Villainesses, Adventuresses, and Other Canonical Women

In front of him, in the full glare of the electric light, there stood a tall slim, dark woman, a veil over her face, a mantle drawn round her chin. [CHAS]
Last week, author Michelle Birkby [Elise Elliot (JHWS “Lucy”) has reviewed both The Women of Baker Street and The House at Baker Street as part of our Dr Watson’s Library] was featured in iNews with an article called “The Female Villains in Sherlock Holmes Were Ahead of Their Time”.

Comparing the women in contemporaneous works – like Collins’ Armadale, Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, and Dickens’ Bleak House – with some memorable Canonical women – like Sophy Kratides, Kitty Winter, and the unnamed mysterious lady who appears in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” – she says:

The bad women of Victorian literature lose. They have to, or what’s the world coming to? They are hanged, or kill themselves to save their loved ones, or just go mad.

No matter what their crime, if they deviate from the perfect Victorian woman, they must be punished.

Except for the female villains of the Sherlock Holmes stories. They get away with it.

(Why was a certain obvious name left off that list of “memorable Canonical women”? Birkby states right off the bat that “Irene Adler, from A Scandal in Bohemia, is, despite nearly every screen adaptation ever, not a villain.” Her reasons for this assertion are very clearly laid out, just in case anyone needed convincing. And for more on the topic, see Esther Inglis-Arkell’s io9 post from 2013, “Why can’t any recent Sherlock Holmes adaptation get Irene Adler right?”)

A good number of Canonical women defy the Victorian ideal of femininity, whether they be villainesses, adventuresses, or something else entirely. Birkby offers some thoughts on why this might be. What do you think? Who is your favorite Canonical woman (villain or not!), and why?

On February 7th…

Pickwick by Kyd 1889

Charles Augustus Milverton was a man of fifty, with a large, intellectual head, a round, plump, hairless face, a perpetual frozen smile, and two keen gray eyes, which gleamed brightly from behind broad, golden-rimmed glasses. There was something of Mr. Pickwick’s benevolence in his appearance, marred only by the insincerity of the fixed smile and by the hard glitter of those restless and penetrating eyes. [CHAS]

This use of the name Mr Pickwick in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” brings the Canon and Charles Dickens together. Mr Charles Dickens, who created the jolly Mr Pickwick, was born on February 7, 1812.

Thanks, Leah Guinn (“Amber”) and Jaime Mahoney (“Tressa”) for the information found in your book, A Curious Collection of Dates.

Posted by Chips

On January 13th…

January 13, 1886: Sherlock Holmes became engaged to Milverton’s house maid. [CHAS]

January 13, 1886: Holmes and Watson burglarized Milverton’s house. [CHAS]

January 13, 1886: Charles Augustus Milverton was murdered. [CHAS]

On January 7th…

January 7, 1886: Milverton sent an incriminating note to the husband of one of his blackmailees. [CHAS]

January 7, 1888: Holmes received an encoded message from Porlock. [VALL]

January 7, 1903: James Dodd left Old Tuxbury for London, where he consulted Sherlock Holmes. [BLAN]

On January 6th…

January 6, 1886: Charles Augustus Milverton called upon Holmes at 221B Baker Street. [CHAS]

January 6, 1888: Jack Douglas shot and killed Ted Baldwin. [VALL]

January 6, 1903: Colonel Emsworth told James Dodd that he must leave Tuxsbury Old Park the next morning. [BLAN]

And the most IMPORTANT:

Friday, January 6, 1854: Sherlock Holmes was born!