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Tuesday, March 29, 2022

"Never to be Trusted?" He Didn't Mean It!

Violet Hunter -- just one of many women Holmes trusted
“I would not tell them too much,” said Holmes. “Women are never to be entirely trusted—not the best of them.

Did you ever say something you didn’t mean, either as an offhand remark, a bit of sarcasm, or a lame joke? I think that’s what’s going on in the famous passage above from The Sign of Four. Because, contrary to what he said, Holmes clearly did trust women over and over agai

Large sections of many adventures are made up of testimonies from the client – testimonies which Holmes trusts, and upon which he makes decisions. And often that client is a woman. He even praises Mary Morstan by saying, “You are certainly a model client. You have the correct intuition.” He later says she would have been a good detective: “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.”

In just The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes alone other female clients appear in “A Case of Identity” (the second short story to be published), “The Speckled Band,” “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” and “The Copper Beeches.”

The latter is especially instructive as to Holmes’s real attitudes towards women. As the situation approaches the crisis point, he gives Violet Hunter her instructions. “I will do it,” she says without hesitation. “Excellent!” he replies. No skepticism on his part! And his confidence is not misplaced. “You have done very well indeed!” Holmes praises Miss Hunter after she accomplishes the mission.

Whether these stories happened before or after the great detective;s encounter with Irene Adler, and how that may have affected his attitude toward “the cleverness of women,” I will leave to the chronologists. But Watson’s assertion in “The Dying Detective” that Holmes “disliked and distrusted the sex” just won’t wash.

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