Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A STUD without a woman.

As a part of the commemorations of International Women's Day this year, "Day Without A Woman" protests and strikes occurred around the world today, and as a result, it occurred to me to extrapolate a bit on the Canon of Sherlock Holmes without a woman. As that would be quite a major undertaking, and miss the actual day it was honoring for this year, I decided to confine my look at just the first novel of the Canon, A Study in Scarlet.

"How hard could that one be?" I thought, "there are hardly any women in Sherlock's part of the tale to begin with?" It seemed like an easy one, so I started checking off the characters.

Watson. Stamford. Holmes. Gregson. Lestrade. Wiggins. Drebber. Stangerson. A Study in Scarlet starts looking like a major sausage party very quickly. And the women that do start to show up?

"Miss Rachel," Lestrade's imaginary creation, a sure and sad sigh that there are no women around, when one of the guys makes one up. Gregson even does an impression of one Madame Charpentier and her daughter Alice, who are never actually on-stage in the novel. And then, when things get even more desperate . . .

"Mrs. Sawyer" . . . a man in drag, whose false address just leads to another man name Keswick.

Women appear in print. The Standard talks about the murder victim's landlady. There's a pocket edition of Boccaccio's Decameron, various tales of love told by characters who are predominantly female, but that just serves as a reminder of what is sorely missing in this novel: women.

Two men share lodgings, two Scotland Yard men pair up to work a case, two American men flee a vengeful murderer together (for a time). The couples of this novel are all men.

Even Mrs. Hudson, who is just "the landlady" at this point, is conspicuous in her absence, almost like she heard of the "Day Without A Woman" strike and didn't set up Watson's breakfast coffee the morning of the case. (Holy Canonical, Batman, this case starts in early March! Maybe Mrs. Hudson was protesting early.)

Are the only female humans in this story actually just the fashionably-dressed young girl or the elderly woman who came to Baker Street for short visits during that period when Watson didn't know what Holmes's business was or who his clients were?

If so, since those two are easily removed without affecting the novel in any way, shape, or form, A Study in Scarlet becomes the perfect novel for a "Day Without A Woman." It is a story of men playing tragic games with one another, using women as their motivation, as their disguises, and as their imagined solutions. It is a story of men turning to each other for companionship and answers, though they never really get a satisfying outcome: all of the principles of the inner drama die.

One might argue that I just ignored the whole second half of A Study in Scarlet, where women do appear . . . and are abused, enslaved in something nominally called "marriage," and worse. But that enters into an entirely different conversation, that a day without men might sometimes be more in women's best interest.

It is interesting to note, following the absence of female characters in the first novel of Sherlock Holmes, that he doesn't truly become popular until that story where "the woman" starts an entire series of short stories that will win him worldwide applause. Sherlock Holmes didn't really become Sherlock Holmes at all until women started appearing in his life. First Mary, then Irene Adler, Mary Sutherland, Alice Turner, Mrs. St. Clair, Helen Stoner, Hatty Moulton, Mary Holder, Violet Hunter . . . and those are just the ladies who make the first series of Sherlock's adventures at all possible.  Without them, the Canon as we know it would definitely not exist.

So, when you consider International Women's Day and the thought of a "Day Without A Woman," consider how the world would be if it had been left with only a little-known, man-centered novel titled A Study in Scarlet, and not all the more woman-oriented stories that came after it.

T'would be a different place entirely.

No comments:

Post a Comment