“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”–Sherlock Holmes (via Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
I joined Tumblr years ago for the Sherlock fandom. I didn’t know then that it would lead to not only a new love for canon Sherlock Holmes (beyond any particular adaptation) but also helping me discover my own queerness and a new direction for my writing.
The Sherlock fandom there has long since scattered, but I was inspired by several people there who kept wishing for more female Sherlock Holmes content. I’ve always loved the Victorian era, and I thought a Victorian female Sherlock Holmes would be incredible.
I could write it, I thought. And then immediately, But I’m no mystery writer. How could I even think about adapting the most famous detective ever?
But the idea wouldn’t go away. So I hesitantly started poking at it. Researching it. Thinking about it.
What I found is that even though there are lots and lots of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, very few have a female Holmes and Watson. Of those, even fewer are set in the Victorian era. Some fan fic and at least one published series that I’m aware of. Probably a few more that I haven’t found yet.
And most of those are not very canon compliant. They make Sherlock a frills-loving, naïve upperclass debutante living at home with her family, or they make Watson a nurse or a doctor’s wife. None of them that I’ve come across are sapphic. One has positioned Lestrade as Holmes’ love interest.
These are talented writers and good books and fun takes on the Sherlock Holmes story. But there’s room for more. There’s room for a Victorian femlock that is queer and mostly canon-compliant.
How’s that, you say? When everyone knows that Victorian women were repressed and controlled by patriarchal forces? How can you have a female Dr. Watson or a female Holmes living on her own and dashing across London to chase criminals in the 1880’s and 1890’s?
As Holmes herself would say, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
The Victorian Era lasted 63 years, from 1837-1901. There were a lot of changes during that time, just as there have been in the last 63 years between 1959 and 2022. But we tend to smoosh the whole era together and say “this one thing is true for everyone.” And we forget that culture is dependent on class and race and locality as well as gender and decade. The life of an upper class white man in Boston in 1845 would have been vastly different than the life of a Black, middle-class woman in London in 1878 or a newly-emigrated Jewish family in Manchester in 1899.
What I discovered in my research is that actually a female Sherlock Holmes and a female Dr. Watson are both perfectly plausible in the time period of the canon stories. I was shocked to realize that I hardly needed to adjust any major details to make the story work!
Women’s education in both Britain and America and in Europe was transformed starting in the 1860’s. By the 1870’s and 1880’s, women were attending universities on both continents. Also during this time, there was emerging a “New Woman” (the actual term wouldn’t be coined until the mid 1890’s) who was middle-class or working-class, employed, and living independently.
Our stereotypes of who Victorian women were and what they were allowed to do has been hampered by decades of books and films that present the limitations placed on upper-class white women living in cities or on estates as if they were true for all women during that time. And what I’m finding is that this couldn’t be less accurate.
A lot of what I’m learning is really fascinating, and I want to share it with all the Victorian history and Holmesian nerds here.
Starting January 29, (the day that Holmes and Watson first met) I’m going to also start posting some free chapters from my new book, A Study In Garnet, the first book in my Ladies of Baker Street series. I’m serializing the book on Patreon—given that the original stories were also serialized, it seemed fitting, and I’m hoping to build a community of femlock, F/F, LGBTQ+ Sherlock Holmes loving people there and on my private Discord server.
But leading up to that, I’m going to be posting this month (Jan 2022) about some of the things I’ve found out about Victorian women and life in the late Victorian era that relates to my story and the Sherlock Holmes canon in general.
Here’s some of the things I’m going to post about:
- How Watson could have gotten her medical degree in 1878
- How Holmes could have attended Cambridge University in the 1870’s
- The London Medical School for Women
- Women cross-dressing in the Victorian Era
- The Holborn From a Female Perspective
- Riding In Cabs While Female
And I’ll save some others as surprises!
I hope some people will have fun with these posts. Please check out my Patreon for more information about my new Ladies of Baker Street series.
In addition, if you would like to get started reading a prequel to the series, you can subscribe to my newsletter and get The Glorious Scot—the scandalous truth about Holmes’ first case! You’ll meet my Holmes and Watson as Holmes relays the story to Watson while they are in the middle of the first Ladies of Baker Street book, A Study In Garnet.