Friday, January 31, 2014

Dr. Watson's Writing Style and Personality Type

Dr. John H. Watson is generally accepted as an  ISFJ. His writing style certainly supports this idea. Watson writes clearly, succinctly, and yet with warmth.

John Le Carré wrote in the Introduction to The New Annoted Sherlock Holmes, "Dr. Watson doesn't write to you, he talks to you, with Edwardian courtesy, across a glowing fire. His voice has no barriers or affectations. It is clear, energetic, and decent."  Andrea Wenger labeled the ISFJ writing style as "Tangible Warmth." She wrote, "ISFJs focus on facts, which they often convey with warmth.." Although Holmes complains that Watson doesn't stick to the facts enough,* the stories stay focused on the mystery at hand and are told in a straight-forward fashion. He just diverges a little bit to give us a better glimpse of the characters and their lives-- one source of warmth. This warmth, or rather personability, is found in the feelings of the characters, such as their excitement, fear, love, and ideals.  

Warmth is also found in Watson's descriptions. Even if he is describing something dreary, it still has warmth because the description contains a perception of the subject and how it is interpreted by an imaginative human mind. It's like that scientific principle which says the temperature scale doesn't measure hot versus cold, but is rather a scale of heat. There isn't really such a thing as cold, but just a difference in warmth. It was explained to me somewhat like this: two objects that we perceive as cold, one being -10 degrees Fahrenheit and the other -20 degrees Fahrenheit  (cold to human touch) actually contain heat, for if they didn't there could be no energy transfer and the warmth from the -10 object wouldn't travel to the other and raise it's temperature to -15 degrees.

One example of Watson's descriptive warmth in speaking and writing is this exchange where his "SF" effusion is met with "NT" facts:

"'The Haven is the name of Mr. Josiah Amberley's house,' I explained. 'I think it would interest you, Holmes. It is like some penurious patrician who has sunk into the company of his inferiors. You know that particular quarter, the monotonous brick streets, the weary suburban highways. Right in the middle of them, a little island of ancient culture and comfort, lies this old home, surrounded by a high sun-baked wall mottled with lichens and topped with moss, the sort of wall--'
'Cut out the poetry, Watson,' said Holmes severely. 'I note that it was a high brick wall.' (The Adventure of the Retired Colour Man)

The description pulls you in. He personifies the house. He is bounteous with adjectives and in a painter-like fashion, he daubs moss and lichen onto the wall. Not only does he display warmth in this passage but also other characteristics in keeping with the ISFJ style, for Wenger writes, "They may also excel at sensory detail, drawing the reader in."

Furthermore, in Portrait of an ISFJ, we are told, "ISFJs have a rich inner world that is not usually obvious to observers. They constantly take in information about people and situations that is personally important to them, and store it away. This tremendous store of information is usually startlingly accurate, because the ISFJ has an exceptional memory about things that are important to their value systems. It would not be uncommon for the ISFJ to remember a particular facial expression or conversation in precise detail years after the event occurred, if the situation made an impression on the ISFJ. " This is evident in Watson's writing. He often wrote the stories years after they occurred (with the help of his notes) and yet the people have life and color, and the descriptions are explicit.

By Sidney Paget, The Strand Magazine, October 1891
ISFJs "Enjoy reading and writing about history or biography, but are less likely to gravitate toward business or technical writing" (Wenger). Watson writes about events, he recounts stories that have happened, which is, more or less, history. Holmes referred to him as his "biographer" on at least one occasion. Watson does not write the dry technical pieces Holmes would wish.*

Wenger also informs us that ISFJs "often write about topics they care about, although they may not let their own beliefs shine through. They prefer to present the facts, which they may do in great detail, then let readers make up their own mind."  We know that Watson finds the cases very interesting, his wife says as much. However, Watson doesn't make judgments on Holmes' handling of a case although he expresses his disapproval of his drug use and excessive untidiness.

"Tangible Warmth" (Wenger) is certainly an appropriate description for Dr. Watson's writing style. The facts told in vivid detail renders it tangible. Warmth emanates from the humanness of his descriptions, the emotions expressed, and the interactions between people that you come to know through his eyes.

~Please take a look at Andrea Wenger's article,  The ISFJ Writing Personality: Tangible Warmth. I was delighted with it. You may also enjoy reading her other articles. ~

*In The Sign of Four, Holmes said, "Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science, and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid."


Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan, edited by Leslie J. Klinger, intro by John Le Carré. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, vol 1 & 2. W. W. Norton & Company. New York: 2005.

Wenger, Andrea. The ISFJ Writing Personality: Tangible Warmth.

Portrait of an ISFJ

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