Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Dr. John H. Watson is a fictional character, the sidekick of Sherlock Holmes, the fictional 19th century detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle. Various (extra-canonical) sources give Watson's birth date as August 7, 1852 and his full name as Dr. John Hamish Watson.
In the story, A Study in Scarlet (published in 1887), Watson, as the narrator, describes meeting Holmes, their subsequent sharing of rooms at 221B Baker Street, his attempts to discover the profession of his taciturn companion, Holmes's eventual taking of Watson into his confidence, and the events surrounding their first case together. Watson describes Holmes and his methods in detail, but in too romantic and sentimental a manner for Holmes' taste.
Watson is a medical man of some experience. He had served in the military in Afghanistan, having been discharged following an injury received in the line of duty.
Watson gives two separate locations for the Jezail bullet wound he received whilst serving in the army. In A Study in Scarlet he states "I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery". However in The Sign of Four, Watson informs us "... [I] sat nursing my wounded leg. I had had a Jezail bullet through it some time before, and though it did not prevent me from walking it ached wearily at every change of the weather". The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor contains the only other reference to the injury. Here Watson is a little ambiguous: he tells us "the Jezail bullet which I had brought back in one of my limbs as a relic of my Afghan campaign throbbed with dull persistence".
In The Sign of Four, Watson met Mary Morstan , who became his wife. Mary seemed a little less sure of her future husband, however, absent-mindedly calling him "James". Some have speculated that this is a wifely reference to Watson's unknown middle name, which could have been "Hamish".
Watson is not a stupid man (he is, after all, a medical doctor), but he does not have Holmes's insight. He serves as a foil to Holmes: the ordinary man against the brilliant, emotionally-detached analytical machine that Holmes can sometimes be. With the two, Conan created a clever literary pairing: two remarkable characters, different in their function and yet each useful for his purposes. Watson occasionally attempts to solve crimes on his own, using Holmes's methods, however, because he is not endowed with Holmes's almost superhuman ability to focus on the essential details of the case, he meets with limited success, as Holmes remarks "Quite so... you see, but you do not observe."
In Conan Doyle's original stories Watson is portrayed as a capable and brave individual: "Quickly Watson, get your service revolver!". In Doyle's early rough outlines, he clearly indicated that the role of Watson would be filled by two junior detectives known simply as Sandifer and Phillip; these characters became merged as "Watson".
The introduction of Dr. Watson in the Holmes novels, was a precursor to other similar characters. In the words of William L De Andrea,
- Watson also serves the important function of catalyst for Holmes's mental processes. [...] From the writer's point of view, Conan Doyle knew the importance of having someone to whom the detective can make enigmatic remarks, a consciousness that's privy to facts in the case without being in on the conclusions drawn from them until the proper time. Any character who performs these functions in a mystery story has come to be known as a "Watson".
- the stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader".
In a number of film adaptations, in particular those featuring the comic skills of the actor Nigel Bruce, the character of Watson becomes more of a caricature. Far from being the able assistant as presented by Doyle, Watson is portrayed as an incompetent fool. Modern treatments have returned the roots of Conan Doyle stories and have portrayed a more sympathetic and competent Watson. The most famous example of this restored image of Watson is the depiction played by David Burke and later Edward Hardwicke in the Sherlock Holmes television series in the 1980s that starred Jeremy Brett in the title role. Another well-liked depiction was by actor André Morell in the 1959 film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
- "[Holmes] was a man of habits... and I had become one of them... a comrade... upon whose nerve he could place some reliance... a whetstone for his mind. I stimulated him... If I irritated him by a certain methodical slowness in my mentality, that irritation served only to make his own flame-like intuitions and impressions flash up the more vividly and swiftly. Such was my humble role in our alliance."
Today, the importance of Dr. Watson in detective fiction is so strong that it is customary to refer to any assistant of a fictional detective as their "Watson".
- Who2 biography
- A discussion of the middle name Hamish
- A short illustrated profile of Watson as Honorary Member of the Diogenes Club
- An analytical profile of The Good Doctor
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