søndag den 15. marts 2009

Sherlock Holmes & Middle Class Women


[See also Sherlock Holmes & Women 1 & Sherlock Holmes & Working Class Women]
“When the house is renovated and refurnished, all that he will need will be a wife to make it complete.” If we didn´t know already, Dr Watson kindly informs us here what middle class women were there for. During the late Victorian period, the bachelor gentleman was an important literary figure whose ideals, lifestyle and puritanical moral prevailed. The middle class woman ´of independent means´ was all but invisible, however, so one has to read several Sherlock Holmes stories to meet any of them.
My first example is Miss Annie Harrison, the fiancé of young Percy Phelps in ´The Naval Treaty´. Annie and her scoundrel of a brother are the only children of an ironmaster, a connection which is seen as a disadvantage, economically as well as socially. Dr Watson, always courteous (towards middle class women, that is), obligingly describes her: “She was a striking-looking woman, a little short and thick for symmetry, but with a beautiful olive complexion, large, dark Italian eyes, and a wealth of deep black hair. Her rich tints made the white face of her companion the more worn and haggard by the contrast.”
An unusually thorough description, but what is interesting in this context is her dark colouring. Though it is never said explicitly, the ideal woman seems to be a blonde and pale creature with delicate, white hands. Furthermore the ´lack of symmetry´ suggests that she is not a real lady.
Sherlock Holmes, who never judges by appearances, has been taken by her ´rare character´. Even Watson notices that she is ´a girl of strong character´. That this trait should be mentioned twice is curious as Holmes or Watson never point out what is so unusual about her character. We are told that she has been nursing her fiancé for two months during a brain-fever, and at Holmes´ request she assists him by staying in a certain room for a whole day, but still she is only a minor figure in the story. It seems as if Conan Doyle has made a vague effort to describe an extraordinary woman, but not very successfully.
Another story in which a young middle class woman plays more than an absolutely negligible part is ´The Yellow Face´. Young Mrs Munro is troubled by her mysterious past which has ´come home to roost´. Both her dark secret and the fact that she is a lady of independent means make her one of the few female counterparts to Conan Doyle´s bachelor gentlemen. Another interesting parallel is her having lived with a maiden aunt some time.
Surprisingly, Mrs Munro´s looks are not described at all, maybe because much of the story is told by her husband and not the romantic Dr Watson. Mr Munro is preoccupied with the changes of her behavior. His wife, usually ´a woman of a frank, open nature´ suddenly becomes nervous and secretive. Being a real lady she is not in the habit of lying so her looks and behavior reveal that something is wrong, “she gave a violent start and a kind of gasping cry when I spoke, … there was something indescribably guilty about them.”
Mrs Munro fights heroically to keep her secret. She performs her role as a ´playful´ and probably decorative Victorian housewife, keeping up appearances for as long as possible. Inwardly she is torn between her duties towards her husband and her child, however.
On our search for the ideal woman we cannot leave out Mrs Watson. She is introduced in “The Sign of Four”, in which her and Dr Watson´s love-story makes a sweet little sub-plot. Having lost her mother at a very young age, the young, amiable Miss Mary Morstan has been raised ´in a comfortable boarding establishment at Edinburgh.´ Her father has disappeared so she is now quite alone in the world. Her means are limited, but Nature has favoured her otherwise. “She was a blonde young lady, small, dainty, well gloved, and dressed in the most perfect taste.” Dr Watson´s admiration is boundless: “In an experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents, I have never looked upon a face which gave a clearer promise of a refined and sensitive nature.” [This quotation which is one of my favourites is used many years later by Lord Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane]
As opposed to working class women, Miss Morstan is able to control her emotions when necessary. “After the angelic fashion of women, she had borne trouble with a calm face as long as there was someone weaker than herself to support…” Yet in her distress, she readily accepts Dr Watson´s efforts at comforting her, “… there was in her also the instinct to turn to me for comfort and protection. So we stood hand in hand like two children, and there was peace in our hearts for all the dark things that surrounded us.”
Their love grows quickly. In the course of events Miss Morstan shows a curious lack of interest in the missing treasure, whereas her concern for Watson increases. His description of the lady who is waiting for him is revealing: “One white arm and hand drooped over the side of the chair, and her whole pose and figure spoke of an absorbing melancholy. At the sound of my footfall she sprang to her feet, however, and a bright flush of surprise and of pleasure coloured her pale cheek.”
Watson´s happiness is almost complete, but her great expectations seem insurmountable to him. Thanks to the villain, Jonathan Small, her treasure is lost forever while Dr Watson gains one.
With customary cynicism Sherlock Holmes admits that he ´cannot congratulate´ Watson on his engagement, and we will now leave Miss Morstan to her infinitesimal role as Mrs Watson with Holmes´ grudging admiration: “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.”
Very few women found favour in the eyes of Sherlock Holmes, yet one deserved the honourable title of the woman. During the first pages of ´A Scandal in Bohemia´ the case seems ordinary and insignificant, and the reader expects a quick solution to the problem. Miss Irene Adler, a young opera singer, is in possession of a compromising photograph. First she is described by the King of Bohemia, her former lover, who has engaged Holmes to procure the photo, “she has the soul of steel. She has the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men.” Also the newly-wed Dr Watson falls for her charm and ´superb figure´ and loathes his role in the drama: “I know that I never felt more heartily ashamed of myself in my life than when I saw the beautiful creature against whom I was conspiring, or the grace and kindliness with which she waited upon the injured man.”
In short, Miss Adler´s beauty and her amiable character would endanger (almost) any man´s heart. Even the indifferent Holmes acknowledges that ´she was a lovely woman, with a face that a man might die for.´
To the great surprise of Holmes and the reader Miss Adler is not the sort of woman who depends on male help or protection. When she feels threatened she disappears resolutely, keeping the photo and gaining anyone´s sympathy. The king regrets that she is not on ´his level´ and receives a cold answer from the outwitted detective. “From what I have seen of the lady she seems indeed to be on a very different level to your Majesty.” Together with Holmes we marvel at the woman who represented the ideal combination of beauty, wit, and a strong and virtuous character.

Sherlock Holmes & Middelklassekvinder.
[Se første og andet indlæg om Sherlock Holmes]
”Når huset er sat i stand og møbleret, er alt hvad der behøves for at gøre det komplet en kone.” Hvis vi ikke vidste det allerede, kan Doktor Watson fortælle os, hvad middelklassekvinder skulle til for. I den senviktorianske periode var den ugifte gentleman en fremtrædende litterær person, hvis idealer, livsstil og puritanske moral dominerede samtiden. Den uafhængige middelklassekvinde var derimod næsten usynlig.
Mit første eksempel er Miss Annie Harrison, forlovet med unge Percy Phelps i ´The Naval Treaty´. Annie og hendes skurkagtige bror er eneste børn af en jernværksejer, en uheldig forbindelse for den unge kvinde, både økonomisk og socialt. Doktor Watson, som altid er galant (når det gælder middelklassekvinder), beskriver hende gerne: ”Hendes udseende var bemærkelsesværdigt, lidt for lille og kraftig til at være symmetrisk, men med en smuk, olivengylden teint, store, mørke, italienske øjne, og et væld af dybtsort hår. Hendes stærke farvetone fik hendes ledsagers hvide ansigt til at fremtræde endnu mere slidt og hærget.”
Denne beskrivelse er ualmindelig grundig, men det mest interessante er hendes mørke farver. Selv om det aldrig bliver sagt lige ud, tyder alt på, at idealkvinden er en blond og bleg skabning, med sarte, hvide hænder. Desuden tyder denne mangel på symmetri på, at Miss Harrison ikke er nogen helt rigtig dame. Men Sherlock Holmes, som aldrig dømmer ud fra udseendet, har lagt mærke til hendes ´sjældne personlighed´. Også Watson har noteret sig, at hun er en pige med en stærk personlighed. At dette træk nævnes to gange, er lidt overraskende, da det aldrig bliver nærmere forklaret hvad det er, der er så usædvanligt. Vi hører, at hun passer sin forlovede i to måneder, mens han lider af hjernebetændelse, og på Holmes´ anmodning hjælper hun ham ved at blive i et bestemt rum i 24 timer, men ikke desto mindre er hun en biperson i novellen. Det ser ud til, at Conan Doyle gjorde et forsøg på at skildre en ekstraordinær kvinde, men ikke kom helt godt fra det.
Endnu en novelle, hvor en ung middelklassekvinde får en smule plads, er ´The Yellow Face´. Unge Mrs Munro plages af sin mystiske fortid, som pludselig trænger sig på. Både hendes dystre hemmelighed og hendes økonomiske uafhængighed gør hende til et af de få modstykker til den typiske, viktorianske ungkarl. Endnu en interessant parallel er, at hun har boet hos en ugift tante nogle år. Overraskende nok bliver Mrs Munros udseende slet ikke beskrevet, sikkert fordi det er hendes ægtemand, som fortæller det meste af historien, og han er mere optaget af hendes forandrede væsen end af hendes udseende. Hans kone, som plejer at være en ´ligefrem, åben natur´, bliver pludselig nervøs og hemmelighedsfuld. Da hun er en rigtig dame, er hun ikke vant til at lyve, så hendes minespil og opførsel røber, at noget er galt: ´hun gav et voldsomt spjæt og nærmest et gispende udråb da jeg talte, … der var noget ubeskriveligt skyldbetynget ved det´.
Mrs Munro kæmper en brav kamp for at holde på sin hemmelighed. Hun spiller sin rolle som den muntre og sikkert dekorative viktorianske husmor, og bevarer facaden så længe som muligt, men indvendigt er hun splittet mellem sin pligt overfor sin ægtemand og sit barn.
På denne søgen efter den perfekte kvinde er Mrs Watson ikke til at komme uden om. Hun bliver præsenteret i romanen ”The Sign of Four”, hvor hendes og Watsons kærlighedshistorie udgør en romantisk lille sidehistorie. Da hun har mistet sin mor i en tidlig alder, er den unge, elskværdige Miss Mary Morstan vokset op ´på en komfortabel kostskole ved Edinburgh´. Hendes far er forsvundet, så hun er helt alene i verden, og hendes økonomiske midler er begrænsede, men Naturen har velsignet hende på andre måder. ”Hun var en blond, ung kvinde, lille og nydelig, med pæne handsker og klædt med udsøgt smag.” Doktor Watsons beundring er grænseløs: ”I min erfaring med kvinder, som strækker sig over mange nationer og tre forskellige kontinenter, har jeg aldrig set et ansigt, som gav et klarere løfte om en forfinet og følsom natur.”
I modsætning til arbejderklassens kvinder er Miss Morstan i stand til at styre sine følelser, når det er nødvendigt. ”På kvinders engleagtige maner havde hun båret bekymringer med et behersket ansigt, så længe der var nogen svagere end hun selv, som havde behov for støtte ….” Men i sin nød tager hun gerne imod Watsons ridderlighed, ”… i hende fandtes også et instinkt for at vende sig mod mig for at søge trøst og beskyttelse. Så vi stod hånd i hånd som to børn, og der var fred i vore hjerter på trods af alt det dystre som omgav os. ”
Deres kærlighed udvikler sig hurtigt, og Miss Morstan viser en forbløffende mangel på interesse for sin forsvundne skat, mens hendes bekymring for Watson vokser. Hans beskrivelse af kvinden, som venter på ham, er afslørende: ”En hvid arm og hånd hang slapt ned over siden af stolen, og hele hendes positur og skikkelse talte om en overvældende melankoli. Men ved lyden af mine fodtrin sprang hun på fødderne, og en tydelig rødmen af overraskelse og fornøjelse farvede hendes blege kinder.”
Watsons lykke er næsten fuldkommen, men hendes forhåbninger om stor velstand truer med at bringe hende udenfor lægens rækkevidde. Takket være skurken, Jonathan Small, mister hun imidlertid sin skat for evigt, og Doktor Watson vinder sin. Med sin sædvanlige kynisme kan Sherlock Holmes ikke gratulere Watson helhjertet, men vi vil overlade Miss Morstan til sin birolle som Mrs Watson med Holmes modstræbende beundring: ”Jeg synes, hun er en af de mest charmerende unge kvinder jeg har mødt, og hun kunne være blevet virkeligt nyttig i den form for arbejde, vi udfører.”
Meget få kvinder fandt nåde for Sherlock Holmes´ øjne, men én gjorde sig fortjent til den ærefulde titel ´kvinden´. De første sider af ´A Scandal in Bohemia´ tyder ikke på andet end en ganske almindelig, ubetydelig sag, og læseren forventer en hurtig løsning. Miss Irene Adler, en ung operasanger, er i besiddelse af et kompromitterende fotografi. Hun bliver først beskrevet af Kongen af Bøhmen, hendes tidligere elsker, som har hyret Sherlock Holmes til at skaffe sig billedet: ”hun har en sjæl af stål. Hun har det smukkeste ansigt blandt kvinder, og den mest beslutsomme mands sind. ” Nygifte Doktor Watson kan heller ikke modstå hendes charme og ´fortrinlige skikkelse´, og væmmes ved sin rolle i dramaet. ”Jeg ved, at jeg aldrig havde følt mig mere skamfuld over mig selv i mit liv end da jeg så det smukke væsen, jeg konspirerede imod, eller den yndefuldhed og venlighed hun hjalp den sårede mand med.”
Kort sagt ville Miss Adlers skønhed og elskværdighed bringe (næsten) alle mænds hjerter i fare. Selv den ellers så ligegyldige Holmes erkender at ´hun var en skøn kvinde, med et ansigt en mand ville dø for.´ Men til Holmes og læserens overraskelse, er Miss Adler ikke en type, som er afhængig af en mand for hjælp eller beskyttelse. Da hun føler sig truet, forsvinder hun resolut, beholder fotografiet og vinder alles sympati. Kongen beklager, at hun ikke er på ´hans niveau´, og får et køligt svar fra den overvundne detektiv: ”Ud fra hvad jeg har set til denne kvinde, ser hun virkelig ud til at befinde sig på et helt andet niveau end Deres Majestæt.” Med Sherlock Holmes kan vi kun forundres over idealkvinden som formåede at forene skønhed og vid med en stærk, dydig karakter.

4 kommentarer:

maxine sagde ...

I am glad to see Irene Adler making her appearance in this post!

Dorte H sagde ...

I know you have been waiting for THE lady to make her entrance.

Louise sagde ...

Interesting post, Dorte. I am not very familiar with Shelock Holmes and have never read any of "his" books. But I've seen him on tv ;o)

I am back from vacation and ready to hang out around the book blogs again, but can see that I have a ton of catching up to do!

Dorte H sagde ...

Louise, poor you!
Ran off to boring Egypt for two weeks and missed this unique opportunity to be my guest no 1000 :(
[The grapes are a bit sour, I think]