By Grace Gardener
Imagine that you were Sherlock Holmes’ little sister. That one sentence alone is enough to send any young girl’s imagination into overdrive for a month. Girls love dreaming of being an important character in a story, going on adventures and being the shining star. That’s why book series like Enola Holmes are perfectly catered to their audience. Not only does Sherlock’s little sister outwit him, but the whole story revolves around her: her brothers want to catch her; her mother has prepared her, and everyone else needs her detecting skills.
After watching the first Enola Holmes movie and enjoying it a fair bit, I decided to try reading the books. After all, I am very fond of daydreaming. I was hoping for inspiration. What I got was aggravation. But first, a quick overview: the series is about Sherlock’s younger sister, Enola. On her fourteenth birthday, her mother disappears. Enola’s older brothers want to place her in a boarding school, but Enola wants to be free. So she runs off to London and becomes a detective for missing people, all the while trying to find her mother.
One of the main reasons this series made such a bad impression on me was the main character: Enola is a brat. The books are written in the first person, so we get to see a lot of her thoughts. They’re not very nice. She has a habit of assuming everyone is stupid. In book 5, she goes on a whole tirade on how handicapped people are lazy and will use their disability to get other people to to things for them. This kind of behaviour is not limited to evil characters, either. Even people who don’t do anything but help Enola are still described as ‘toadlike hag‘ and ‘stunted slum-bred brat‘. In the first book, we meet Mrs. Culhane. She saves Enola’s life while endangering her own, but is unfortunate enough to be ugly. Yes, she’s the ‘vulgar crone‘. At the end of the series, Enola finds out that the villain is an ugly old woman. Who does she investigate? Mrs. Culhane, who, might I remind you, has done nothing but be good to Enola. Enola’s remarks that she knows ‘Mrs. Culhane’s ruthlessness and daring‘ and ‘the sort of friends‘ she has are therefore complete rot and nonsense. It’s just an arrogant tween looking down her nose and pretty much everyone around her.
You may have noticed that the above plot completely hinges on the evidence of someone being ugly. Not a great story. Sadly, all of the books are this way. Enola has the extraordinary luck of bumping into evidence – sometimes literally. The only mystery in these books is how she manages to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time whenever there are clues to be had. Some examples are her catching information outside an open window, hearing people gossip and figuring out someone is evil because her subconscious tells her so. Most of the time, the mysteries are either very easy or so impossible that they don’t make sense. In one book, the presence of asparagus in a hothouse is the clue that tells Enola where to find the missing Dr. Watson.
If the mysteries are this easy, how come Sherlock never figures them out? That, my friends, is because this is not the Sherlock we know and love. In fact, most of the characters in the Enola Holmes books have been strongly adapted to fit the author’s vision.
Take Sherlock and Mycroft, for example. They often fail to see simple solutions. According to Enola, they do this because they are sexist men. She says that neither Sherlock nor Mycroft could imaginatively enter the mind of any woman‘. A lot of times, they dismiss clues because they assume they’re just a woman thing. A bouquet with strange flowers? That’s for girls. A woman was wearing strange clothing when she disappeared? Well, you know how women are. It almost feels as if the author has not read the same Sherlock Holmes books as I have. Yes, Holmes was a sexist in those books, but he did not let that get in the way of figuring out a mystery. He noticed everybody and did not dismiss his clients’ comments. He was also not as sexist as he is in these books. In the Enola Holmes books, Sherlock and Mycroft cannot stand being around a woman who is ‘strong-minded […] in possession of herself, her own business and her own affairs.’ Most of this could be disproven by reminding the author of the story of Irene Adler, where Sherlock not only imaginatively enters the mind of a woman, but also respects her all the more when she proves to be in possession of her own business.
While canon Sherlock may have been a confirmed sexist, Watson was definitely not. When Sherlock commented that he thought women to be untrustworthy, Watson calls this an ‘atrocious sentiment‘. However, in the Enola Holmes books he too looks down upon women, having a ‘natural distrust of any female’ and referring to the feminist movement as ‘the cause of women’s so-called rights’.
The worst example is one that concerns a real historical character: Florence Nightingale. She was the handicapped person I mentioned earlier. After subjecting us to various rants before we even meet the woman, Enola figures out why she never left her bed: she wanted to get out of social obligations so she could do more work. Although the author does admit in her note at the end of the book that she did, in fact, interpret Nightingale’s conduct in her own way, I still found it inappropriate. This was a real woman, and not only does the book treat handicapped people in general as lazy, but it also chooses to portray Nightingale as someone who used her handicap as a way to get out of talking to people.
That’s going to be it for this first part. Up till now, Enola has pretended she’s superior to everybody else, has solved mysteries by the grace of sheer luck and has butchered my man John Watson’s character. And yes, there will be more. Lots more. But for now, I leave you with these beautiful quotes:
“I knew invalids as peevish, malingering, demanding people who simply chose not to be valid, so to speak. Scarcely a household in upper-class England had not at one time or another suffered under the paradoxical power of the invalid. Many a lady thwarted had taken to her bed for the sake of ordering folk about.”
“The Professional Women’s Club democratically welcomed any female who could pay the membership fee—which was quite substantial enough to keep out the undesirable classes.”
“Gypsy women in the city were beggars, wheedling for pennies.”
“It amused me, as I resumed my perch atop my cab, to glimpse Mrs. Culhane down on her hands and knees, hunting for the money as I drove away. Her greed was greater than her moral outrage, apparently.”