Last night while watching the new Sherlock episode, I found myself wondering how a show produced today might have gender politics that are even more disturbing to me than the late-Victorian short story it was based on. Then I remembered, my dear reader, that for years Sherlock Holmes scholars have wrestled secretly with alternate editions of many of the original stories, choosing to keep the more openly misogynist Holmes from a judgmental public which might, in these more enlightened times, chose to condemn Holmes and his creator for their bigotry rather than understand the motivations behind it. I risk a scandal in the blogosphere by sharing one of these highly guarded alternate versions with you, but after reading it, you may be able to better understand the historical accuracy of the adaptation we saw last night.
Taken from the hand-written notes of Arthur Conan Doyle, found in a file marked "Alternative Characterizations:
To Sherlock, there are only women. I have seldom heard him mention any by name. In his eyes, gender eclipses and predominates; the feminine sex suggests only frailty, partiality, and irrationality. All emotions, but those particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise, but admirably masculine mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine, but as a man of empathy or insight into half the human race, he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the second sex save with a gibe and a sneer. Women were essential things in the detective's work--common reasons for other men's motive and actions. But for him to admit such intrusions into his own finely adjusted life might throw a doubt upon all his masculine results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than an intelligent women in a life such as his. He had a mother figure, who withstood his rudeness, and an admirer, whose usefulness outweighed the annoyance she aroused in him. There was but one other woman whose name I remember him mentioning, and that was of the twice-fridged femme fatale Irene Adler, whose feminine independence and intelligence vanished in the face of his masculine skepticism. With her story, we begin...
[The officially sanctioned version, if you care to compare, my dear reader, can be found here.]
Other excellent ruminations about the way in which Irene/gender/sex/emotion/vulnerability get hopelessly confused in this episode:Meta:
Is Sherlock sexist? Steven Moffat's wanton women, Jane Clare Jones in the Guardian
Am I a real person? Stephen Moffat says…no The Idiot Box at wordpress
Irene Adler: how to butcher a brilliant woman character, stavvers at wordpress
Sherlock (episode reaction) by forthwritten
Sherlocked: The Humiliation of Irene Adler blogwasred.wordpress.com