“A Gentle Little White Mouse”: The Reader as Dr. Watson

As part of our discussion of “The Final Problem” and “The Empty House” at our May meeting, member Christine Ellis shared this insightful analysis of how the reader shares Watson’s point of view in these stories and other Canonical cases we’ve discussed recently. Enjoy!

Watson Has a Mouse in His Pocket: Dr. Watson, Our Alter Ego
by Christine Ellis

Watson personifies the reader’s ability to sit in 221B and participate in the delicious conversations around the fire or at the chemistry table. With a revolver in pocket, we climb into the hansom and are off on another adventure. In the moment, Watson is us, and we are Watson—or at least, an invisible mouse carried in his pocket, seeing and hearing what he sees and hears.

In “The Red-Headed League,” we all know that Jabez Wilson’s job is a scam, but why? In “The Twisted Lip,” we are merely called out in the middle of the night by Kate Whitney to bring her husband Isa back from the opium den on Upper Swandam Lane. This part of the adventure is easy-peasy, of course. It is when we meet Holmes in the opium den that the evening takes a turn, and we dash away in a tall dog-cart, rushing back to Neville St. Clair’s house. Where, mostly in the dark, we sleep, while Holmes smokes his pipe until twenty past four. He awakens us, and off we go to Scotland Yard.  Holmes announces that we “are now standing in the presence of one of the most absolute fools in Europe.”  Oh, really? The mouse, like Watson, still has no idea what’s going on, but the adventure is thrilling, and, of course, all is soon made clear.

Now, on to our adventures for this meeting, “The Final Problem” and “The Empty House.” These stories together create a wonderful synopsis of the mouse in Watson’s pocket. We are in our own lodgings, not at 221B Baker Street. It is late at night when Holmes comes knocking.

“The Final Problem” has a series of events we must obey to the letter. Dispatch luggage by a trusted messenger unaddressed to Victoria; send for a hansom, taking neither the first or second; drive to the Strand end of the Lower Arcade; hand the address to the cabman; have fare ready; dash through the Arcade, timing our arrival for quarter past nine. We will find a small brougham waiting, with a coachman in a heavy black cloak with a red collar, and reach Victoria in time for the Continental Express. Enter the second first-class carriage from the front for our rendezvous. Wow, how much more mysterious can this be? We learn much about  the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty. We go from Canterbury to Newhaven, over to Dieppe, then into Switzerland via Luxembourg and Basle.

On the way, Holmes gets a telegram from the London police and declares that Moriarty intends to devote his whole energies to revenging himself upon Holmes, and that Watson (and we) really should return to England.  Well, we refuse to do that. So it’s on to the Valley of the Rhone, Leuk, Gemmi Pass, Interlaken, then Meiringen. Holmes confesses again and again that if society was freed from Professor Moriarty, he would cheerfully bring his own career to a conclusion. We get to the Englischer Hof and settle in, making plans to hike over to Rosenlaui. By now we should be very concerned for our safety. Rocks are falling out of the sky. Holmes talks of life’s ending. Still, we head out on this lonely hike. Is anyone else feeling just a little bit edgy? Or even more?

When the boy comes running up the hill with a note for Watson, he—though not we—believes the excuse and runs back down the hill.  Stupid, stupid fool! I challenge you to come up with an incident in the canon when Watson was any more the fool than he was that day!

Now, three years later, “The Empty House.” Watson turns over the facts of the Honourable Robert Adair’s murder in a locked room, coming to no conclusions. We are in our lodgings, late at night, when there is a knock at the door.  This time, it’s an old book-collector whom we met earlier in the day. And, well, come to find out it’s none other than Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  After we recover from our first and only faint: “Now, my dear fellow, if I may ask for your co-operation, a hard and dangerous might’s work is in front of us.”  Aw, this is normal again. The mouse will accompany the pair on one more adventure.

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