One thing that may get lost in our modern screen adaptations of the original Conan Doyle material on Sherlock Holmes is that strong feeling Sherlockians have always gotten from Holmes that he was a real person. Love the Cumberbatch to death, but his James Bond antics of late have raised his Sherlock Holmes to that sort of over-the-top personality I love to see on the movie screen. And while fans of the Miller tend to cite his more "down-to-earth" persona, he remains over-the-top in a different direction. You probably aren't going to run into anyone like either of those fellows on the street, which is why we watch television and movies in the first place -- to see people and stories we don't see every day.
But while we don't see a fellow like the Sherlock Holmes of the sixty stories every day, we see parts of him in ourselves and the people we know all the time. He's a complex fellow, full of contradictions, flaws, amazing bits, and just plain humanity . . . like the rest of us, just a little better at some things.
That came to mind this morning when I was re-reading Jacquelynn Morris's article "The Case of the Missing Misogynist" in the Winter 2012 issue of The Serpentine Muse. She makes a methodical survey of the Holmes Canon to gather his attitudes on women to see what the evidence truly is on Holmes being identified as a misogynist.
Jacquelynn passes over A Study in Scarlet with the statement "Holmes has no direct contact with any women in the entire story." Which is true. And not true. For in A Study in Scarlet, we have Mrs. Sawyer visiting Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street to reclaim "her daughter's" ring. Now, in an Austin Powers-like moment, Sherlock cries "Old woman be damned!" and declares that Mrs. Sawyer must have been a young man in drag.
Now, Holmes never proves his statement about Mrs. Sawyer's gender identity, and these days we might be more accepting of Mrs. Sawyer's life-choices, even if she is a lying, ring-stealing old biddy. But when Sherlock Holmes then says, "Women are never to be entirely trusted," early on in his next book, The Sign of the Four, one might see where he's coming from. (And for Holmes, men aren't to be trusted either -- remember that young man who wished Holmes good-night in "A Scandal in Bohemia?) Mrs. Sawyer really pissed Holmes off, so much that he started insulting her femininity in the absolute worst way. (Just like Austin Powers eventually does, actually, when he tries to pull the "wig" off a real woman.)
My point here, though I've wandered a bit just for fun, is that Sherlock Holmes was a misogynist. And he wasn't a misogynist, as evidenced in his interactions with Mary Morstan and other ladies, which Jacquelynn cites in her paper.
One of the amusing things I've learned since becoming a blogger is that people really, really want to see you as a consistent, definable creature, which we actual human beings are not. You're either a Republican or a Democrat, a Christian or an Atheist, Straight or Gay in the eyes of somebody out there. As enlightened as any of us can be on some subjects, we all have our "black or white" definitions of people on other subjects. It's a built-in mental mechanic we can't ever seem to completely overcome.
And while Sherlockians have enjoyed trying to define and nail down Sherlock Holmes on a number of parts of his life for a very long time, the truth about Holmes is that he's more complicated than that. He has moments of misogyny. He has moments of racism. He has moments of intolerance for lesser intellects (which our modern adaptations love to play up). But these are moments, and not the whole man. Over the course of his life, Sherlock Holmes truly seems to enjoy people of every sort and shade. They make life interesting for him, and without their great variety, he surely never would have had the interest to hone his powers of observation as sharply as he did.
Jacquelynn was correct in her paper's conclusion: Sherlock Holmes was not a misogynist.
Sherlock Holmes was also not a sociopath. Sherlock Holmes was not asexual. Sherlock Holmes was not a bad friend. Not a braggart. Not a murderer. Not a plumber. Not a priest. Not a whole lot of things. And yet he displayed the characteristics of all of these roles on occasion. What was Sherlock Holmes?
He was very much like you or I, a real, and very complicated, person. And that, I am sure, is why we've grown so fond of him over the years. He's one of us.
Just very, very cool at being one of us.