Is Dr. Watson more likable than Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Dr. Watson is generally considered more likable than Sherlock Holmes, because Holmes keeps secrets from people, and sent Watson instead of going himself.

Likability is a hard factor to quantify or describe.  However, Sherlock Holmes is often considered difficult to get along with.  In this book, he refuses to go to the client to investigate, and sends Watson, who is not really a detective, instead.  Then, he turns out to have been hiding there the whole time, without even telling Watson!  These are both behaviors most people would definitely consider unlikable.  Watson, on the other hand, gets along with Sir Henry and most other people.  So it seems that he is the more likable one!

The first example of Holmes not being likable is his treatment of Watson in the very beginning of the book.  He asks Watson to look at the cane and make deductions from it.  It seems as if this whole exercise is not designed to test Watson’s skill, but to make a fool of him, whether or not Holmes realizes this.  Watson does his best, with Holmes egging him on with what seems to be praise, but then Holmes declares his deductions wrong in pretty much every respect.  For some reason, though, he basically calls Watson an idiot, he still basks in Holmes’s presence, enjoying the attention.

“I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth. Not that you are entirely wrong in this instance. The man is certainly a country practitioner. And he walks a good deal.” (Ch. 1)

Holmes is so brilliant, and his deductions are so specific, that Watson just finds himself laughing and doesn’t really seem insulted when Holmes tells him that he has no genius himself, but all of his “erroneous” deductions helped lead Holmes to some of the correct ones.  Holmes does not see anything wrong with treating Watson this way.  It is just how he thinks, and how he operates.  He does not necessarily mean to be cruel, and Watson understands this.  It does not make him likable though.

Another example of Holmes not treating others with respect would be his telling the client that he could not go to Baskerville Hall, and sending Watson instead.  Watson is not the one they hired.  They hired Holmes.

“If matters came to a crisis I should endeavour to be present in person; but you can understand that, with my extensive consulting practice and with the constant appeals which reach me from many quarters, it is impossible for me to be absent from London for an indefinite time. At the present instant one of the most revered names in England is being besmirched by a blackmailer.”  (Ch. 5)

Not only does Holmes refuse to go to the client to investigate himself, and offer Watson in his place, but he also does not tell Watson that he really is actually going.  He keeps the entire thing a secret from Watson.  Watson doesn’t mind going, considering it an adventure, but it is just another example of how Holmes uses and abuses him and he just accepts it.  He definitely is the more likable one! 

Once investigating, Watson seems to get along pretty well with Sir Henry.  He generally makes himself useful to the investigation.  Miss Stapleton mistakes him for Sir Henry and warns him to leave and then saying she made a mistake, and he stands up to her, telling her that she obviously meant something.

When Watson learns that Holmes was hiding out all along, you would expect him to be extremely angry.  At first, he is just grateful that he is no longer in charge!  Then he is shocked to learn that Holmes deceived him.

I was still rather raw over the deception which had been practised upon me, but the warmth of Holmes's praise drove my anger from my mind. I felt also in my heart that he was right in what he said and that it was really best for our purpose that I should not have known that he was upon the moor. (Ch. 12)

Then likable Watson forgives Holmes, understanding that he is what he is, and appreciating his brilliance once again.  Holmes watches Watson go from disbelief to anger to acceptance, and knows that he will go along with it, because he always does.

Watson is up for anything.  When Holmes sends him there, he probably knew that having Watson there would distract everyone and keep their attention focused on him instead of people looking for Holmes.  Watson’s easygoing nature and compassion make him a natural for this job.  Despite Holmes’s comments that Watson is no genius, he is able to pay attention to details and understand human behavior.

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