>Sherlock Holmes & Women # 1

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Many years ago, in what feels like another world, I wrote a short paper about Victorian literature called “Sherlock Holmes and Women.” I found the subject relevant and engaging then, and I think parts of it are quite relevant for my March discussion: is there a genre which could be called ´machokrimi´?

Planned posts:
2) Sherlock Holmes & working class women
3) Sherlock Holmes & middle class women.

The first part of my paper was called “Stories without Women”. Actually, I was not able to find a Holmes story or novel which did not feature women at all. The main characters of my first example “The Resident Patient” are Sherlock Holmes and his indispensable Dr Watson, another bachelor doctor, a bachelor patient and two (male) criminals. Among them, they are perfectly able to commit and clear up a crime. Nevertheless, a female presence is lurking in the background, “I´ll take the house, furnish it, pay the maids, and run the whole place.” Nine pages later there is another reference to a maid, and in the third and last reference to the female gender we realize that there were actually two specimens in the household, “the maid and the cook have just been searcing for him.”

So the Victorian man may be a capable doctor, detective or scientist, but he would be quite helpless without a woman to wash, clean and cook. The story is not typical, though, as the maids were neither supposed to be heard nor seen. So the typical female of the story without women is an absent or dead wife/mother. Even the ´young person´ to whom Victorian stories were often read aloud, might realize that a son is supposed to have a mother. Thus in “The Gloria Scott”, where Sherlock Holmes recounts an experience from his youth about an old fellow student and his father, the female aspect of the story is limited to this quotation, “Trevor senior was a widower, and my friend was his only son. There had been a daughter, I heard, but she had died of diphtheria while on a visit to Birmingham.”

In the last category of stories without women Mrs Watson provides the feminine touch. My example comes from “The Stockbroker´s Clerk.” Apart from Holmes and Watson the characters are a clerk and two bank robbers, and it seems that if a story takes place in an absolutely woman-free environment, Arthur Conan Doyle pulls Mrs Watson out of his hat as a last resort. Watson starts out his account with the following remark about his private life, “Shortly after my marriage I had bought a connexion in the Paddington district.” Holmes visits him in his practice one morning, inquires about his wife´s health, and invites Watson to join him on a trip to Birmingham. Watson explains the matter to his wife, and off they trot into the dangerous, male world of crime and corruption.

Even a Victorian author could hardly write a complete novel without women. Conan Doyle does his best, however, which the following, conspicuous example illustrates. In “The Hound of the Baskervilles” we meet a few women, but young Henry Baskerville accounts for his background as follows, “I was a boy in my teens at the time of my father´s death … Thence I went straight to a friend in America.” The intelligent reader is left wondering whether his birth was an instance of male partenogenese, or which cruel fate spirited Mrs Baskerville away.

My main source: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes & kvinder # 1.
For mange år siden skrev jeg en lille universitetsopgave om viktoriansk litteratur med titlen “Sherlock Holmes og Kvinder.” Jeg syntes, emnet var relevant og spændende den gang, og jeg mener, dele af opgaven er relevante indlæg i min marts-diskussion: findes der en machokrimi-genre?

Planlagte indlæg
2) Sherlock Holmes & arbejderklassekvinder
3) Sherlock Holmes & middelklassekvinder

Første afsnit af opgaven hed “historier uden kvinder.” For at være helt præcis, har jeg ikke kunnet finde Sherlock Holmes-noveller eller romaner helt uden kvinder. De vigtigste personer i min første novelle, “The Resident Patient” er Sherlock Holmes og hans uundværlige Dr Watson, endnu en ugift læge, en ugift patient og to mandlige kriminelle. I fællesskab er de fuldt ud i stand til at begå og opklare en forbrydelse, men alligevel findes der en kvindes hånd i baggrunden. “Jeg tager huset, møblerer det, betaler tjenestepigerne …” Ni sider senere er der endnu en henvisning til en tjenestepige, og i tredje og sidste reference til kvindekønnet opdager vi, at der faktisk findes to eksemplarer i husholdningen: “pigen og kokken har lige været ude for at lede efter ham.”

Den viktorianske mand kan altså sagtens være en dygtig læge, detektiv eller videnskabsmand, men han er aldeles hjælpeløs uden en kvinde til at vaske, gøre rent og lave mad. Novellen er dog ikke typisk, da tjenestepiger helst ikke skulle ses eller høres. Så den typiske kvinde i dette afsnit er en fraværende eller død hustru/mor. Den viktorianske roman/novelle blev ofte læst højt i familiens skød, men selv datidens uskyldige, unge mennesker havde måske en fornemmelse af, at en søn må have en mor. Så i “The Gloria Scott”, hvor Sherlock Holmes fortæller om en ungdomsoplevelse om en studiekammerat og dennes far, begrænses det kvindelige nærvær til følgende citat: “Trevor senior var enkemand, og min ven var hans eneste søn. Der havde været en datter, hørte jeg, men hun døde af difteri under et besøg i Birmingham.”

I den sidste kategori af historier uden kvinder er det Mrs Watson, som tilfører et strøg af kvindelighed. Eksemplet her stammer fra “The Stockbroker´s Clerk”. Ud over Holmes og Watson figurerer en kontormand og to bankrøvere, og det ser ud til, at når novellen udspiller sig i et totalt kvindefrit miljø, haler Arthur Conan Doyle Mrs Watson ud af hatten som sidste udvej. Watson begynder sin beretning med følgende bemærkning om sit private liv: “Kort efter mit ægteskab, købte jeg en praksis i Paddington-distriktet.” Holmes besøger ham her en morgen, spørger til fruens helbred, og inviterer Watson til at følge med ham til Birmingham. Watson forklarer sin kone sagen, og de to mænd drager ud i den farlige, mandlige verden af kriminalitet og korruption.

Selv en viktoriansk forfatter kunne næppe skrive en hel roman uden kvinder, men man kan mene, at Conan Doyle gør sit bedste i følgende, påfaldende eksempel. I romanen “Baskervilles Hund” møder vi nogle få kvinder, men hør, hvordan unge Henry Baskerville beretter om sin baggrund: “Jeg var en teenagedreng da min far døde … Derefter rejste jeg direkte til en ven i Amerika.” Imens kan den intelligente læser så spekulere på, om unge Henry var et resultat af mandlig partenogenese (jomfrufødsel), eller hvilken ond skæbne der kan have revet Mrs Baskerville bort.

About Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen

I am a Danish teacher. In my spare time I read, write and review crime fiction.
This entry was posted in Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to >Sherlock Holmes & Women # 1

  1. maxine says:

    >I had not remembered much of this! But I do remember, as a young girl aged around 11, being fascinated with Irene Adler and the ambivalence of Holmes. I did not understand how she could be bad and at the same time admirable. (I think she was the only woman he ever truly admired?) Perhaps I am still confused by this, but Irene Adler has always been stuck in my memory since those distant days!

  2. Mack says:

    >Thanks Dorte. I helping with a class on Sherlock Holmes this fall and am busily collecting links such as this to make the class interesting (I hope).

  3. >Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe was thought to be the offspring of an affair between Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes

  4. Dorte H says:

    >I am glad you like it. Mack, one never knows what one´s students like. It was our university teacher who inspired me, because he had written an article about the bachelor gentleman of the Victorian period, and I think we all thought it was fascinating with all these men who thought it was so convenient to stay single and pay women for services of all kinds😉

  5. Dorte H says:

    >Norman, perhaps I should take a closer look at Nero Wolfe one day? I have a handful of Rex Stout´s novels on my shelf.

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