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The case of the celibate detectives

Sherlock Holmes was a virgin. Hercule Poirot was a prude. And, I don’t know Miss Marple all that well, but she was hardly Aphrodite. One thing is for sure: The great private detectives of the English whodunit weren’t doing it.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Victorian-era superman, with his Freudian appetite for cocaine, did not otherwise abstain according to his epoch’s mores, but lust was as foreign to Holmes as frivolity. His acute powers of deduction left him cold and indifferent to the powers of seduction. “He” famously “never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer,” wrote his dutifully Boswellian Watson. “They were admirable things for the observer — excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results.” This a-romantic remove set him apart, both from the corruptible creatures he studied as if through a microscope, and from the community of literary characters at large. Aside from perhaps Tom Jones, Holmes was our first and — along with Poirot’s contemporaries in the pages of Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forester — our most significant asexual character in fiction.

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