The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Women and Femininity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Story.Paragraph)
"I have seen those symptoms before," said Holmes, throwing his cigarette into the fire. "Oscillation upon the pavement always means an affaire de coeur. She would like advice, but is not sure that the matter is not too delicate for communication. And yet even here we may discriminate. When a woman has been seriously wronged by a man she no longer oscillates, and the usual symptom is a broken bell wire. Here we may take it that there is a love matter, but that the maiden is not so much angry as perplexed, or grieved. But here she comes in person to resolve our doubts" (Identity.13).
Once again, we see Holmes assigning certain character traits to womanhood. In this case, we get romance and heartbreak. We can't help but be struck by the fact that there is a parallel between "A Case of Identity" and "The Noble Bachelor," in that both clients are searching for their missing partners. But Mary Sutherland, as both a woman and a member of the working class, is characterized by her emotion and her faith to Mr. Hosmer Angel. Lord St. Simon, on the other hand, as both a man and a member of the upper class, is cold and highly preoccupied with the social consequences of losing his wife – the blows to his reputation and his finances. Do men and women generally bring different kinds of cases to Holmes? What might explain such differences, if there are any?
The nobleman swung his glasses a little faster and stared down into the fire. "You see, Mr. Holmes," said he, "my wife was twenty before her father became a rich man. During that time she ran free in a mining camp and wandered through woods or mountains, so that her education has come from Nature rather than from the schoolmaster. She is what we call in England a tomboy, with a strong nature, wild and free, unfettered by any sort of traditions. She is impetuous – volcanic, I was about to say. She is swift in making up her mind and fearless in carrying out her resolutions. On the other hand, I would not have given her the name which I have the honour to bear" – he gave a little stately cough – "had I not thought her to be at bottom a noble woman. I believe that she is capable of heroic self-sacrifice and that anything dishonourable would be repugnant to her" (Bachelor.73).
Lord St. Simon's marked in the text as a giant snob, so we can't assume that anything he says represents the views of Holmes or of Conan Doyle. But there's a curious opposition in this passage that seems to say something about the social ideas of Holmes's time. St. Simon creates this contrast: Hatty Doran is "swift in making up her mind and fearless in carrying out her resolutions." But, he wouldn't marry her if he didn't think that "at bottom [she is] a noble woman." The "on the other hand" there is significant because it indicates that noble women are not typically supposed to be decisive, fearless, or impetuous at all. Women of different classes are certainly portrayed differently in Conan Doyle's stories – compare, for example, colorfully-clothed Mary Sutherland and terrified, oppressed Helen Stoner.
As he spoke the door opened and a young lady entered the room. She was plainly but neatly dressed, with a bright, quick face, freckled like a plover's egg, and with the brisk manner of a woman who has had her own way to make in the world (Beeches.18).
Lower-class women have their own mannerisms, which can be pleasing (a "bright, quick face" and "the brisk manner of a woman who has had her own way to make in the world") but still incompatible with upper class modes of femininity (see Helen Stoner). But this kind of characterization doesn't work when you have women who are operating outside traditional English class systems – witness the unexpected freedom of the two non-English adventurers, Hatty Doran and Irene Adler.