"some little trouble had been caused by a woman" [NOBL]
Usually we see women in the Canon through the stacked perspectives of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and his literary agent, Arthur Conan Doyle.
The variety of authors in Villains,Victims, and Violets: Agency and Feminism in the Original Sherlock Holmes Canon (A Studious Scarlets Society Anthology) bid the women in the Canon to step out from the pages, out of the mist and let us examine them in their full dimension in the context of their times.
Although I tend to disagree with the book's promotional description implying that scholarly writers have exhausted the topics of the Canon from Sherlock Holmes' perspective, this is a welcome addition to Sherlockian scholarship.
The entries in the anthology are grouped into five sections, based on facets of women's agency in the stories and society. The third section is an interlude, with a refreshing letter to Watson penned by "Lady Trelawney Hope" offering her views and the reasons behind her actions during "The Adventure of the Second Stain."
The actions of the women are discussed, often presenting insightful alternate views of their motivations. The examination of some women is eye-opening. It is interesting how many women who, while at the heart of investigations, never spoke for themselves in the Canon.
Women's agency in Victorian England is certainly a factor in all the stories. The morality expected by Victorian and Edwardian readers must always have been in Conan Doyle's mind. Readers would expect praise and reward to come to those modest home-centered women who do as they should, serving husband and family.
The women who have taken it upon themselves to step out of their meek home-oriented life to become active partners in solving their own cases are more remarkable. While Holmes defended those who were truly victims, he showed great respect for those who did show agency. This is certainly reflected as their own words are more often quoted in the Canon.
An anthology is always a major undertaking, and Haile and Bower have been successful at it. There are a variety of contributors with different styles. The majority of the entries in this anthology are well constructed, well supported and are thought provoking. They support their views with data from the Canon as well as with information about the society of the time.
Most of the authors take us along with them to explore the range of motivations of the female figures that have so little voice, or none at all, in their own stories. Some share the remarkable women who find their voice and act on their own behalf to influence the outcomes of their situation. There are a few entries that include a tedious, lengthy retelling of a whole tale's plot. I would always prefer an author's original content to a string of direct quotes.
This anthology of women's agency in the Canon is as relevant and welcome now as it would have been during the Women's Rights movement in the 1960's. Hopefully, before long, the issues of a lack of agency will be viewed as historic rather than current.
The next time I reread the Canon, I will be definitely be looking more closely at the presentation of the women and their roles in their own stories. Just one of the things that I will be pondering for a good long time is just what name Holmes used when he signed the Adler-Norton marriage license as a witness.
The book can be found in paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon. It is also available in paperback and PDF formats from the publisher.
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