"The Rubber Bend" is a Gene Wolfe short story which parodies Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson.

It first appeared in Universe 5 and also appears in Storeys from the Old Hotel.

The detective's client is an elderly scientist named Professor Louis Dodson, who has a 'daughter', Alice Dodson, who is in fact his lover.

Near the beginning of the story, Dr Westing (who is a robot) says to Mr. Wide (who is also a robot, and a detective, although he is not the Sherlock Holmes isomer) "would it be possible to sit in with you while you question his daughter?" to which Wide replies "You mean, his 'daughter'".

At the end of the story, Westing asks Street (his Holmes) "there are several things I don't understand about that case. Was that girl Dodson's daughter -- or wasn't she?"

The following paragraph is:

The rain drummed against the windows, and Street's smile was a trifle bitter. "I don't know why it is, Westing, that our society prefers disguising the love of elderly scientists as parenthood to regularizing it as marriage; but it does, and we must live and work in the world we find."

The relationship has no real bearing on the story, other than that Miss Dodson had reason to regularly visit her 'father's' laboratory after his dissapearance.

Why does Wolfe introduce this thread into the plot?

  • 2
    I think this is much more a Nero Wolfe parody than a Sherlock Holmes one (the title is a play on Nero Wolfe's "The Rubber Band"). Dodson is probably a play on Dodgson, the real name of Lewis Carroll, which connects to his "daughter" Alice. Aug 29, 2022 at 9:04
  • I am not familiar with Nero Wolfe, but that would explain "Noel Wide", and the fact that Wide has a letter addressed to "Wolfe" on his desk.
    – tgdavies
    Aug 29, 2022 at 9:07
  • 1
    Surely the joke here is that she's young enough to be his daughter
    – Valorum
    Aug 29, 2022 at 9:11
  • And , of course, that a familial relationship is a reasonable enough excuse to keep a young girl in one's house.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Aug 29, 2022 at 10:59

1 Answer 1


This is probably connected to the naming of the professor as "Dodson", and his daughter/wife as "Alice". As the WolfeWiki notes:

Professor Lewis C Dodson refers to Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson) and his 'daughter' Alice to Alice Liddell / the protagonist of the Alice books. The story parodies the well-known (and possibly untrue) rumor that Dodgson was a paedophile.

Apart from this, it is an subvention of the Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter trope, in which mad scientists are traditionally accompanied by "a beautiful but innocent girl in her late teens or early twenties". This is exactly the picture we form of the relationship as we read the story, until we realise that the two of them are actually married.

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