Villains, Victims, and Violets

Agency and Feminism in the Original Sherlock Holmes Canon

by Resa Haile and Tamara R. Bower


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Modern writers have reconsidered every subject under the sun through the lens of Sherlock Holmes. The overlooked subject is agency: the opportunities available to these women for independence and control. What we find all too often are the silences around them. And yet, these clients--villains, victims, and Violets--are pivotal in the world of Sherlock Holmes.

Perhaps more enigmatic than Holmes' methods is what Watson sees: the woman in the shadows. Whether lady or lady's maid, if she does speak, it's often not recorded in her words. That was life for half the population of Victorian England. A woman's role was written before she was born; it merely required her to don the starched white apron of a maid, or the rough, stained skirts of a "char"--who did the dirtiest of household jobs--or the fine silk gowns of a lady.

Enter Villains, Victims, and Violets to spy and report on these women in their darkest, most vulnerable moments. How does Irene Adler--pursued by a powerful king, and by Sherlock Holmes--outwit them both? Can Lady Hilda conceal the secret that only Holmes unravels? When Violet Hunter takes the last job offered before she loses everything, can Holmes free her and her doppelganger?

To understand Holmes' world is to gaze unsparingly into the lives of its women: the villains and what drives them astray; the victims Holmes races to rescue; and the Violets, who make up the strongest characters from Holmes' unforgettable cases. The authors pull back the curtain on their private spaces, revealing their "proper" place in a man's world at the dusk of the 19th century and the dawn of the 20th.

Foreword by Nisi Shawl, noted Sherlockian and the James Tiptree Jr. Award-winning and Nebula-nominated author of the brilliant steampunk, feminist, Afrofuturist novel Everfair.


Read review at I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere: The definitive Sherlock Holmes show and website at the intersection of news and popular culture by M. M. M. February 22, 2020.

"This thoughtful and insightful collection of essays brings fresh eyes to the women of the Holmes stories. This is essential scholarship--not only to understand the Victorians but to see why the Canon remains so powerful in the 21st century! Highly recommended."
Leslie S. Klinger, editor, New Annotated Sherlock Holmes

"Villains, Victims, and Violets is a beautiful bouquet of Sherlockian scholarship, impressive in its breadth and depth. . . . a rare book that is likely to influence my re-reading of the Canon for some time to come."
Dan Andriacco, author of the McCabe and Cody Mysteries and Taming the Media Monster

"This is a very interesting book. Many of the essays turn the spotlight on characters that have not received much critical attention. All in all, this is a book I would recommend to Sherlockians, and one that I should like to add to The Sherlock Holmes Collection in Westminster."
Catherine Cooke, curator of the Marylebone Library's Doyle Collection, Joint Honorary Secretary of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London

About the Author

Resa Haile is a writer and an editor, and is the author of numerous Sherlockian essays, included in the About Sixty series and other publications. She has also had her poetry published in a number of journals.

Tamara R. Bower is an editor, a journalist, and an author whose essay about the amity of Holmes and Watson in "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" was included in the Sherlockian anthology, About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story is the Best.