ENTIRELY TO BE TRUSTED
BY SUSAN RICE; ASH, BSI
Those of us who are proud to call ourselves Adventuresses come in a
remarkable diversity of packages. We are different sizes and shapes and
colors. We span political and religious spectrums. We are rich and poor and
all postings in between. More important than our differences, however, are
the traits and experiences we share in common. Some of them are so obvious
that they require no elaboration: to a person we are handsome, intelligent,
charming, witty, and cultured. Of course, we also share a love for Mr. Holmes
and Dr. Watson and the world in which we found them. And to various degrees
we are all, even Mr. Blau, feminists.
is as feminists that we have been subjected to repeated attacks, offensive
distressing insinuations. If I were a betting woman (and I am), I
would wager that most of you have also been asked the question that follows.
Like me, you were probably forced to stammer a quickly invented response, but
I will take this opportunity to respond more thoughtfully.
one who is proud to call herself a feminist, I have frequently been asked how
I can be a whole-hearted admirer of Sherlock Holmes, a man who admitted he
was not a whole-hearted admirer of womankind! How can I give my devotion to a
man who said, “women are never to be entirely trusted, not the best of
them."? (SIGN) A man who condescended to my gender by saying, “She... had
flown to tea, as an agitated woman will." (CROO) A man who further
demeaned the female of the species by claiming that when fire threatened, a
woman would fly either to her baby or her jewels (SCAN) - not, we notice, to
her manuscripts or test-tubes. How can I admire a man who attacked women’s
ethical standards with his assertion that, “Murder might be condoned or
explained, and yet some smaller offence might rankle.” (ILLU) How can I as a
feminist abrogate my principles and devote a large portion of my leisure time
to the study of this Victorian misogynist? What’s more, I call him Master!
What was I thinking? Like many of you, I was a child when I was introduced
to Mr. Holmes, not yet involved in questions of gender discrimination in any
conscious way. By the time my brain realized the
problem, my heart had already been given. Lest you
classify me as one of those good women who love bad men, I have given the
problem some concentrated attention since I arrived, at least
chronologically, at adulthood, and I now have some answers to offer you.
Let’s reexamine the same quotations I’ve just cited to make certain we are
reading them with a fair eye to context and time.
of all, Holmes is not really a misogynist. He did say women were never to be
entirely trusted, but he showed no particular tendency to trust men either.
He subscribed to scientific principles and refused to prejudge anyone as
trustworthy until he could gather and consider the evidence.
if he did not really mean that no woman could be trusted, why did he say
those words to Watson? To find an answer, we must begin by examining the
context in which Holmes made this famous statement. He spoke those words in
SIGN after observing the effect of Miss Mary Morstan on his friend’s
rationality. Permit me to recall the circumstances to your minds. Toby
enthusiastically leads our favorite pair directly to a barrel of creosote,
then finds the true spoor which brings them to the docks and Mordecai Smith.
decides that a vigorous investigation can be accomplished more successfully
by the Baker Street Irregulars, though why he thinks a group of middle-aged
American enthusiasts can accomplish an effective search of the London
waterfront, I have no idea. Regardless, Holmes and Watson return to Baker Street,
read the account of the case in the newspaper, discuss the Andaman Islands
and some of the nasty habits of their inhabitants, and then Watson takes a
nap and dreams of Mary Morstan. When he wakes he learns from Holmes that
there is nothing to do but wait and announces,
I shall run over to Camberwell and call upon Mrs. Cecil Forrester. She asked
me to yesterday.’