A Study in Scarlet

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Themes and Colors
Observation and Deduction Theme Icon
Injustice and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon
Revenge and Murder Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Study in Scarlet, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon

Though the novel itself may not be misogynistic, it reveals sexist attitudes and practices toward women in both England and America at the time that Doyle was writing. Holmes and Watson, the story’s protagonist and narrator, both casually insult women as being vain and weak, despite lack of evidence or evidence to the contrary from the story’s female characters. For example, when Holmes recounts to Watson the competition between Gregson and Lestrade, he remarks, “They have their knives into one another, too. They are as jealous as a pair of professional beauties [the late 19th century equivalent of socialites or models].” Watson, recounting to the reader Sherlock’s vanity, notes, “I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty.” After Holmes realizes that the old woman he was following had escaped him, he exclaims, “We were the old women to be so taken in. It must have been a young man, and an active one, too, besides being an incomparable actor.” Though the old woman in disguise was actually a man, Holmes does not seem to consider the possibility that a woman could have been strong or clever enough to escape him. Yet contrary to Holmes’ and Watson’s apparently ingrained beliefs about women, none of the novel’s few female characters seem particularly weak or vain about their appearance, least of all Lucy Ferrier, who is described as both unaware of her beauty and strong enough to manage horses “with all the ease and grace of a true child of the West.”

Most strikingly misogynistic, however, is the novel’s presentation of Mormon marriage practices and of the men’s attitudes toward women. For example, Doyle presents polygamy as an essential part of following the Mormon faith. However, while men were expected to have multiple wives, the women were not allowed to have multiple husbands. Doyle’s fictionalized version of the Mormons’ leader, Brigham Young, further emphasizes this misogyny by describing women and girls as a supply of “heifers” to be distributed among the men. Even more troubling is the narrator’s sensationalized account of rumors of “fresh women” who were brought to “the harems of the Elders” and who “bore upon their faces the traces of an unextinguishable horror” — suggesting that they were abducted, forced into marriage, and in all likelihood raped. This foreshadows Lucy’s own experience, as Drebber later abducts her and forces her to marry him. Just as the “fresh women” were treated by Mormon men as sexual and reproductive objects, Drebber also sees Lucy as no more than an economic advantage. After Lucy dies, the narrator reveals that Drebber had married her in order to gain control of her father’s property. Such marriages as Lucy’s date as far back as the Middle Ages, when men sometimes raped wealthy young women in order to force them into marriage and thus control their inheritance. Though Drebber’s primary motive is revealed to be primarily economic rather than sexual or reproductive, he still objectifies Lucy by forcing her to submit to his will.

Non-Mormons in the story also exhibit a patriarchal attitude toward women and marriage, though not to the same extremes as Doyle’s Mormons. For example, though Jefferson Hope clearly loves Lucy, he views his marriage to her as a way of “claiming” her. Even Lucy, despite her fortitude as a pioneer woman, has a sense of internalized misogyny and regards the men in her life as her principal authority. When Hope proposes their engagement, Lucy remarks, “Of course, if you and Father have arranged it all, there’s no more to be said.”

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Gender and Misogyny ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Gender and Misogyny appears in each Chapter of A Study in Scarlet. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Gender and Misogyny Quotes in A Study in Scarlet

Below you will find the important quotes in A Study in Scarlet related to the theme of Gender and Misogyny.
Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

“Gregson is the smartest of the Scotland Yarders,” my friend remarked; “he and Lestrade are the pick of a bad lot. They are both quick and energetic, but conventional — shockingly so. They have their knives into one another, too. They are as jealous as a pair of professional beauties. There will be some fun over this case if they are both put upon the scent.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

After receiving a letter from Gregson asking for assistance on a difficult murder case, Holmes gives Watson his opinion of both Gregson and Lestrade. Though Holmes finds all of the Scotland Yard police force to be incompetent, Gregson and Lestrade are slightly less so. Holmes summarizes the detectives’ relationship as one based on competition and casually demeans them as “professional beauties,” that is, women in the 19th century who were akin to socialites or models today. Though Holmes amuses himself at Gregson’s and Lestrade’s expense, he does not realize that he too engages in this petty competition with them throughout the case, when he repeatedly insults their inferior deduction skills and races against them to solve the case first.

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Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

“I’m not going to tell you much more of the case, Doctor. You know a conjurer gets no credit once he has explained his trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all.”

“I shall never do that,” I answered; “you have brought detection as near an exact science as it ever will be brought in this world.”

My companion flushed up with pleasure at my words, and the earnest way in which I uttered them. I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty.
“I’ll tell you one other thing,” he said.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson (speaker)
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Watson and Holmes have just discovered that Constable Rance unknowingly let the murder, who returned to the crime scene, walk away. Though Watson has many questions about the case, Holmes does not want to divulge his findings, as pulling back the curtains for Watson would cause him to find Holmes “ordinary.” Holmes wants to be viewed as a “conjurer” or, as he mentioned in his magazine article, as a “necromancer” who astounds his audience. In this respect, Holmes ironically shows himself to be rather ordinary, as the desire to be special and thus to receive more attention is by no means uncommon. Watson finds that he is able to use this flaw to his advantage, flattering Holmes to his face while showing us, the readers, his vanity — which Watson misogynistically attributes to women and which causes Holmes to divulge more about the case.

Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

He had always determined, deep down in his resolute heart, that nothing would ever induce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such a marriage he regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shame and a disgrace. Whatever he might think of the Mormon doctrines, upon that one point he was inflexible.

Related Characters: John Ferrier, Lucy Ferrier
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

A few weeks after Lucy’s engagement to Jefferson Hope, Ferrier is reflecting on his daughters upcoming marriage and his opinions on Mormon polygamy. A source of gossip in the Mormon community, the mystery of why Ferrier never married is now revealed: he views polygamy as shameful and false. That Ferrier’s opinions on Mormon marriage differ so starkly from Mormon doctrine sets him apart from the community. That Ferrier is represented as not only a devout Christian and but also the archetypal American serves to set up a dichotomy between traditional Christianity and Mormonism, and between American values and Mormon values. Doyle therefore presents Mormon polygamy as both anti-Christian and anti-American.

The supply of adult women was running short, and polygamy without a female population on which to draw was a barren doctrine indeed. Strange rumours began to be bandied about — rumours of murdered immigrants and rifled camps in regions where Indians had never been seen. Fresh women appeared in the harems of the Elders — women who pined and wept, and bore upon their faces the traces of an unextinguishable horror. Belated wanderers upon the mountains spoke of gangs of armed men, masked, stealthy, and noiseless, who flitted by them in the darkness. These tales and rumours took substance and shape, and were corroborated and recorroborated, until they resolved themselves into a definite name. To this day, in the lonely ranches of the West, the name of the Danite Band, or the Avenging Angels, is a sinister and an ill-omened one.

Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

Especially controversial is Doyle’s depiction of horrors inflicted by the Mormon persecutors, known as the Danite Band, who murder immigrants and abduct non-Mormon women, who are then forced into polygamous marriages with and most likely raped by the Mormon oligarchs. The narrator portrays Mormon polygyny (when a man marries multiple wives) as both impractical and as fostering violence. Though the Mormons had moved to Utah to escape “the violent man,” now they are not only persecuting their own community members but also murdering innocent non-Mormons and subjecting women to sexual violence. The corruption among the Mormons thus spreads beyond their own community, harming others in the process.

Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

“We have come,” continued Stangerson, “at the advice of our fathers to solicit the hand of your daughter for whichever of us may seem good to you and to her. As I have but four wives and Brother Drebber here has seven, it appears to me that my claim is the stronger one.”

“Nay, nay, Brother Stangerson,” cried the other; “the question is not how many wives we have, but how many we can keep. My father has now given over his mills to me, and I am the richer man.”

“But my prospects are better,” said the other, warmly. “When the Lord removes my father, I shall have his tanning yard and his leather factory. Then I am your elder, and am higher in the Church.”

“It will be for the maiden to decide,” rejoined young Drebber, smirking at his own reflection in the glass. “We will leave it all to her decision.”

Related Characters: Enoch Drebber (speaker), Joseph Stangerson (speaker), John Ferrier, Lucy Ferrier, Enoch Drebber, Elder Stangerson
Page Number: 93-94
Explanation and Analysis:

After Brigham Young threatened Ferrier and Lucy with an ultimatum, Ferrier sends out a message to Jefferson Hope in the city, and returns to find Drebber and Stangerson already in his house. The two young men here presumptuously argue over who should marry Lucy, based on their wealth and existing number of wives. Drebber and Stangerson casually objectify their wives, referring to them as if they were collectibles or pets. As their argument reveals, a marriage to either one of them would not be founded on love, as is Lucy’s relationship with Jefferson Hope, but rather on the men’s ability to manage the expense of “keeping” an extra wife.

Adding insult to injury, Drebber falsely claims that Lucy’s marriage is entirely her decision, despite the fact that Brigham Young has already threatened Lucy’s life in order to force her to marry one of the men. The Mormons’ insistence that Lucy marry a Mormon man is motivated not only by their rejection of Hope, a Gentile (non-Mormon) but also an implicit gender ideology that women must be married and thus dependent on men. They don’t, by contrast, insist that men must marry Mormon women, as they don’t force Ferrier to marry and as they bring in supplies of “fresh” and presumably non-Mormon women to be used by the Mormon Elders.

Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

“It don’t much matter to you why I hated these men,” he said; “it’s enough that they were guilty of the death of two human beings — a father and a daughter — and that they had, therefore, forfeited their own lives. After the lapse of time that has passed since their crime, it was impossible for me to secure a conviction against them in any court. I knew of their guilt though, and I determined that I should be judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one. You’d have done the same, if you have any manhood in you, if you had been in my place.”

Related Characters: Jefferson Hope (speaker), Sherlock Holmes, John H. Watson, John Ferrier, Lucy Ferrier, Enoch Drebber, Joseph Stangerson, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

After Holmes brings Hope to the Scotland Yard, Hope decides to make a full statement, as his aortic aneurysm could prevent him from telling his story at any time. Hope views his murder of Drebber and Stangerson as just, but his conception of justice is not the traditional European conception of justice as blind and impartial, but rather a more personal, vengeful “eye for an eye” form of justice that might be found in the American Wild West stories that Doyle favored as a child. To Hope, Drebber and Stangerson “forfeit” their lives because they are responsible for the deaths of Lucy and John Ferrier. Courtroom justice is inexistent or inaccessible in Hope’s Wild West, and he takes it upon himself as “judge, jury, and executioner” to carry out vigilante justice, despite the fact that the Mormons’ vigilantism was in large part responsible for the very deaths he was avenging. Hope further justifies his actions as a sign of his “manhood,” a patriarchal value with which he appeals to his captors (all men) but which he ironically does not realize helped to facilitate Lucy’s forced marriage to Drebber.