Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Study in Feminism

In all his ginger glory.
Sherlock Holmes

It’s time to embark on our second adventure in feminist, narrative over-analysis! We had good fun last month with my favorite New Hollywood space opera. But let’s jump back exactly 90 years from the release of Star Wars and look at something completely different. In the winter of 1887, the first Sherlock Holmes adventure, A Study in Scarlet, was published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual. And so began the adventures of one of the greatest characters in western literature, and one of my top fandoms.

If one is a huge fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective adventures, one has to be primarily in it for the character of Sherlock. He IS the stories, although the mysteries themselves are some of the best of the genre.[1] As a feminist Sherlockian, I am still in this primarily because I adore a wholly original, but still male character. That’s okay! Because, unlike what many people apparently still believe, we feminists don’t hate men.[2] 

But, just because the SH adventures focus on two male protagonists and were written by a man in the 19th century, does not mean they do not have a lot for my feminist self to love. This includes a plethora of great female characters and some seriously interesting feminist themes. In fact, the plots of a majority of the Holmes mysteries are driven by the actions of women; serving either as the mysterious architects of violent revenge, or the intelligent New Women facing baffling problems with impressive resourcefulness.

The first SH novel, A Study in Scarlet, does not give a feminist reading much to work with. Without trying to spoil the mystery, I can say that the marital rape of a woman is the catalyst for a revenge based crime at the center of the story. But it is a man having his vengeance, so, while it is a very good mystery, it’s not super feminist. But by the second novel, 1891’s The Sign of Four, Doyle began to establish his female focused tone. In our next entry, we’ll dive into a thorough look at the central Sherlock sisterhood; the incredible Irene Adler, the awesome Miss Mary Morstan, and the smart, resourceful Violet Hunter.

[1] They should be.  Doyle was in the process of inventing the genre.

[2] Watson is pretty cool too.

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