Sherlock Holmes: A Case of (Sexual) Identity

Robert Downey Jr has recently caused a number of movie executives distress by intimating that the fictional characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson may have been not only roommates but also lovers. Robert Downey Jr, who plays the character of Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie’s latest film, responded jokingly to David Letterman’s questions about the possibility of a homosexual relationship between Holmes and Watson.

Some Warner Bros. executives have been reported as being wary that Downey Jr’s comments may affect the perception of Holmes’ sexual orientation, bringing an unintended new aspect to the movie plot. More recently the executor of author Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary estate, Andrea Plunket, has threatened to withdraw permission for a Sherlock Holmes sequel if the homosexual theme is developed. She claims that this interpretation of the characters is not true to the spirit of the books, by which she means that Holmes was intended by Conan Doyle to be heterosexual.

With this situation there potentially are inconsistent characteristics being applied to the single fictional character, Holmes, between the original stories of Conan Doyle and the Downey Jr’s portrayal. How is it possible for one entity to be simultaneously heterosexual and homosexual?

In addition to this recent problem there is another well known inconsistency that occurs in Conan Doyle’s own books. In “A Study in Scarlet” Dr Watson’s war wound is in his shoulder but in “The Sign of Four” Watson claims that his war wound was in his leg. Is it possible for one being to have the same wound in two different locations? If so, how do we characterise this kind of being?

Stacie Friend examines the nature of fictional entities in her article “Fictional Characters” which describes and evaluates a number of different theories that attempt to explain the peculiar nature of fictional beings.

More on Andrea Plunket’s threat to pull the plug on the sequel here.

A video of Robert Downey Jr’s interview with David Letterman can be found here.

Related articles:
Fictional Characters
Stacie Friend, Birkbeck College, University of London
(Vol. 2, February 2007)
Philosophy Compass

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