Essays

Deduction: Mistress Mary Quite Solitary

Deduction: Mistress Mary Quite SolitaryDeduction: Mistress Mary Quite Solitary

Ah, Mary, Mary, Mary, Mary…Mary. Mary, the love of John Watson. Oh, Mary!

Mary is a central character in The Sign of the Four, but after that we don’t hear of her much, in fact, she actually dies, and no one really says anything about it. She dies in between the time Sherlock supposedly dies and when he shows back up.

For a while though, John and Mary are happy, or something like it. The problem is that John always seems to be hanging out with Sherlock and not his wife. In fact, his wife is only too happy to let him go off for days at a time with Sherlock without even batting an eye. Perhaps it was that women were freer with their husbands back in the day. Perhaps she didn’t care where he went or who he was with. Who knows. She’s dead, so we’ll never know.

I find this odd. John has a life outside of Sherlock. For a while he goes back to practice as a doctor. He gets married. He has a house with Mary, but every so often Sherlock shows back up and off John goes, seemingly without much fanfare from Mary.

Look, I don’t know about you guys, but usually when a husband goes off with buddies there are some questions involved. Where are you going? When will you be back? Who are you going with? Are you going to a strip club? Is there going to be crystal meth involved? You know, that sort of thing. You could look at it one of two ways. You could look at it as a woman wanting to control where her husband goes, which some women do, but you could also look at it as a wife being concerned for her husband. You’re married to this guy, so you’re supposed to care about him. It would be a good idea to know his general location, just in case he turns up missing that way you can tell police, “Well, he went to the store to buy milk and he never came back.”

It just seems to me that Mary isn’t a very inquisitive person. She just seems to be happy to be ignorant in where her husband goes. Where does he go?

You know what, scratch all of this–Mary was a plot device. She’s not a very rounded character. She only exists to further John’s character, but then he seemingly forgets about her. Married life doesn’t much change the way John acts. He still goes off with Sherlock. Most likely, Arthur decided that living the married life hampered John from going places with Sherlock, so he killed Mary off, well, not really, he didn’t even take the text to write a story about how Mary tragically passed away. It’s not even mentioned. I had read she died before my whole dive into Sherlock Holmes, but I never read specifically where she died.

Look at it this way, wouldn’t it be odd if both John and Sherlock had lived the remainder of their days as bachelors? John’s story progressed personally, while Sherlock’s did not. John’s life moved forward as Sherlock remained the same. John gets married and suffers the tragedy of his wife dying, which honestly doesn’t seem to affect him very much. John’s marriage isn’t a big deal to the overall story line, so Mary is quite marginalized.

In the end, she’s not important, so her opinions don’t matter and her death doesn’t matter. It’s a sad state of affairs. You would think that Arthur could have given John Watson’s wife a better send off when he decided to kill her off, but I guess not. It’s like those two Torkelson kids who just disappeared when the family moved to a different state. Yes, I remember that show.

Poor Mary, poor, poor, Mary. She made the mistake of falling in love with a man who was in love with the idea of solving mysteries and following Sherlock Holmes around and then when she died, nobody cared.



Deduction: Mistress Mary Quite Solitary, john watson, john watson gets married, john watson’s wife dies, mary, mary watson, sherlock, sherlock holmes
Essays, Sherlock Holmes
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2 thoughts on “Deduction: Mistress Mary Quite Solitary”

  1. I find Mary’s identity a very interesting case. Her main purpose, of course, was to serve as a client in “The Sign of Four”. Also, her character enabled Doyle to set up yet another contrast between Holmes and Watson (i.e. Holmes, the misogynist who doesn’t approve of marriage opposited to Watson, the romantic who, supposedly, aims for a traditional life) and to further illustrate Holmes’ excentric views regarding Victorian conventions. With these points made, all of her functions were fulfilled. Case solved, so to say. Therefore, Mary’s withdrawal from Baker Street action is not a significant problem. After all, she’s nothing more than a client to Holmes, and since the stories focus solely on his “adventures”, there is no reason why she should join them again. Why do we never wonder about the return of other clients, say the one from “The Engineer’s Thumb”? The mere fact that Mary is Watson’s wife doesn’t suggest any particular preference for her. After all, just like the rest of Holmes’ clients, she’s never been a real addition to the duo. Even in her own story, “The Sign of Four”, all she does is tell Holmes about her case, go safely home and wait for the solution. She wasn’t present when things got messy on the boat. Mary was absent right from the beginning and simply has no identity on the “battle field” where Holmes and Watson act together. It is vital to note that the canon is not an account of Watson’s life. The little anecdotes now and then are only there to create the setting for the adventure that is to be told. So what exactly happens to Mary Watson does not lie in the purpose of Sherlock Holmes stories, since they are an account of some of Holmes’ cases, nothing more.

    1. That’s very true. Mary was just a plot device and never meant to be anything major, which is sad considering she was supposed to be John Watson’s other half.

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