Other discussions of the various incarnations of Holmes

Still leaving the autism paper unread -- it's on Instapaper for sync to Kindle, if anyone's interested -- I should probably mention some of the other discussions I've seen on Holmes' mental state over the years.

There are a lot of them out there that contend more or less that Holmes is a dick mostly for the sake of being a dick. The general postulate is that he does it because he thinks other humans are contemptible and he knows they need him, so nyah. These also tend to see him as keeping Watson for a pet, much as Watson mentions keeping a dog at their first meeting.* Notably, I have not yet seen one of these from any author who independently sets off the 'gifted kid' bell in the back of my head. They seem to be from people who are reasonably intelligent, but have not hit the Weird Smart Kid level that leaves you completely without peers for the first mumble-teen years of your life. It's an interesting look as to why a lot of people see the Weird Smart Kids as being asshats on purpose -- which we sometimes are; we are human beings -- and what they think the internal motivations for it are.

The general consensus among people who are likely to have some idea what they are talking about is that there was something going on with Holmes, although there is little general agreement as to what. Holmes, in the canon, is a remarkably unreliable narrator when it comes to himself. He clearly wants to be a deducing machine, and holds a state of null-emotion rationality in high regard, but then he goes and does things like blatantly give a damn, particularly about Watson. This means he's unable to see the contradiction between his words and his behavior; he's lying to other people about his internal state; or he's lying to himself about what kind of human being he actually is. Doyle based the detective-ing part of the character on a friend of his, Dr. Bell, but contemporary accounts mention that Bell, while amazing and awe-inspiringly smart and summat odd sometimes, was not particularly alienating. Although severe cases of autism and various other things Holmes has been argued to have have generally been known and documented since the 18th c or so, and of course the image of the tortured genius is ancient, milder cases of the neuro and neuropsychiatric things were not recognized until medicine started thinking of madness as a disease and poking it with official medical sticks right around the time Doyle was writing. Holmes cannot be explicitly aspie as originally written, as Asperger didn't describe the syndrome himself until the 1940s.

One of the more popular theories I've run across is that Holmes is bipolar. It's an interesting one, but I haven't personally seen any papers on this thesis that pre-date the Granada TV series -- if they exist, they're not very thick on the ground. It suggests that the theory is informed by the (fantastic and critically-acclaimed) performance of Jeremy Brett, who was himself severely manic-depressive, and untreated for most of his adult life. It's fairly obvious if you know what to look for; he spends about half of series one careening around and vaulting furniture and looking like he's on the run-up to a manic episode, if not already there. It's not a thoroughly ridiculous suggestion; Watson does describe Holmes as having marked mood swings, and stimulants like cocaine are a plausible method of self-medication for someone who knows what it's like to be high and is suffering from a low instead. One of the distinguishing features of bipolar, however -- as opposed to just being a moody bastard -- is that the roller-coaster is un- or only superficially-related to life events. Holmes is happy when he's braining on something and unhappy when he's bored. The pattern is pretty consistent. It's possible that Watson misses some deeper, more insidious underlying currents that makes Holmes seek cases or be happier with smaller problems in an independent cycle, but given the canon as it is, I could not personally swear to the bipolar diagnosis in a court of law.

Another one I've seen diagnoses Holmes as ADHD. The gist of it is that the cycle of happy-monstrously miserable coincides with him having something to hyperfocus on and then losing it again. Supporting evidence is his claim to have simply not bothered retaining anything unimportant (i.e., not learning the boring shit until something happens that makes it unboring) and the fact that their flat is continually in a state that could be succinctly described as "like a small library exploded into a chemistry supply shop". The main argument against it -- which is not necessarily a death blow to the theory -- is that Holmes doesn't seem to have any trouble focusing his attention when he feels like it. It's not possible to determine with any certainty whether he's really not paying attention because he doesn't care, or if he claims not to care to cover for the fact that he's not paying attention. Cocaine is a less-common substance for self-medication of ADHD than caffeine or someone else's amphetamines, but that's mostly because it's illegal and more expensive than NoDoz. In Holmes' day, it was an OTC medication, and his "seven per-cent solution", while it wouldn't exactly have been looked upon as a health tonic, would not have been seen as especially harmful in moderation.

There's another one that involves a mysterious meteor from SPAAAAAAAAAAACE. No, really. Also, Philip José Farmer. It involves Tarzan. Tongue-in-cheek, but very entertaining. See "Wold-Newton Universe" for details.

There are also, if anyone is interested, a number of books examining, discussing, and occasionally inventing, homosexual subtext in the Holmes canon, as the infamous book The Celluloid Closet once did for film studies. The 20th century did not invent slashfic, trust me; they just accidentally named it, and gave it wide circulation.

* Patently untrue. There are two tales in the canon written in first-person POV Holmes, and in one he takes the opportunity to set the record straight as to his opinion of Watson: "Speaking of my old friend and biographer, I would take this opportunity to remark that if I burden myself with a companion in my various little inquiries it is not done out of sentiment or caprice, but it is that Watson has some remarkable characteristics of his own to which in his modesty he has given small attention amid his exaggerated estimates of my own performances. A confederate who foresees your conclusions and course of action is always dangerous, but one to whom each development comes as a perpetual surprise, and to whom the future is always a closed book, is indeed an ideal helpmate."

Elsewhere, Watson records him as making comments about how there are some people who, while not themselves luminous, are excellent conductors of light, a quote that was referenced in "The Hounds of Baskerville" in the modern series. Essentially, Watson is highly useful because he's not stupid, and he's also not another Sherlock Holmes -- he gives ready access to a second viewpoint that's significantly different and not so idiotic as to give Holmes a horrid headache. The depths of Holmes' actual affection are also seen in "The Three Garridebs", when an outlaw wings Watson with a bullet; Holmes drops everything to tend to his friend, then informs the gunman very shortly that if he'd done serious damage to the good doctor, he would be on his way to the morgue instead of jail.