“Open the window, then! You have been at your club all day, I perceive.”
“My dear Holmes!”
“Am I right?”
“Certainly, but how?”
He laughed at my bewildered expression.
“There is a delightful freshness about you, Watson, which makes it a pleasure to exercise any small powers which I possess at your expense … [I see the] gloss still on [your] hat and boots…” (13)
In The Hound of the Baskervilles, we see the iconic duo at work again as detectives. This time around, Sherlock and Watson are investigating a death that eventually is revealed to have been perpetuated by “the hound” owned by “the Baskervilles”. In the passage above, and through the story, we see Sherlock using his “savant-like” observational skills on Watson (as he did in the openings of other books), and we see him explaining evidence in a similar, striking, and oddly precise manner.
Thinking of Sherlock Holmes as someone on the spectrum was not a knee-jerk reaction for me. I had never considered individuals with savant-like abilities to have ASD. Perhaps, because I really didn’t see savants as being on the spectrum, because it seems otherworldly. Sherlock is the same in that, he seems otherworldly. In Baskervilles and other stories, he displays a rigid mannerism and certain obsessive interests that would categorize him to be on the spectrum. But, I feel as though the audience sees Sherlock as “incredibly gifted” and not “autistic” or an “aspie”.
“But wait—we’re not talking about a real person here. Holmes was a fictional character, created for the amusement of Londoners in the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods. How can a fictional person be diagnosed with a developmental disorder?” (Albrecht)
In reading this article and looking at the story and how Sherlock is characterized, it made me think of the common characteristics and “stigmas” that are attached to ASDs. This article summarizes my thought succinctly:
“While the cultural fantasy of the autistic detective may seem to dispel the darker fantasy of those with cognitive disabilities as dangerous criminals and social problems, such detective figures may actually work to reinforce these stereotypes. Furthermore, the presumably redemptive fiction of the autistic hero often proves oddly dehumanizing: even as his incredible feats of deduction are praised as a work of genius, Holmes is objectified by his beloved Watson, who constantly compares the brilliant sleuth to machines and repeatedly describes him as ‘inhuman.'” (Loftis)
I like how Loftis compares how although Sherlock is put on a pedestal for all that he does, the very act seems to “dehumanize” him. He is quickly sorted out as an “other” and an “outlier”. Neurotypical individuals can’t look at a person and figure out where they’ve been all day by the dirt splotch on their shoes—they can’t count cards in a matter of milliseconds, or determine the day of the week in the 1950s off the top of their head. But those who can—we label them genius, we label them as “incredibly gifted”.
So, I think what I’m trying to get at in this entry is, does Watson aid in showing Sherlock as merely a “gifted person”, or is Watson aiding in the overall characterization of Sherlock? How can a fiction person be diagnosed with a developmental disorder? How is Bartleby depicted to have ASD? Because he is strange? Or because he has patterns and routines?
I suppose I’m interested in these ideas mostly because I’ve always wanted to write a story or some kind of fiction revolving around an autistic character, but I almost feel that just stating that is already “dehumanizing” them. “This character, they’re autistic,” seems flippant, where I’d like to create a sense of “maybe this character is on the spectrum because of their tendencies?”
What is the seemingly fine line between stigmatizing a character and dehumanizing them rather than representing a disability in fiction?
Albrecht, Karl. “Did Sherlock Holmes Have Asperger Syndrome?” Psychology Today. 2011. Web.
Loftis, Sonya Freeman. “The Autistic Detective: Sherlock Holmes and his Legacy.” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 4. 2014. Web.