Canon Thursday: Studying Mrs. Hudson

After the first series of Sherlock aired, I did a series of character studies on the women of the series. These studies were hosted at the now-nonexistent Baker Street Supper Club, so I’ve decided to share them here. This one features Mrs. Hudson and is a study of her character in the TV series and in the original canon. Note: This study was written before Series 2 had aired.

Mrs. Hudson1

Deducing Mrs. Hudson: A Character Study

Constants. The world of Sherlock Holmes is a world of constants that anchor the madness of crime and horror—Scotland Yard, a pocket magnifier, skeptics, a violin, London, and a flat. One of the most important of these signposts in the fog is Mrs. Hudson, landlady and reluctant housekeeper. Through her vital background role, Mrs. Hudson has become one of the most important icons in the Holmes universe. The following sections will evaluate her character in depth.

 Meeting Mrs. Hudson

The introduction of Mrs. Hudson in Sherlock is a particularly intriguing one because it follows very shortly on the introduction of Sherlock himself, who is immediately shown to be eccentric, socially unusual, and somewhat cold. Mere moments later, however, he and John encounter Mrs. Hudson when they arrive to view the 221b Baker Street flat, and a new aspect of Sherlock becomes apparent in his treatment of her, which is warm and affectionate, reminiscent of an adult son and his mother. Her treatment of him is equally warm, and despite his oddities, she is clearly delighted to have him as a tenant. The question of why anyone would want Sherlock as a tenant is explained when Sherlock informs Watson that he ensured the conviction of Mrs. Hudson’s criminal husband for capital murder. His unusually warm affection for her is unexplained, but makes sense in the context of the original canon.

In neither the show nor the stories does Watson witness the initial meeting of Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock, so he is forced to observe an already existent relationship. His longest in-canon explanation is found in The Dying Detective and is worth noting:

Mrs. Hudson, the landlady of Sherlock Holmes, was a long-suffering woman. Not only was her first-floor flat invaded at all hours by throngs of singular and often undesirable characters but her remarkable lodger showed an eccentricity and irregularity in his life which must have sorely tried her patience. His incredible untidiness, his addiction to music at strange hours, his occasional revolver practice within doors, his weird and often malodorous scientific experiments, and the atmosphere of violence and danger which hung around him made him the very worst tenant in London. On the other hand, his payments were princely. I have no doubt that the house might have been purchased at the price which Holmes paid for his rooms during the years that I was with him. The landlady stood in the deepest awe of him and never dared to interfere with him, however outrageous his proceedings might seem. She was fond of him, too, for he had a remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealings with women.

This symbiosis appears accurate to the intentions of Sherlock as well.

As the episodes progress, Mrs. Hudson’s quiet involvement remains continuous, and her efforts to remain landlady only are thwarted constantly. Her rallying cry of “not your housekeeper” is a sly nod to one of Conan Doyle’s confusing potential inconsistencies. In A Study in Scarlet, she is presented as landlady, and Sherlock often serves meals for himself and John. As the stories progress, however, her duties seem to expand, and she is later described as taking care of the flatmates’ meals and seems generally available to them at all times.

Also worth nothing is the unusual amount of forbearance Sherlock shows to Mrs. Hudson, especially evident during the climax of A Study in Pink. He obviously believes she is wasting his time, but instead of cutting her with a characteristically biting comment, he endures her interruptions calmly for quite a while before finally snapping. This anecdote, combined with Sherlock’s unusual willingness to hug and kiss her as well as to allow her to be present during some moments of deduction, paints the picture of a warm, even loving, relationship that adds a dimension to Sherlock not otherwise present. The next section will explore what this relationship and Mrs. Hudson’s character mean to the show.

Meaning of the Role

The character of Mrs. Hudson is beloved in Sherlock and the wider world of Holmes for many reasons, but a few in particular are of paramount importance to the show. The first is the dual aspect of comedy and pathos she provides. A quintessential example of her unwitting humor is found in The Great Game when she embarks on a detailed explanation to a bewildered Inspector Lestrade about what it means to “do your colors,” a needed moment of lightness in a very heavy episode. Nevertheless, the writers are careful to keep her from becoming a punch line by showing some of the slights that color her life. For instance, also in The Great Game, Sherlock, John, and Lestrade visit another of her flats, 221c. As they enter, she tries to explain her difficulty in finding a tenant for it, but is cut off midsentence by a closed door. Instead of letting this moment stand as humorous, the show’s creators linger on Mrs. Hudson’s wounded expression. While consistently funny, she is also a constant reminder of the unconscious hurts that Sherlock’s personality and lifestyle inflict even on those he adores.

A second important aspect of Mrs. Hudson’s character is the window she provides into Sherlock’s treatment of women. In The Dying Detective, Watson states that Holmes “disliked and distrusted” women, a perspective that is hinted at in Sherlock through Sherlock’s somewhat sociopathic relationship with Molly Hooper and his treatment of Miss Wenceslas in The Great Game. At the same time, as stated above, Watson also claims in The Dying Detective that Holmes “had a remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealings with women.” Mrs. Hudson provides an opportunity for viewers to see this side of him regularly expressed in the unusual patience, consideration, and affection he shows his landlady.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Mrs. Hudson is a mother figure for both Sherlock and John. At the beginning of the series, John is without much family connection and estranged from his only sister, while Sherlock is virtually alone, with one brother he abhors. John and Sherlock provide needed male companionship for one another, but Mrs. Hudson provides something different and equally important, though less centrally featured in the series, and that is the unconditional love of a mother. No matter how “indecent” Sherlock is in his enjoyment of crime or how far John and Sherlock go in their investigations, they always have one person to come home to, someone who complains about waiting on them but does it anyway, who still cares for them even when the door is shut unceremoniously in her face. In other words, Sherlock and John have a mum, and that is what makes Mrs. Hudson great.

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The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

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