About Me

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Resa Haile is the co-editor of the anthology, Villains, Victims, and Violets: Agency and Feminism in the Original Sherlock Holmes Canon. She is also the author of several essays, including “Wynonna Earp, Supergirl and the Power of Choosing” (Fourth Wave Feminism on SciFi Fantasy TV); an examination of an unreliable confession that may unfairly malign Sarah Cushing in the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Cardboard Box” (About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story Is the Best); and a defense of Violet Hunter, the heroine of "The Copper Beeches" (The Baker Street Journal). Resa has also been published in NonBinary Review and The Proceedings of the Pondicherry Lodge, as well as the anthologies Sherlock Holmes Is Like and Sherlock Holmes Is Everywhere. She is putting the finishing touches on a comedy mystery novel set in a world somewhat like ours. She can draw with her right or her left hand and once won Sumiko Saulson’s Horror Haiku contest. Resa co-founded two Sherlockian societies, the Original Tree Worshippers of Rock County and the Studious Scarlets Society and is working on projects fictional and poetic.
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Not the Only Woman: The Point of Irene Adler

This was originally written in answer to some posts on Tumblr stating that Watson being a woman takes away from the point of Irene Adler as the only woman Holmes respected, some saying this is a bad thing and some fantastic ones saying it’s a good thing. This is my response to both, originally posted on a reblog, and then getting its very own spotlight on my all-Elementary blog, The Elementarian, and now here, with slight revisions.

But Irene Adler isn’t the only woman Holmes respected, and indeed, what kind of point would it be if she were? Then it just says that Holmes met one woman who was worthy of respect; the end. But turn it another way; look at it under this light: Holmes met a woman who made him realize that there was more to women.

Before this (chronologically), he had been sympathetic to women, always ready, with Watson, to take on the role of knight-errant. Mary Morstan even refers to them as such in The Sign of Four. Holmes says of Miss Morstan, now Watson’s fiancée, “I think she is one of the most charming young ladies I ever met, and might have been most useful in such work as we have been doing. She had a decided genius that way; witness the way in which she preserved that Agra plan from all the other papers of her father.”

There is little evidence in the stories of an active “dislike” of women; although Watson might have been fooled, the reader seldom is. As for a distrust, Holmes didn’t trust anyone, and I would go so far as to say there are examples that show he didn’t trust Watson completely, nor was he worthy of being so trusted himself, which he probably knew. He knew the proscribed conditions of women’s lives, and, because of this, he was not unsympathetic to them.

If meeting Irene Adler opened Holmes' eyes a little further to the fact that women could reach beyond their assigned roles, that’s a much more exciting concept than her point being that she was the one woman who equaled or approached equaling or beat him.

(In fact, there is debate about whether she was the woman mentioned in “The Five Orange Pips,” when Holmes says, “I have been beaten four times—three times by men, and once by a woman.” The case is dated earlier than “A Scandal in Bohemia,” so we are left with the possibilities of misdating or a woman who beat Holmes before Irene Adler, perhaps not such an honorable woman or one so worthy of respect.)

But say that Adler’s narrative function is to make Holmes more aware of the possibilities of women. Mary Morstan had a decided genius for detective work, but she married Watson and was happy with that kind of life. Perhaps it was so for all women. 

Then there is Adler, enjoying playing the game against him, someone with whom he is ultimately more sympathetic than his client. And in the end, she shows the king mercy when she has him in her power; this is what puts her on a “different” (higher) “level” from the king. Holmes is not in love with Adler, but he sees her more clearly in the end, understands and admires her. His education in the matter of brave, intelligent women is underway.

In “The Copper Beeches” (a case usually dated by chronologists as 1890, two years after the date given for “A Scandal in Bohemia”), Violet Hunter functions very much as the investigator on the scene (in his fascinating book, The Secret Marriage of Sherlock Holmes, and Other Eccentric Readings, Michael Atkinson writes that “Violet is as bright and observant as Holmes—and is the better detective”) and wins praise from the consulting detective: “You seem to me to have acted all through this matter like a brave and sensible girl, Miss Hunter. Do you think that you could perform one more feat? I should not ask it of you if I did not think you a quite exceptional woman.”

As late as “The Lion’s Mane,” when Holmes has retired to keep bees in Sussex, he says of Maud Bellamy that “she possessed strong character as well as great beauty” and would “always remain in [his] memory as a most complete and remarkable woman.”

The only woman Sherlock Holmes ever respected? Not by a long shot. An important part of the evolution of his character? Hell, yes.


Upon the Distinction Between Admiration and Love: Some Remarks on Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler by Resa Haile

“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.”

A Scandal in Bohemia has one of the classic first lines in literature, right up there with “Call me Ishmael,” and “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Sherlock Holmes, a single man in possession of the wits to make his fortune, did not believe himself in want or need of a wife. But what were his feelings about the woman, Irene Adler?

According to Watson, Holmes felt no “emotion akin to love for her.” It might with justification be asserted that Watson is not always the best deducer of what Holmes is thinking or feeling, and Holmes is not that forthcoming with his feelings on all occasions. Perhaps it is good for business for him to be thought of as just an “observing and reasoning machine”; perhaps it is safer; there are, however, numerous moments in Watson’s chronicles that show Holmes’ emotions.

This is not, however, the same as saying Holmes was in love with Adler or even had a deep emotional investment in her. Putting aside such speculations, which have been well mined by many writers, as to Holmes’ having known Adler before or becoming involved with her later, let us examine the story at hand.

Although Holmes describes Irene Adler as having “a face that a man might die for,” it is open to debate whether he is that man. He certainly is untroubled by her marriage. The King of Bohemia cannot believe that she loves Godfrey Norton, but Holmes hopes she does because it will aid him in achieving his objective.

When he is wished a good-night by a familiar voice he has recently heard (although altered, probably deepened, as she is in the guise of a slim youth), Holmes cannot quite identify it. Is he off his game here? Or has he begun to feel himself on the wrong side of the case and decided to let the lady go? As an opera singer, Adler (now Norton) could be expected to have vocal control that might even fool Mr. Sherlock Holmes in a brief greeting without its reflecting badly on Holmes’ abilities or his intentions towards his client.

Holmes clearly enjoys working on this case. He enjoys disguising himself and misleading people. Even those who know him, like Dr. Watson and Athelney Jones, are often unable to recognise him, so Adler’s ability to penetrate his disguise, however belatedly, would be likely to impress him. Adler had been warned about Holmes, but, when her suspicions were awakened, she still had to change her outfit and arrive at 221B so close behind Holmes and Watson that they had not yet entered the building. (One suspects her of changing in the carriage on the way.) This quick-change ability is perhaps another by-product of her stage training, and yet another reason for Holmes to admire her once he receives the letter which gives him all this information.

For, offhand remarks regarding her looks aside, Holmes’ true admiration for Irene Norton, née Adler begins when, after arriving at her house and finding her flown with the photograph, he reads the letter. It is at this point that Holmes discovers many things to admire about Mrs. Norton.

She saw through his disguise.

She disguised herself with impressive speed.

Her disguise fooled him.

Finally, she has shown mercy to the King who, at least according to her letter (and her point of view), doesn’t deserve it.

Whether it was a moment of regret that he could not get to know such an admirable woman better or merely the desire for a memento of the adventure—and one which (an added bonus) might bother the King—that led Holmes to ask him for Irene’s photograph, Dr. Watson would never be able to tell us. Only Holmes knows. But I imagine him, after reading Watson’s account of the case, lecturing the good doctor for putting too much romance into it. Watson then, of course, objects that he clearly stated Holmes did not feel “any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler,” that “[a]ll emotions. . . were abhorrent to his cold, precise, but admirably balanced mind,” that “as a lover, he would have placed himself in a false position.”

“But you have laid so much emphasis on this,” Holmes retorts, “as to cause the reader to wonder if you are, like the lady in The Murder of Gonzago, protesting too much. I fear these rumours will dog my steps for quite some time.”

Note: This post was originally posted on The Original Tree Worshippers of Rock County blog at rocksherlockotw.blogspot.com in September 2010.


Pro-Liu: Lucy Liu as Dr. Watson

My Facebook page supporting Lucy Liu being cast as Dr. Watson is up to 21 Likes. It has lots of links to other blogs with articles about race, gender, and, of course, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Lucy Liu.http://www.facebook.com/ProLiuLucyLiuAsDrWatson

Here are some links to interesting blog posts
 (sometimes the comments section is really interesting too) 
on the subject of Lucy Liu as Watson: