Decoding the Subtext
Sherlockian Theory
Canon Companions

Decoding the Subtext: The Beryl Coronet


Baring-Gould dates The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet in December of 1890.  Watson tells us that it is February, and makes reference to living in Baker Street.  Again, no mention of Mary is made, suggesting that Watson is not married.  As Baring-Gould's assumptions are entirely based on weather patterns, we have no difficulties accepting Watson's month.  Given that The Beryl Coronet was first published in May of 1892, we can suggest that the case took place prior to Watson meeting Mary Morstan.


Mr. Alexander Holder, a banker, extends a bank loan to an illustrious client, accepting as security one of the most valuable public possessions in existence; the Beryl Coronet.  So loath is Mr. Holder to allow this treasure out of his sight that he decides to keep the precious jewels by his side, day and night, until the loan has been paid in full and the coronet is returned.  Sadly, on the very first night Mr. Holder brings the coronet home, he wakes in the middle of the night to find his son twisting the gold in his hands, three of the stones missing.  Frantic, Mr. Holder first orders the arrest of his son, and then, upon realizing that the local police are incapable of solving the crime, seeks the aid of Sherlock Holmes.

The Subtext:

The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet begins at the bay window in Baker Street, with Watson observing a madman on the street below.  Holmes, we shall soon see, is quite content to use Watson's observation as an excuse to invade Watson's space.

My friend rose lazily from his armchair and stood with his hands in the pockets of his dressing-gown, looking over my shoulder.

This is not the first occasion in which Holmes has chosen to glance over Watson's shoulder rather than make use of the other window lining the street.  In fact, the pattern is exceedingly familiar, and it is curious to note that, when given the option, Holmes chooses to press himself against Watson's back rather than seek out an unobstructed view.

Holmes' fun is soon interrupted by the arrival of Watson's madman; one Alexander Holder, a banker from a well known London firm.  He brings with him a case, and the comforting scene of domesticity that introduced the story soon gives way to the horror of Mr. Holder's predicament.

After hearing of Mr. Holder's loss, Holmes immediately proposes they travel to Mr. Holder's home in Streatham. Watson tells us:

My friend insisted upon my accompanying them in their expedition, which I was eager enough to do, for my curiosity and sympathy were deeply stirred by the story to which we had listened.

We are pleased of course to note here that Holmes still wishes Watson by his side, and that Watson is only too eager to assist Holmes in his cases.

Watson then turns to pondering over the case, and here he begins to question the guilt of Mr. Holder's son.  Watson states:

I confess that the guilt of the banker's son appeared to me to be as obvious as it did to his unhappy father, but still I had such faith in Holmes's judgement that I felt that there must be some grounds for hope as long as he was dissatisfied with the accepted explanation.

Note Watson's faith and his absolute trust.  Holmes believes Mr. Holder's son to be innocent, and so Watson will not dismiss the notion, for he knows (and trusts) Holmes too well to discount any of Holmes' theories.

Their time in Streatham passes quickly; just enough time for Holmes to go over the grounds and inspect the windows before returning to Baker Street.  There, Watson tells us:

It was not yet three when we found ourselves in our rooms once more. He hurried to his chamber and was down again in a few minutes dressed as a common loafer.

Note here Watson's use of the term our rooms, implying that Watson is living in Baker Street.  We know, given the story's publication date, that the story could not have taken place after Holmes' return.  We know, too, that neither Mary, nor Watson's marriage, is mentioned, implying that The Beryl Coronet takes place before Watson's introduction to Mary Morstan.

With this in mind, reread Watson's statement.  He says:

He hurried to his chamber and was down again in a few minutes...

The author wishes to draw particular attention to the phrase, down again in a few minutes.

We must now turn our attention to Sherlockian scholarship; for it is there that we will discover the subtextual implications of this statement.

Most scholars agree that Holmes and Watson's quarters took up two floors.  On the first floor (American second) was the sitting room.  Off of the sitting room was Holmes' bedroom, and upstairs was Watson's bedroom.  The occasional scholar will place Watson's bedroom next to Holmes' on the first floor, but nowhere will we find reference to Holmes' bedroom being on the second (American third) floor.

(This information comes largely from the layout designs of similar houses in Baker Street, as well as from various Canon based references.  For more information on the layout of 221B, see the works of: Vincent Starrett, David Richardson and James Holroyd.)

Given that the convention is for Holmes' bedroom to be on the same level as the sitting room, why then do we see Holmes coming down from his room?

As Holmes would say, if we eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.  The answer, then, is elementary.

Holmes has moved into Watson's room.

Holmes, now disguised as a common loafer, announces his intentions to pursue a line of investigation.  He is, however, loath to go without his Watson:

"I only wish that you could come with me, Watson, but I fear that it won't do."

Holmes knows that he will be better able to achieve his task alone, and yet the thought of working without his trusty comrade is so distressing that Holmes vocalizes his desire to have Watson with him.  This openness on Holmes' behalf can also be seen as further evidence for a shift in their relationship.

We see this again a few moments later when Holmes, finding himself passing Baker Street, cannot resist the urge to pop in and see his Watson.

"I only looked in as I passed," said he.  "I am going right on."

While this is quite interesting, what is perhaps even more interesting is Holmes' comment:

"It may be some time before I get back. Don't wait up for me in case I should be late."

Holmes is either quite presumptuous (assuming that Watson would wait up) or Watson has gotten into the habit of waiting for Holmes to accompany him to bed.

Watson does not dispute this intimacy; indeed, he tells us:

I could see by his manner that he had stronger reasons for satisfaction than his words alone would imply. His eyes twinkled, and there was even a touch of colour upon his sallow cheeks.

This, of course, comes after Holmes' announcement that he must get these disreputable clothes off.  We have no doubt that Watson whole-heartedly agreed.

Despite Holmes' insistence that Watson not wait up, Watson does exactly that, telling us:

I waited until midnight, but there was no sign of his return, so I retired to my room.

Again the intimacy between the two men becomes quite obvious, for this is not the behaviour of two room-mates; indeed, it can hardly qualify as the behaviour of two friends.  We assume here that this story took place before Watson's marriage, and when we examine it in chronological order we see that the potential for a romantic (and, indeed, sexual) relationship is quite probable.

We know that Holmes and Watson began their relationship as room-mates.  We know, too, that a friendship slowly evolved from their sharing of space.  We know that Watson fell in love with and proposed to Mary Morstan within the span of a few days, at a time when he and Holmes were seen to be arguing.  Is it not reasonable, then, to assume that there existed a period of time, before Watson's marriage, when Holmes and Watson sought one other as lovers?

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