SOME THOUGHTS ON THE ETHNICITY OF
by Sandy Kozinn
we review the evidence to be found in the Canon regarding Sherlock Holmes’
ethnicity, I would remind readers that attitudes have changed with changing
times. Underlying Dr. Watson’s sacred words are patterns of thought that
might be labeled “politically incorrect” had they been written today. Watson
wrote the truth, but it is a truth that reflects the beliefs of his own time.
As we have learned from the Master, we must accept the conclusions indicated
by the facts, however improbable they may be (BERY).
Bearing this in mind, let us follow the
trail that the known facts of his life provide.
What do we know of Sherlock Holmes? Who was he, and from whence did he come?
Many learned scholars have written on this subject, and their views have been
varied. Holmes was a time traveler, seeking Moriarty through the aeons;
Holmes was Moriarty. Holmes was the hunter of various Jack the Rippers;
Holmes was Jack the Ripper. Holmes was the lover of Irene Adler; Holmes was
the lover of Watson the man; Holmes
for years.What did he tell us about the Master? The facts are surprisingly
sparse, but interpreted correctly, can lead us to the truth.
Watson told us that Holmes had a
brother (GREE), high in and invaluable to the British government, but unknown
generally (BRUC). Watson told us that Holmes spent some time in University,
quite possibly only one year, and that he had almost no friends there (GLOR).
Watson told us that Holmes acknowledged the art in his blood (GREE), and we
know that Holmes loved music and played a Stradivarius, which he had bought
at a great bargain (CARD). We know that he was interested in science (STUD), was a fine actor (SIGN), and had boxed
in his youth (GLOR). He knew much
about the major gems of his time (BLUE). During the
hiatus, he traveled around the world, and apparently had no difficulty in
contacting Mycroft during that time (EMPT). In his later years, he kept bees
(LAST). He was tall, thin, and had a hawk-like nose (STUD).
Holmes considered Watson to be the perfect English
jury (ABBE), reflecting the Victorian viewpoint, with all its strengths,
prejudices and cliches. Although Watson told the truth about what he knew of
Holmes’ cases, he often disguised facts or hid conclusions to protect
clients. Would Watson do less for his friend? Certainly we can see that
although Watson was truthful in his facts as he saw them, he could not openly
depict that which is now obvious to us all, but would have been socially
damaging to Holmes at that time.
Holmes, of course, was Jewish.
Let us take the points mentioned above and consider them in detail.
Why did Mycroft never receive the honor and publicity due him for his work
for the British Government? At that time, it was unthinkable that a Jew be
raised to high office or admitted to the upper reaches of society. Disraeli,
of course, was an exception, but his conversion to Christianity made him
somewhat more acceptable. At times Mycroft may have been the British
Government (BRUC), but he nevertheless remained an unknown, solitary man
because no one in that Government would socialize with a Jew. He saved
himself embarrassment by belonging to a club where no one talked to anyone
(GREE), so it was less obvious that his fellow clubmen might in any event
choose not to talk to him.
Why, as many believe, did Holmes leave University (whichever one he
attended) before receiving his degree? Why was he virtually friendless there?
Was it not because almost no one in that bastion of young upper-class scions
would associate with a Jewish student?
At this point, we must consider the cliches of Victorian thought,
which held that Jews were artistic and had a great love of music. Holmes
played the violin, often attended concerts and the opera, and admitted to
having art in his blood. Why did Holmes himself use the word “blood,” if not
to indicate ancestry?
There is some truth in all cliches, and there were indeed more major Jewish
artists and musicians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than might be
expected from their proportion of the total population [Index, Encylopaedia
Brittanica]. This disproportion also occurred in the field of science,
another Holmesian strength [ibid]. Watson would have believed that conforming
to these cliches indicated Jewishness.