Decoding the Subtext
Sherlockian Theory
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Decoding the Subtext: The Resident Patient


Before we begin, I wanted to mention the existence of multiple versions of this story. At last count, there are three versions of The Resident Patient currently in circulation. The deviations in each version all occur within the first few paragraphs of the case. As mentioned previously, I am reading Baring-Gould's Annotated Sherlock Holmes, and here we find that a large portion of what was considered the original version (i.e. the version first published in the Strand Magazine) has been omitted. In the first English edition of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Resident Patient was merged with several passages from the original Strand version of The Cardboard Box. Further information on these editorial changes can be found here.


Baring-Gould dates The Resident Patient in October of 1886, some five years after Holmes and Watson first met. The original version (which appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1893) indicates that this story took place in October of the first year during which Holmes and I shared chambers in Baker Street. The Memoirs' edition does not include a date, but seems to suggest a later period.


The Resident Patient opens in Baker Street, Holmes consulted by a Doctor Percy Trevelyan, who, after explaining his unusual living situation and the odd circumstances surrounding his practice, requests Holmes' aid on behalf of his resident patient, Mr. Blessington. As part of a business arrangement, Dr. Trevelyan, with little money of his own, agreed to allow Blessington to set him up in practice in exchange for three-quarters of the practice's earnings. In addition, Blessington was to become a resident patient on the grounds that he had a weak heart and required constant doctor supervision. Concerned by Blessington's recently erratic behaviour and an unusual medical case, Dr. Trevelyan is also hoping Holmes can shed light on the situation. Holmes' investigation is stalled, however, with the discovery of Blessington's body, and Holmes must then turn his attention to mystery surrounding Blessington's death.

The Subtext:

It should first be noted that each of the three versions of The Resident Patient will be examined. I have chosen to begin with the first English edition, as published in the collection of stories referred to as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. This is a significantly longer version and, as such, warrants particular attention. It should again be noted that this version contains passages which first appeared in the Strand version of The Cardboard Box.

The case begins, as most cases do, with Holmes and Watson closeted away in Baker Street. It has become a familiar setting, and The Resident Patient gives what is perhaps one of the best examples of the domestic life which Holmes and Watson led between cases.

Our blinds were half-drawn, and Holmes lay curled upon the sofa, reading and re-reading a letter which he had received by the morning post.

There is something decidedly comfortable in Holmes' behaviour and, indeed, in the way in which Watson describes him. It is obvious here that the two men have spent a good deal of time in one another's presence, and have reached the point in their relationship where they are comfortable merely enjoying one another's company.

Finding that Holmes was too absorbed for conversation, I had tossed aside the barren paper, and leaning back in my chair, I fell into a brown study.

Here it is interesting to note that, despite the domesticity of the situation, Watson still longs for Holmes' companionship. This is evident in the above reference, as Watson, bored by the weather and lack of activity, and unable to engage in conversation with his friend, falls quickly into a brown study. This reference is a mark of how engaging Watson finds Holmes, and how quickly he reverts to a state of depression when Holmes' attention is lacking.

Fortunately for Watson, his study is quickly interrupted, for Holmes, perhaps sensing Watson's need for companionship, quickly turns his attention away from his letter and onto his friend and roommate. He does this in the only way that Holmes knows how; by making a startling deduction.

"You are right, Watson," said he. "It does seem a very preposterous way of settling a dispute."

"Most preposterous!" I exclaimed, and then, suddenly realizing how he had echoed the inmost thought of my soul, I sat up in my chair and stared at him in blank amazement.

Despite Watson's amazement, it should not surprise the reader to discover that Holmes is capable of reading the inmost thoughts of Watson's soul. Holmes knows Watson well, and can read him easily; a sign of just how intimately aware of Watson Holmes has become.

Watson, in traditional Watsonian fashion, immediately confesses his confusion and requests that Holmes explain how he was able to deduce Watson's thoughts. Holmes' answer is quite suggestive.

"You remember," said he, "that some little time ago, when I read you the passage in one of Poe's sketches, in which a close reasoner follows the unspoken thought of his companion, you were inclined to treat the matter as a mere tour de force of the author. On my remarking that I was constantly in the habit of doing the same thing you expressed incredulity."

I am certain you will agree that there is something decidedly intimate in the act of one man reading anything, let alone Poe, to his male companion.

Watson, again in typical Watsonian fashion, denies this accusation. Holmes' response?

"Perhaps not with your tongue, my dear Watson, but certainly with your eyebrows.

It is quite curious to note that Holmes' observation of Watson is acute enough to not only discern Watson's emotions based solely upon the movement of his eyebrows, but recall the incident some time after it has occurred. Clearly, then, Holmes is in the habit of observing Watson quite closely.

Watson, however, is not convinced. He simply cannot conceive of how Holmes could know his inmost thoughts by a simple shift in his facial features. Holmes, of course, is more than willing to show off his talents, his boastful nature constantly coming to the forefront whenever he is in Watson's presence.

"Your features, and especially your eyes, Holmes clarifies, and again Holmes' demonstrates the close attention he tends to pay Watson.

Holmes' explanation continues as he retraces Watson's thought process. Here, he refers to a past incident with perfect clarity, suggesting that Holmes has stored long-passed conversations with his dear, and intimate, friend. For a man who is very selective in what he stores in his 'brain attic', it is interesting to note that his past interactions with Watson are considered important enough for storage.

Here we conclude our exploration of the Cardboard Box/Resident Patient merger. The conclusion of the exchange marks the beginning of the other two versions, each slightly altered, but containing one key element which is worthy of analysis.

"It was very superficial, my dear Watson, I assure you. I should not have intruded it upon your attention had you not shown some incredulity the other day. But the evening has brought a breeze with it. What do you say to a ramble through London?" [Memories version]

"A day's work ruined, Watson," said he, striding across to the window. "Ha! The stars are out and the wind has fallen. What do you say to a ramble through London?" [Strand version]

"Unhealthy weather, Watson," said my friend. "But the evening has brought a breeze with it. What do you say to a ramble through London?" [Baring-Gould version]

Regardless of the version used, it is interesting to note Holmes' suggestion of a ramble through London. Bearing in mind that the two have passed the entire day inside, together. Holmes' desire to have Watson by his side on his ramble is a clear indication that Holmes both desires, and enjoys, Watson's company. It is interesting, too, to note Watson's response:

I was weary of our little sitting-room and gladly acquiesced.

This is interesting for two reasons. The first is the indication that, again, Holmes knows Watson well, as his invitation likely came upon sensing Watson's weariness. The second is the suggestion that Watson, while weary of their sitting room, is not in the least weary of Holmes' company.

In fact, Watson's enjoyment of Holmes' company becomes even more apparent as:

For three hours we strolled about together, watching the ever-changing kaleidoscope of life as it ebbs and flows through Fleet Street and the Strand. His characteristic talk, with its keen observance of detail and subtle power of inference held me amused and enthralled.

The author wishes to draw particular attention to the phrase: held me amused and enthralled. This is especially telling when one considers that Watson has just spent the day, not to mention the last one to five (depending on whose chronology we assume) years in Holmes' constant company.

The walk does eventually end, however, and the pair returns to Baker Street, Watson following Holmes into our sanctum; an interesting choice of phrases, and it is quite suggestion that Watson refers to Baker Street, not as his sanctum, but as our sanctum. Truly, Holmes and Watson are ensconced in domestic bliss.

Their return to Baker Street marks the arrival of a client, whom Holmes interviews at length. Upon the conclusion of this interview, Holmes sprang up without a word, handed me my hat, picked his own from the table, and followed Dr. Trevelyan to the door. Watson, it appears, has become a constant presence in Holmes' professional life, too.

Their on-site investigation does not go well, and Holmes leaves in dejected silence, refusing to speak for some time. When he does speak, his first act is to apologize to Watson, suggesting just how important Watson's feelings are to the Great Detective.

Watson pays little heed to Holmes' apology, instead using it as an excuse to turn the subject to the case, Watson quite obviously interested to hear Holmes' thoughts on the matter. A brief exchange ensues, at the end of which Watson shares his own theories on the case, much to Holmes' fond amusement.

I saw in the gaslight that Holmes wore an amused smile at this brilliant departure of mine.

"My dear fellow," said he, "it was one of the first solutions which occurred to me...

There is obvious pride in Holmes' voice, that Watson has come so far as to be able to deduce along the same lines of reasoning as Holmes himself. It is a mark, too, of Watson's intelligence, something that too few scholars have acknowledged. Watson's quick wit and penchant for logic, I suspect, is one of the things which first attracted Holmes to Watson. It is interesting, too, to note the subtle shift in Holmes' mood. Upon leaving Dr. Trevelyan's, Holmes is quite obviously frustrated, and yet, within moments of their conversation his mood has improved dramatically.

It soon appears as if Holmes' improved mood is not a temporary condition, for the next morning Holmes seems quite content with the progress of the case:

At half-past seven next morning, in the first glimmer of daylight, I found him standing by my bedside in his dressing-gown.

This is the second occasion we have had been witness to Holmes waking Watson; only this time he has not bothered to dress, something that, in Victorian times, would have been considered quite indecent.

It is curious, too, to note here that, again, Watson does not find Holmes' behaviour unusual, nor does he seem at all awkward with the fact that Holmes has once again intruded on his sleep. In fact, he calmly asks what matter is at hand, and the two proceed to discuss the case. It is apparent from this exchange that this is not merely the second time Holmes has woken Watson. In fact, in all likelihood this is a regular occurrence, and it is quite suggestion that Holmes should feel so comfortable in Watson's bedroom, and that Watson, in turn, should have no qualms with Holmes invading his private domain.

I'm going to deviate from Holmes and Watson for a moment, so that I can draw your attention to the case itself, for at this point Holmes and Watson have returned to Dr. Trevelyan's residence to discover the apparent suicide of Trevelyan's resident patient, Blessington.

It is noteworthy to remark that I am not the first individual to attempt to document some of the sexually suggestive references in The Adventure of the Resident Patient. In fact, several Sherlockian Scholars have already pointed out these references, and while I am not going to comment on the theories themselves, I feel it is important to make note of them.

Well known Sherlockian Scholar, Chris Redmond, in his book In Bed with Sherlock Holmes, suggests a possibly connection between Blessington and the men who would later hang him. Redmond purports that, given that the men involved in the homicide had spent a considerable amount of time imprisoned together, it is highly probable that a sexual bond formed between them. Several scholars, including Redmond, have commented on the thinly-veiled homosexual rape scene which occurs prior to Blessington's death. More information regarding the theory can be found here.

In addition, some scholars have proposed that the very plot (that of a rich man financing a young doctor's career) is evidence of homosexual subtext. Several theories have been put forth which suggest that Dr. Trevelyan was, in truth, a kept man.

I will again mention that I have chosen not to elaborate on these elements, as my primary interest rests with Holmes and Watson and any relationship which might have existed between them. It is interesting to note, however, the existence of potential homosexual subplots, as these theories lend weight to the theory that Holmes and Watson's relationship transcended that of two friends, colleagues, and roommates. Watson, of course, says it best:

"My dear Holmes!" I ejaculated.

This brings us to the end of the story, with Holmes and Watson returning to Baker Street, and breakfast, and the domestic life which formed the backdrop for each of Holmes' investigations.

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