The Serpentine Muse Vol 33, No. 3, 2017, pp 8-11 Featured Article
THE HOLMES/HUNTER MARRIAGE
by Evelyn Herzog
“You would not call me a marrying man?” asked Sherlock Holmes of his longtime friend Watson in CHAS and Watson, startled, replied, “No, indeed!” No, indeed, we do not think of Sherlock Holmes, first thing, in terms of romance and matrimony. And yet, much as he tried to conquer it, he was only human. The possibility of love and marriage for Holmes is not beyond all conjecture, and the proof of that is the array of pastiches that have essayed the subject. And the other proof is the “Well, I wonder” thoughts tucked away in our own minds. A Holmesian marriage—well, what might have happened?
In fact—leaving aside the question of the incomparable Miss Adler—you’ll recall that there is one client in an early story whose name was proposed as a “possible” by no less a person than John Watson, and that client is Violet Hunter, she of the self-reliant attitude and chestnut hair that had been “considered artistic.” In COPP, Watson made sure we overheard Holmes “muttering that no sister of his should ever have accepted such a situation” as had Miss Hunter, and he later let us know that Holmes termed her “very brave and sensible” and even (to her face!) “a quite exceptional woman.”
Now, Watson, at the end of the story, tells us that his imaginings of a romance had not panned out after all: “As to Miss Violet Hunter, my friend Holmes, rather to my disappointment, manifested no further interest in her when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems, and she is now the head of a private school at Walsall, where I believe she has met with considerable success.” However, experienced Sherlockians like ourselves well know that Holmes sometimes hid things from Watson (I quote: “the only safe plotter was he who plotted alone” [ILLU]) and that Watson sometimes hid things from us (I quote: “It was, then, in a year, and even in a decade, that shall be nameless” [SECO]). I feel we are at liberty to disregard Watson’s statement that Violet Hunter passed out of their lives at the conclusion of her case, and ourselves deduce what might instead have occurred.
I propose that the initial feelings of respect between the two grew into concern (as we ourselves saw in the story) and then affection. At the close of the case Violet had naturally returned to London to consider her future, and so it was a simple matter for her to cross paths with Holmes again and again. Violet would have found it easy to discuss Holmes’ cases with him, giving him valuable feminine insights into the feelings of clients and, with her inquiring and organized mind, sharing an understanding of his approach to the world. Hours passed in one another’s company, as they talked together, first on businesslike topics, but then on more personal matters; soon there was more than talk. Perhaps neither showed a romantic nature to the world, but there was passion within each of them and, as true concern, a united outlook, and feelings of assured mutual reliance brought them ever closer in ways they had not anticipated, it became clear to them that wedlock was the only decent next step. One imagines Watson’s mixed feelings of joy for his friend and anxiety about his own place in Holmes’ future investigations.
After a discreet ceremony, Violet moved into Baker Street. Awkwardness was averted by the fact that the Doctor had a separate residence as part of his current medical practice. I can assure you that he continued to be a frequent visitor to Baker Street. Indeed, Watson was immensely valuable to the Holmes family as a conduit for popular culture—he saw to it that visits to family concerts and operettas, and even sporting events, alternated with the concert hall and long hours of work.
You may wonder to what extent Violet assisted in Holmes’ cases—her own investigations at her employers’ home in the Copper Beeches case showed that she could be intrepid in a good cause—but today I cannot share those details with you. (Some will say that is because I haven’t figured them out yet.) I can, however, say that her precise mind and talent for organization drove her to devise better ways of running Holmes’ home-office, including keeping his evidence and his records in more orderly fashion. No more criminal relics in the butter dish, for starters, which helped make Mrs. Hudson Violet’s new best friend. Violet found ways to put Billy’s talents to ever greater use—his first new task became a daily review of the contents of the flat’s wastepaper baskets and in the first week he salvaged (from among the mail which Holmes had thrown away unopened) two cheques, three requests for help from wealthy industrialists, and one offer of a considerable payment if Holmes would endorse a patent magnifying-glass!
Violet left Holmes’ commonplace books sacrosanct—after correctly assessing the look he gave her (such a look!) when she turned her attention to them. Nor did she lay a finger on anything connected with a current case—after all, genius must be allowed its own methods.
However, she soon developed a truly efficient filing system for records of past cases. No more, and some of you will remember the scene from the movie The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, no more could the age of a pile of papers be determined from the depth of the layer of dust upon it! Soon a remarkable data retrieval system began to be developed jointly by Violet and Mycroft Holmes! What started as a desperate attempt to find a topic of conversation over tea at the Savoy soon turned into an enthusiastic joint discussion of data organization, leaving Sherlock in a corner catching up on a badly-needed nap. Before long, the Holmes/Holmes data system was being beta-tested on Sherlock’s records, while the ever-multiplying details of the system became shrouded under governmental secrecy.
Life was busy, indeed increasingly busy as the months went by, and yet for Violet something was lacking. The romance that had sprung up between her and Sherlock, so unexpected and fragile, was fading away. Who can explain the workings of the heart? Sherlock had fallen back into his natural, taciturn ways. Violet had organized everything she could at 221B, and Mrs. Hudson had resisted her forays into organizing the rest of the house. Perhaps it was psychosomatic, but Violet became allergic to Sherlock’s pipe-smoke and he to the cats she insisted on installing at 221B—and, after all, he needed his nose to detect scents on many of his cases, whereas he seemed to believe that she did not need the cats! Violet became restless and drew away from Sherlock; she found herself dreaming of new worlds to conquer.
So, as it turned out, Watson needn’t have worried that his unique standing with Holmes would be eclipsed by this new relationship. Violet and Sherlock agreed to an amicable separation. There was no divorce—each could still be counted on to be a true friend to the other in times of difficulty, even if each had found the other to be a growing annoyance when all was well.
With her connections to Mycroft, Violet found it easy to secure an excellent position in education, and it was then that she was appointed to the position of headmistress at Walsall where her sway would be unchallenged. Walsall, near Birmingham in the West Midlands, is far enough from London that she and Sherlock are not constantly crossing paths but, thanks to the railroads, not so very far either. Over the years, they fall into the habit of taking vacations together—vacations with benefits. They figure a bit of recreation from time to time won’t do them any harm and, after all, they are married. They can count on Watson to cat-sit.
There we leave them. In the end, it’s hard to say whether or not Violet Holmes, née Hunter, proved the truth of the old maxim: “Change the name and not the letter, change for worse and not for better.”