A man leaves his fiancée in the night fog and is never seen alive again. A woman escapes mob life for Norfolk, England, only to find notes in the garden in the secret code of her mobster suitor. The final message is “[p]repare to meet thy God.” A maid, torn from her bed by the butler who spurned her, is brought on a midnight hunt for a long-hidden treasure. As the man drops into the treasure chamber, the seal is lowered, and she leaves him to suffocate.
Sherlock Holmes has become known as one of the most complex, accessible characters in historical and modern literature. You’ll see every subject under the sun—forensics, philosophy, cooking, analytical thinking, and, of course, London—reconsidered through the lens of Sherlock Holmes. The female characters in his world are faced with unique situations. The answers they often find involve this aloof person who is repeatedly deemed sexist by modern writers. Holmes’ fictional biographer, John Watson, reports in one adventure that Holmes has an aversion to women.
Is this consistently true? As for the women, coming into his world can be lifesaving or hazardous.So it’s long since time to apply a different lens to the women who engage and motivate Sherlock Holmes. The center of each essay is agency—the opportunities for independence and self-determination, which were few and far between in Victorian England—and the particular character’s role in the story. What we find all too often are silences around the women. And yet, women in the stories—clients, villains, victims, and Violets—are pivotal in the world of Sherlock Holmes.
What could be more enigmatic than Sherlock Holmes’ methods for unraveling the most cryptic of mysteries? Perhaps it is what Watson sees, the more fragile aspect of his accounts: the woman in the shadows. Whether she’s a lady or a lady’s maid, she is often silent. If she does speak, it may not be recorded in her words. And that was life for half the population of Victorian England. Her role was written before she was born; it merely required her to don the appropriate uniform, whether it was the starched white apron of a maid, the stained skirts of a “char”—the woman who did the dirtiest of household jobs and was expected to be neither seen nor heard—or the fine silk gowns of the lady of the manor.
Enter Villains, Victims, and Violets to spy and report on these women in their darkest, most vulnerable moments. How does Irene Adler—pursued by a powerful European king, and Sherlock Holmes—outwit them both? Will Lady Hilda Trelawny Hope manage to conceal the secret that only Holmes unravels? When Violet Hunter takes the last job offered to her before she loses everything, does her appeal to Holmes keep her and her doppelgänger safe?
To understand Holmes’ world is to gaze unsparingly into the lives of the women who lived in it: the villains and what drives them astray; the victims Holmes races to rescue; and the Violets, who make up the strongest and most pivotal characters from Holmes’ unforgettable cases. The authors behind this book pull back the curtain on their small, private spaces, revealing their “proper”–and not so proper–place as women in a man’s world at the dusk of the 19th century and the dawn of the 20th.
With a foreword by Nisi Shawl, the James Tiptree Jr. Award-winning and Nebula-nominated author of the brilliant steampunk, feminist, afrofuturist novel Everfair. Shawl is also a noted Sherlockian.
Reviews for Villains, Victims, and Violets: Agency and Feminism in the Original Sherlock Holmes Canon
“This thoughtful and insightful collection of essays brings fresh eyes to the women of the Holmes stories. This is essential scholarship—not only to understand the Victorians but to see why the Canon remains so powerful in the 21st century! Highly recommended.”—Leslie S. Klinger, editor, New Annotated Sherlock Holmes
Villains, Victims, and Violets is a beautiful bouquet of Sherlockian scholarship, impressive in its breadth and depth. . . . This is a rare book that is likely to influence my re-reading of the Canon for some time to come. Dan Andriacco reviewed books for The Post and is the author of nineteen books, including Taming the Media Monster and Holmes Sweet Holmes.
This is a very interesting book to dip into. It raises a number of questions that provoke further thought or might spark discussions… Many of the essays turn the spotlight on characters that have not received much critical attention in the past… All in all, this is a book I would recommend to Sherlockians, and one that I should like to add to The Sherlock Holmes Collection in Westminster. Catherine Cooke is an executive in London’s Westminster City Council and library system, has long helped keep the Sherlock Holmes Society of London functioning. She is also the curator of the Marylebone Library’s Conan Doyle Collection.
Look for Villains, Victims, and Violets: Agency and Feminism in the Original Sherlock Holmes Canon during July 2019. For more information on the Studious Scarlets Society, I recommend their website: https://www.studiousscarlets.com/