a1 University of Kansas
When Dr. Watson first meets Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, the former is an itinerant medical veteran of the Second Afghan War who, sick and rootless, without “kith or kin” in England, is naturally drawn to London, “that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the empire are irreversibly drained” (6; ch. 1). Lacking emotional ties, physical strength, and purpose of any real kind, Watson seems to demonstrate the “feverish restlessness” and “blunted discouragement” that Max Nordau described as degenerative symptoms of the age. Watson's identification with urban refuse of the empire, together with his metaphor of the metropolitan landscape as cultural sewer, suggests Nordau's degenerative “feeling[s] of immanent perdition and extinction” (2) and emphasizes both the pervasiveness of modern social decay and the destructive potential of insalubrious influences that lurk within the civilized world as much as they do on its remote peripheries.