Decoding the Subtext
Sherlockian Theory
Canon Companions

Decoding the Subtext: Wisteria Lodge


Baring-Gould dates The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge in March of 1890. Watson tells us that the case took place in March of 1892. As Watson's date occurs during Holmes' hiatus (indeed, Watson would have been under the impression that Holmes had perished during this time), we can automatically discount Watson's date. Baring-Gould's date is also problematic, for Watson is living in Baker Street and clearly not married in the story. Holmes also makes reference to Watson's publications, implying that Watson has been publishing Holmes' cases for some time.  Recall that in March of 1890 Watson had only published two of Holmes' cases (STUD and SIGN). This, combined with Mary's absence, and Holmes' presence, implies a date sometime after Holmes' return. Further evidence for a later date can also be found in Holmes' reference to Colonel Carruthers. While not a Colonel, the only Carruthers to appear in Canon was Mr. Carruthers in The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist. The Solitary Cyclist was set in 1895. Wisteria Lodge was first published in 1908.


Divided into two parts (The Singular Experience of Mr. John Eccles and The Tiger of San Pedro) The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge begins with Mr. Eccles visit to Holmes and Watson's rooms in Baker Street. He is quite perturbed, and wishes Holmes to investigate the disappearance of a household in Esher, where he was a guest for the evening. The story soon takes a dramatic turn when, with the arrival of the police, we learn that Mr. Eccles host, a man by the name of Mr. Garcia, was murdered in the night. Mr. Eccles, having been the last man to see Mr. Garcia alive, is compelled to tell his strange tale of waking that morning to find the residence of Mr. Garcia completely empty. After several failed enquires, Mr. Eccles then sought out the aid of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes, his actions mirrored by a local inspector, Baynes, is soon able to tie Garcia's death to a once merciless South American dictator known as the Tiger of San Pedro.

The Subtext:

I find it recorded in my notebook that it was a bleak and windy day towards the end of March in the year 1892. Holmes had received a telegram while we sat at our lunch, and he had scribbled a reply. He made no remark, but the matter remained in his thoughts, for he stood in front of the fire afterwards with a thoughtful face, smoking his pipe, and casting an occasional glance at the message. Suddenly he turned upon me with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

So begins The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge, and while we have chosen to ignore Watson's dating of the story, the opening paragraph does contain several elements of subtextual interest.

Note first Watson's statement that Holmes, having received and replied to a telegram, allows the matter to remain in his thoughts. While we have no doubt that Holmes would be capable of reading Watson's thoughts, we see here that Watson is just as capable of reading Holmes'. Since Canon dictates that Watson is not capable of such astonishing displays of deduction, we must therefore suggest that Watson came to his conclusion through his intimate awareness of Holmes. Watson knew the thoughts that occupied Holmes' mind, because, quite simply, Watson knew Holmes. Throughout Canon we have been witness to Watson's study of Holmes, and so it is not surprising to learn that Watson has become, in essence, a Holmesian expert.

We turn next to Watson's description of Holmes as he turned upon me with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.  This is not the first such instance Watson has described the mischievous twinkle in Holmes' eyes.  In fact, it occurs quite frequently and, on each such occurrence, this twinkle is accompanied by Holmes introducing Watson to a case. Clearly Holmes took great pleasure in including Watson in his work.  That is to say nothing of Watson's continual obsession with Holmes' eyes.

Holmes reads Watson the telegram he has received, and briefly asks Watson his thoughts on the wording of the telegram. They are not given much time to discuss the case, for in short order their client, Mr. Scott Eccles, arrives. He is barely able to introduce himself before the police arrive on his heels, and it some time before Holmes is able to convince all involved to let Mr. Eccles tell his strange tale. Here, of course, we deviate slightly, for Mr. Eccles' tale is quite interesting in its own right.

Through Mr. Eccles' story, we are once again privy to a subtextually heavy subplot.  It is through this subplot that we are given insight into homosexuality in the Victorian era, and, indeed, into Holmes and Watson's relationship.

We speak here, of course, of the relationship between Mr. Eccles and Mr. Garcia. We soon learn that Mr. Eccles has passed the night at Mr. Garcia's house, and that Mr. Garcia was found murdered in the night. Note Mr. Eccles statement concerning his and Garcia's meeting:

"I am a bachelor," said he, "and being of a sociable turn I cultivate a large number of friends. Among these are the family of a retired brewer called Melville, living at Albemarle Mansion, Kensington. It was at his table that I met some weeks ago a young fellow named Garcia. He was, I understood, of Spanish descent and connected in some way with the embassy. He spoke perfect English, was pleasing in his manners, and as good-looking a man as ever I saw in my life."

Eccles goes on to tell us:

"In some way we struck up quite a friendship, this young fellow and I. He seemed to take a fancy to me from the first, and within two days of our meeting he came to see me at Lee. One thing led to another, and it ended in his inviting me out to spend a few days at his house, Wisteria Lodge, between Esher and Oxshott."

We have mention, on several occasions, the propensity of Victorian era authors to write in code. Victorian propriety being what it was, it was quite natural to hide the author's intended meaning behind thinly veiled wording. Note in the above Eccles' statement that Garcia was as good looking a man as ever I saw. Note too Eccles emphasis of bachelorhood. Then there is his reference to quite a friendship, and the rather blatant one thing led to another.  The reader need not be reminded that this was a friendship which quickly evolved into house visits. When read on its own, the above paragraphs are quite suggestive, and yet, when examined in terms of Victorian code, we begin to see that Watson was clearly hiding the true relationship between Mr. Eccles and Mr. Garcia; that they were, in fact, casual lovers.

While this relationship is later explained as Garcia's need for an alibi, one must question why, then, Garcia did not simply use Mr. Melville, who had, after all, introduced the pair.  While it is entirely likely that Garcia did need an alibi, it is equally likely that he obtained this alibi by courting a like-minded stranger.

Upon completing his story, Mr. Eccles is escorted to Scotland Yard so that they might take his statement. This leaves Holmes and Watson once again alone in Baker Street and they soon turn their attention to theorizing over the case. They are, however, interrupted by an answer to a telegram Holmes had sent.  Holmes' actions here are quite interesting:

An answer had arrived to Holmes’s telegram before our Surrey officer had returned. Holmes read it and was about to place it in his notebook when he caught a glimpse of my expectant face. He tossed it across with a laugh.

This is quite thoughtful of Holmes, and I must confess, quite endearing, too. That Holmes should glance first to Watson, as if to ascertain Watson's mood, is quite remarkable. That, upon spotting Watson's expression, Holmes should immediately give Watson the telegram is incredible. Holmes, it would appear, is quite considerate of Watson's feelings, and this is highly suggestive of a later date, for one can easily imagine that, upon Holmes' return, and with the sudden absence of Mary and Watson's return to Baker Street, the pair rekindled their once tentative romance.

Holmes and Watson soon leave Baker Street, and head out to Surrey in order to start their investigation. There, Holmes and I had taken things for the night, and found comfortable quarters at the Bull. It is interesting to note that, later, Watson refers to their quarters as apartments, implying that they were sharing the space. One can only assume, given that they stayed in a small town inn, that their quarters were quite cosy indeed.

Shortly after arriving and settling into their quarters, the pair head out to Wisteria Lodge in the company of Inspector Baynes. There they are given a tour of the lodge and are shown the evidence collected during Baynes' investigation. It is with their leaving that we are given what is perhaps one of the most telling statements in the whole of the story. Here, Watson tells us:

I could tell by numerous subtle signs, which might have been lost upon anyone but myself, that Holmes was on a hot scent. As impassive as ever to the casual observer, there were none the less a subdued eagerness and suggestion of tension in his brightened eyes and brisker manner which assured me that the game was afoot. After his habit he said nothing, and after mine I asked no questions. Sufficient for me to share the sport and lend my humble help to the capture without distracting that intent brain with needless interruption. All would come round to me in due time.

Incredible, is it not, that Holmes should consider Watson incapable of deduction. Watson is only too capable, and here he demonstrates this well. That Watson should know, simply by having read various subtle signs, that Holmes was on a hot scent is very indicative of Watson's powers of observation. We cannot fault Holmes too much for his misjudgement, however, for Watson is very selective in what he chooses to observe. In fact, his powers of deduction do not often extend to a case, and that is because, more often than not, Watson has spent the whole of the case studying, examining and observing Holmes. Holmes is his subject, and Watson knows his subject well. We have referred to Watson as a Holmesian expert, and indeed he is, for there is no one else who can claim to know Holmes as intimately as Watson does.

We see here, too, the understanding which existed between the two men.  Clearly they functioned as one, and were likely quite lost without the other. That Watson should exhibit such patience is quite indicative of the trust he afforded Holmes, and that Watson should be content merely in sharing Holmes' adventures is quite suggestive of the loyalty he afforded Holmes. Truly, Watson was Holmes' man to the letter.

Watson would indeed get his wish, for in due time Holmes was able to put the pieces of the case together, save a woman's life, and discover the truth behind the curious incidence at Wisteria Lodge. The story ends back in Baker Street, and while this does not present us with additional subtextual evidence, it is interesting to note that Holmes, when addressing Watson, uses my dear seven times, all within the first half of the story. In fact, the frequency of its use is quite jarring, as most cases witness two or three such uses. This begs the question: Why, in this case above all other cases, did Holmes' continually refer to Watson with such affection? Is it possible that Holmes and Watson had once again established an intimate relationship? Could it be that, with Mary's passing, and Watson's return to Baker Street, Watson had also returned to Holmes' bed?

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