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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Women and Femininity Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #1

He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer – excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results (Scandal.1.1).

The equation here seems to be Holmes = rational and Holmes = passionless. So rational = passionless. To be a good detective, you can't feel the "softer passions" for fear of distracting yourself from correct "mental results." What does this have to do with women? This is Watson's explanation for why Holmes seems to avoid love relationships with the ladies. Holmes often helps women as clients, but anything more would be "a false position." With the notable exception of Irene Adler (see our "Characters"), Holmes's interactions with women seem really hierarchical: he's the brainy guy who's going to solve the emotional little lady's problems. But once her problems are solved, it's back to Baker Street with Watson.

Quote #2

It was all-important. When a woman thinks that her house is on fire, her instinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values most. It is a perfectly overpowering impulse, and I have more than once taken advantage of it. In the case of the Darlington Substitution Scandal it was of use to me, and also in the Arnsworth Castle business. A married woman grabs at her baby; an unmarried one reaches for her jewel-box. Now it was clear to me that our lady of to-day had nothing in the house more precious to her than what we are in quest of. She would rush to secure it. The alarm of fire was admirably done. The smoke and shouting were enough to shake nerves of steel. She responded beautifully. The photograph is in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the right bell-pull (Scandal.2.86).

Many of us here at Shmoop are, in fact, of the female persuasion. And we feel that this piece of reasoning right here… is not true. Why on earth would it be a specifically womanly trait to run for things that are precious to you when you think your house is on fire? This presents a little bit of a problem in the Holmes thing as a whole. Holmes makes these brilliant observations that (almost) always turn out to be true. But the things he's observing are creations and assumptions of Conan Doyle. They're correct in the world of the Holmes stories, but they're not necessarily true in the real world. So while Conan Doyle is going for the effect of reality, he's using all of these convincing details to mask the fact that all of this "truth" in his stories – about women, about people of different classes and nations, and so on – is all really fiction.

Quote #3

Even after I became suspicious, I found it hard to think evil of such a dear, kind old clergyman. But, you know, I have been trained as an actress myself. Male costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage of the freedom which it gives […].

Well, I followed you to your door, and so made sure that I was really an object of interest to the celebrated Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Then I, rather imprudently, wished you good-night, and started for the Temple to see my husband (Scandal.3.28).

This is a tiny excerpt from Irene Adler's letter to Holmes explaining how she has outsmarted him. It's a very small detail, but we were struck by the fact that Adler enjoys cross-dressing for the "freedom which it gives" her. Implicitly, women's clothing is too restrictive for Adler. What gives her this degree of mobility, something that pretty much all other female characters in these stories lack? Her training as an actress. Not only does she have the skills to break out of the social restrictions on women at the time, but she's already a little bit outside of mainstream society thanks to her profession – much like Holmes himself.

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