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.”
Gender and Misogyny ThemeTracker
Gender and Misogyny Quotes in A Study in Scarlet
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”