The year is 1902. The place is London, England. Three men have gathered at the will of another, who prefers to remain in the shadows, to attempt to steer the course of a young woman whom they don't feel has the capacity to make what they consider the correct choice.
The matter is recorded for posterity as "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client." And yet, within its text is a phrase that a modern reader might see as the key to an entirely different reading of the tale . . . a reading that could turn the facts as we think we know them completely on their head. That phrase?
". . . Violet de Merville, young, rich, beautiful, accomplished, a wonder-woman in every way."
A wonder-woman. Seventeen years before a similar phrase would create the super-heroic Wonder Woman, we have a wonder-woman involved in a matter that also involves Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
But we ever truly stop to consider that Miss Violet de Merville might have truly been that "wonder-woman" her male meddlers describe her as?
In the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Violet gains the attentions of a man whose hobby is destroying women, the Baron Adelbert Gruner. Onlookers describe her as "obsessed with him," and say she ignores their every warning as to his true, evil character. They put these facts together and conclude that she is blindly in love with him, and must be protected through a coalition of male interference.
But we're talking about a wonder-woman, here, right? "Accomplished in every way."
When Sherlock Holmes finally meets her, he describes her as "demure, pale, self-contained, as inflexible and remote as a snow image on a mountain." Her voice is "like wind from an iceberg." This is not a woman in love. This is a woman on a mission.
Our filter for the entire interview is the mind of a very emotional Sherlock Holmes. "I use my head, not my heart," he tells Watson, "But I really did plead with her with all the warmth of words that I could find in my nature." This is a part of Holmes we truly wish Watson would have witnessed . . . and recorded . . . for us.
In his passion to defend this poor "innocent," however, perhaps Sherlock Holmes missed the appropriate context or quote for a particular line Violet de Merville said at last:
"If his noble nature has ever for an instant fallen, it may be that I have been specially sent to raise it to its true and lofty level."
Could it be that Violet de Merville had her own agenda for putting Baron Gruner in his proper place, and was just playing her role with some subtle sarcasm? And could it also be that Kitty Winter wasn't the only hand of justice swinging for this villain -- just the cruder of the two?
We never hear of what finally happened with Violet de Merville, or even that she was the one who cancelled the wedding. When her father finally showed up with Gruner's diary, he might have gotten an earful of what her true plan was and how this meddling bunch of men spoiled a plan to obtain true public and legal justice for the women Gruner had ruined, setting an example for other men of his ilk. Watson is much more focused on his relief that Sherlock Holmes didn't wind up in jail. (A crime Watson himself was also technically complicit in!)
Given the limited point of view in "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client," and the fact that we never actually hear from Violet de Merville when the case seems to end, one can't help but feel there's a second tale to be told here, one of a wonder-woman who had some ideas of her own. And maybe even carried them out, eventually . . . when the men involved had gone back to their other concerns and had ceased to meddle.
I should be interested in hearing that tale one day.