With a mini-vacation last week, I had to miss our local Sherlock Holmes Story Society's discussion of "The Solitary Cyclist," which seems a tiny thing next to the juggernaut of the Avengers: Endgame event of a movie, which I was enjoying two states away. But now that the weekend's hoopla is done, it's good to get back to that simple tale of a woman and her bicycle.
When Violet Smith comes to 221B Baker Street, the pair living there have some very telling reactions to what Watson calls "the beautiful intruder." She is one of three women whom John Watson refers to as both tall and queenly, and given that Queen Victoria was five-foot-nothing, he was not relating them to the current monarch. The doctor is plainly elevating these women above his station, but whether that pedestal is raised by a bit of envy or his own humility is hard to say.
Sherlock Holmes, on the opposite side of things, picks up her naked hand like it's a Times crossword puzzle, works out a few answers, and literally drops it when he loses interest. When he speaks of her employer, he says the household paid "double the market price for a governess," which seems to emphasizes his view of her as a specimen or object.
Violet Smith, however, is not wanting for male attention, which is the entire crux of this tale. She's had several admirers in her life and at least three men ask her to marry them. But it's her weird stalker-on-a-bicycle that has her curious, even though she seems capable of chasing him off whenever she feels like it. Given all this male attention, it's interesting how Holmes and Watson don't seem to want to give her any more.
Both make the trip to her locale, Watson to secretly spy on her and Holmes to punch out the most unwanted of her suitors, embodying both flight and fight in their approaches. But neither seem to bother to talk to her when they're right there -- Watson even right where she has just seen her stalker again! None of the boys in this story come off too well. Holmes disfigures a man so badly that he looks like he's been in an accident and is delighted about spending the afternoon doing so.
There's a lot of concern for whether or not Violet Smith gets molested from many a man here, and the man Holmes already wrecked takes another bullet in yet another battle for male dominance . . . and literal possession of Violet Smith, after already played cards for her once.
Anyone going on about the charm of the Victorian era after recently reading "The Solitary Cyclist" definitely has to have an XY chromosome, because this tale is really a nightmare piece from a feminine perspective. When the twist is that the client's stalker is just trying to keep her from worse crimes, England of that time does not seem charming at all. The nicest male in this piece, when it comes to Violet Smith, seems to be Peter, the teenage driver who we only see laying in the fetal position after a whack to the head. Hopefully he didn't hit on her before the attack, because given everything else that went on in that part of the country, one has to wonder.
Hopefully the discussion group had some fun with this tale last Thursday -- this re-read for me was just a little bit too full of men behaving badly, and the one poor woman whose best bet was marrying an electrical engineer. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)