williams
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 23:39

2 Answers 2



They cared deeply about each other as friends, but there was never anything romantic in it.

Holmes was asexual. He wasn't just uninterested in women, he was uninterested in romance.

  • All emotions, and [love] particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer--excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained teasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.

    -- "A Scandal in Bohemia"

  • "[...] love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment."

    -- The Sign of Four, Chapter 12

Watson was heterosexual, and indeed married during much of his friendship with Holmes.

  • As I listened to the words and realised what they meant, a great shadow seemed to pass from my soul. I did not know how this Agra treasure had weighed me down until now that it was finally removed. It was selfish, no doubt, disloyal, wrong, but I could realise nothing save that the golden barrier was gone from between us.
    "Thank God!" I ejaculated from my very heart.
    She looked at me with a quick, questioning smile.
    "Why do you say that?" she asked.
    "Because you are within my reach again," I said, taking her hand. She did not withdraw it. "Because I love you, Mary, as truly as ever a man loved a woman. Because this treasure, these riches, sealed my lips. Now that they are gone I can tell you how I love you. That is why I said, 'Thank God'."
    "Then I say 'Thank God', too," she whispered as I drew her to my side.
    Whoever had lost a treasure, I knew that night that I had gained one.

    -- The Sign of Four, Chapter 11

  • "Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department," said Holmes, with a smile, when the dwindling frou-frou of skirts had ended in the slam of the front door.

    -- "The Adventure of the Second Stain"

Watson frequently encouraged Holmes to show an interest in women, including while they were alone - a thing he would hardly have done if they were intended to be a homosexual couple.

  • "You would not call me a marrying man, Watson?"
    "No, indeed!"
    "You'll be interested to hear that I'm engaged."
    "My dear fellow! I congrat-"
    "To Milverton's housemaid."

    -- "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton"

  • (I'm sure there were more examples of this, but none are coming to mind just now)

I also found a very interesting, lengthy, and rather heartfelt article from the Sherlockian Sherlock fan site, which goes into this issue in some detail.

Guessing the sleuth’s sexual preference is not a novel thing, despite of the fact that in the original Canon dr. Watson is married three times, and even Holmes remarks in The Second Stain that his friend knows a lot about women („Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department.”) [...]

Roger Johnson, editor of the Sherlock Holmes Journal, observed that in Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories "Watson is something of a ladies' man, but a faithful husband to his wife. And Holmes is essentially asexual, with no erotic interest in women or men." [...]

Doyle’s detective was not homosexual, and he did not changed this later, when he was rich and famous, though he could have written stories under a pen name. He was not too interested in erotic themes, but love between men and women often appears in his works. With the figure of Sherlock Holmes he wanted to focus on spiritual values. Some may think it odd that Holmes does not have any romantic relationships, but he explains in the Canon that thinking and his profession are the most appreciated things in his life, and he thinks emotions like love would only withdraw him from them. [...]

Legendary Sherlock Holmes actor Jeremy Brett, who lived together with a male partner for a while, said that there was a genuine friendship between Holmes and Watson, but nothing more. Sadly in the modern age relationships changed so enormously that most people simply cannot understand how such kind of friendship can exist. Jeremy Brett had a humane and fair attitude to the topic. It was clear to him that Doyle did not want gay characters, and he respected this. In his interviews he always emphasized that the relationship of the duo was devoid of any romance, what they felt for each other was honest friendship.

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    +1 for pointing out that Holmes is asexual. The opening of "A scandal in Bohemia" supports this: "All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen [...]". The friendship runs deep however; at the end of one story, he tells the villain what he would have done to him if the villain had succeeded in killing Watson. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 20:46
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    @Vixen Good quote! There are other relevant quotes too, including in The Sign of Four and "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" IIRC. I promise I'll edit this answer with more backup!
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 20:51
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    @Vixen It's worth noting that this statement doesn't necessarily imply asexuality. (It's a common and harmful trope in media to portray asexuals as cold, impersonable, calculating, balanced people.) I'd be willing to accept it historically, though, because at the time that's how it might be portrayed.
    – user80
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 12:45
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    @Emrakul Holmes says, "love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment."
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 12:47

It should be noted that the Sherlock Holmes stories (with exception to "His Last Bow", "The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone", "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane", and "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier") are entirely narrated by Dr. Watson, who could be unaware of his friend's feelings towards him if this is an unrequited love Holmes has for Watson. Throughout the stories, Watson remains fairly oblivious to Holmes's true emotions, with the only time he really becomes aware that Holmes has any sort of feelings for him, romantic or otherwise, being during the infamous scene in "The Three Garridebs" when Watson is shot in the leg and Holmes panics, thinking that his friend may be fatally injured. Once Watson has confirmed that he is alright, Holmes tell Evans, the man who shot Watson, "If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive," and Watson notes that, "It was worth a wound - it was worth many wounds - to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind the cold mask." This is the one time that readers, as well as Watson himself, are made of aware of the love that Holmes is capable of feeling, and indeed does feel for Watson, despite Holmes's own claims that he is an emotionless being. If Holmes is so good at hiding even the fact that he cares for Watson at all, is it really such a stretch to assume that Holmes could be hiding romantic feelings for his friend as well?

Something that should also be taken into consideration was that in the time Watson is supposedly documenting his adventures with Sherlock Holmes, homosexuality was considered a serious crime, although that did not stop certain people from engaging in homosexual love affairs. However, if Holmes and Watson had been in a romantic relationship, it is not likely that Watson would have wanted to disclose it to the public, which ties into the original poster's comment about Watson not explaining why he and Holmes had left London for several weeks in 1895. If Watson had been a real person having a love affair with another man in the late 1800s, it would make sense that he would edit details of his relationship with Holmes when recounting their stories, and even make Holmes seem more averse to romance than he actually was so that readers would not suspect anything. All this is not to say that Arthur Conan Doyle intentionally queer coded Holmes and Watson's relationship, just that there are certainly arguments that can be made for the two characters being romantically involved, or at least for Holmes being in love with Watson.

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    Question is old, but this is in fact a better answer. Given that our PoV is Watson, we don't really know what Holmes' sexual orientation may have been, only what Watson can infer from about it from the information he has. Just because Watson may have assumed the guy was straight or asexual doesn't mean he actually was.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 20:07

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