Friday, March 27, 2009

Chivalrousness vs. love

So I'm reading Chris Redmond's In Bed with Sherlock Holmes for information on SPEC, and I happily discover that the "Sherlock Holmes in Love" Chapter is not about Irene Adler. (Redmond discusses her and SCAN in earlier chapters.) No, it's about damsel in distress clients, beginning with Mary Sutherland of "A Case of Identity." And then I read this!

Holmes... falls hard for Mary Sutherland.

Redmond makes a big deal about Holmes repeatedly calling her a maiden (as if that wasn't merely his way of describing her naivete and vulnerability). Then he quotes someone named Schweickert who points out that Holmes is so indignant in the story that he attempts to horsewhip the villain. Uh, yeah, but if Holmes loved Mary Sutherland so much, then why the fuck didn't he tell her the truth? Why did he let her continue to pine for Hosmer Angel? No, to me, Holmes pities her but also judges her to be too fragile to handle the truth. A paternal attitude, but a very condescending and sexist one as well.

I personally have a better opinion of Mary Sutherland than Holmes does, and I did at one time write a story (intended to be a chapter of my novel DIM) in which Mary Morstan Watson hears about the case from her husband, and becomes so indignant that she then cleverly exposes James Windibank's charade to Mary Sutherland. "I suggest you withdraw all your money and your affections out of that unnatural household." That's a happy ending! (I have since regretted writing that story, because I have overpacked DIM with too many outspoken, meddling women. I should return Mary to her dainty, blonde, and quiet self. Holmes already has enough angst about Watson being married; no need to rub it in more and push Mary Morstan where she does not belong. Perhaps I shall only cut off the part where she impersonates Holmes and endures a physical attack. Let her get out of her depth and be rescued by Watson and Holmes suddenly arriving to stop her scheme. Then Mary Morstan can swear off any further participation as too dangerous.)

But back to Redmond's book. Even worse, when he comes to discussing SPEC, he points out many parallels to IDEN, then has the nerve to dismiss Holmes's behavior to Helen Stoner! He "comforts her in only a perfunctory way"!

"You must not fear," said he soothingly, bending forward
and patting her forearm.

I don't call this perfunctory. How often does Holmes actually touch his clients to soothe them? Then after her thorough account of the case, he points out the bruise on her wrist.

For answer Holmes pushed back the frill of black lace which
fringed the hand that lay upon our visitor's knee. Five little livid
spots, the marks of four fingers and a thumb, were printed upon
the white wrist.

"You have been cruelly used," said Holmes.

"Cruelly used" in Holmes's own words. And after Holmes says they will come down to Stoke Moran by train, and after Helen also has said she has other business to attend to, Holmes actually invites her to breakfast.

"Will you not wait and breakfast?"

Later in Stoke Moran, Holmes tells Miss Stoner of her stepfather following her and threatening them with the poker.

"He is so cunning that I never know when I am safe from him. What will he say when he returns?"

"He must guard himself, for he may find that there is someone more cunning than himself upon his track. You must lock yourself up from him to-night. If he is violent, we shall take you away to your aunt's at Harrow. Now, we must make the best use of our time, so kindly take us at once to the rooms which we are to examine."

Wow, way to cast yourself as a protector and savior, Holmes! He reeks of chivalry throughout the case. And if we suppose that Holmes deliberately meant to murder Roylott that night, which is a valid reading of the case, then the chivalry is even more over the top. Sure, IDEN may be the only case in which Holmes tries to horsewhip a villain, but in SPEC he actually kills for his client! By Redmond's logic, Holmes must be absolutely besotted with Helen Stoner.

Yeah, I know, I'm writing fanfic with Holmes in love with her, so I may be biased. But my Reminiscences presents Helen Stoner as a more complicated individual than a damsel-in-distress. She catches Holmes making mistakes, which he insecurely jokes and laughs about (because in the timeline of DIM he is but 27, five years younger than Helen Stoner). She also amazes him by arguing through the logic of the case with him, and he's impressed by her mind. As I said, I'll post it later when I've revised it.

But if we are talking purely damsel in distress to damsel in distress, why aren't Helen Stoner and Mary Sutherland on equal footing? Holmes is actually somewhat condescending to Helen Stoner in SPEC, calling her "our little friend" for example, when talking to Watson after Roylott left Baker Street. Either Holmes's interest in both women can be explained away as chivalry, or they are both beloved by Holmes.

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