Friday, November 6, 2015

Lois Lane meets Sherlock Holmes.

At tonight's gathering of the Hansoms of John Clayton, Peoria's own little Sherlockian society, the topic centered upon "A Case of Identity," one of the most criticized stories of the whole Sherlockian Canon. Well, maybe the story isn't exactly what gets criticized so much as the client, to whom the whole mystery is a mystery to begin with. And that's where a curious new perspective came up.

"How stupid can she be?" has been the battle-cry for discussions of "A Case of Identity" for as long as I can remember. Miss Mary Sutherland, who makes her living at a typewriter, can't seem to tell one man from another simply because he disguises himself, primarily with a pair of glasses.

Sound like any other fictional character of note that we know?

Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane made her living at a typewriter keyboard, and was courted by a fellow in glasses who was really someone else in her life . . . Superman. Superman, of course, was not Lois's step-father (that we know of). Lois also had the benefit of just being one of the many citizens of Metropolis who were fooled by that simple disguise. She was just the one who should have had the best vantage point to see through it.

And it was Superman fooling Lois. The same thing happens to you and the guy without his disguise is James Windibank, the travelling claret import buyer . . . well, you don't quite get the same credit as Lois Lane.

But what if Miss Mary Sutherland had seen her fiance get into that four-wheeler that arrived at her wedding chapel empty and later discovered he had "Up, up, and away!"-ed out of the cab and off to stop some disaster on the other side of London? What if Mr. Hosmer Angel had turned out to be the Victorian Clark Kent? Would we still consider her such a dim bulb?

It's all in who's fooling you with that silly glasses disguise, I guess. Now that I see Mary Sutherland as the Victorian Lois Lane, I might have a little more respect for her the next time I read that tale.

If only she got to whack her step-dad with a little kryptonite . . . .

1 comment:

  1. People who vilify Mary Sutherland for being stupid and clueless have forgotten the old saying that when you point the finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at yourself.

    IDEN is a subtle study of how emotional abuse and misogyny can screw up a person’s perceptions and turn a reasonably sensible and competent woman into a fool. It’s obvious from the cruel, selfish, exploitative way Mary’s mother and stepfather treat her that they have great contempt for her and regard her mainly as a cash cow, not a person. Her mother, recently reinforced by her stepfather, has undoubtedly spent Mary’s whole life telling her she’s dumb, dull, plain, and too generally unappealing to wed. Her mother’s contempt is apparent in the way she: (1) ignored Mary’s objections and remarried right after her husband’s death; (2) went along with her new husband’s demand to sell her late husband’s business for considerably less than it was worth; (3) high-handedly appropriates Mary’s stock interest for herself; (4) cruelly conspires with her husband to keep her daughter at home for her own financial benefit. (Windibank admits they were both in on it when he says, “We never thought that she would have been so carried away.")

    Mary’s not dumb; she’s desperate. She lives in a virulently anti-woman society that has brainwashed her into believing the only worth a woman can have is as a wife and mother. She’s looked in the mirror, seen she’s plain, dumpy, and no fashion plate, and with the big 3-0 approaching, she’s gotten increasingly afraid she’s going to be left on the shelf and end up a--gasp!--old maid! When she finally works up the nerve to rebel against her enslaving family, it first goes unbelievably well (for good, or should I say, bad reason), then backfires horribly. It’s no wonder she’s confused and disoriented.

    She’s also undoubtedly too good-hearted and trusting to even consider that people she knows, people who claim to care about her, *her own mother*, could play such a cruel, selfish trick on her.

    Still don’t believe she’s not a ninny? There was a study published several years ago that explained why some people are more gullible than others. It’s a result of abusive and painful experiences while growing up. (University of Leicester. "Life's Harsh Lessons 'Make You More Gullible." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 May 2006. )

    A real life example of how even a genius can be fooled if his abusive background has set him up to be gullible comes courtesy of Ludwig van Beethoven. Somebody once told him a story about a lantern that allowed the blind to see. He believed it, ran around telling everyone about this miraculous new invention, then was furious and mortified when he found out it was a trick. No one is going to call Beethoven stupid. His parents were considered appallingly abusive and neglectful *by their contemporaries.*

    Mary Sutherland is a hell of a lot better feminist than Mary Russell is. MS supports herself, while MR lives off her dead father’s money. It took far more courage and determination for MS to stand up against a lifetime of abuse than it does for the apparently pampered MR to flounce around and mouth off about how brilliant and accomplished she is, and how much everyone else sucks in comparison with her. MS intended to marry a man who treated her decently, while MR did marry a man who beat her unconscious and said he was doing it for her own good. Who’s really the contemptible fool, eh?

    Andarta Woodland