By Grace Gardener
When we last left off, the author had used a real historical person as a prop to further her own feminist narrative. We’ll talk more about the feminist message later, but first I’d like to share this quote about Florence Nightingale: “But why, if she was born into a wealthy family, the sort to be presented at court, had she gone instead to a bloody cesspool of a hospital in the Crimea?” Now, anybody who does a quick search will find Nightingale was a devout Christian. Why, then, do the books mention none of this? That is because these books have an ideological message to share with their young readers.
Enola Holmes considers herself a free-thinker and a rationalist. No hocus-pocus allowed in her worldview. Except, of course, when the second book hinges completely on hypnotism, or when a Gypsy lady reads her palm in the sixth book. Either way, Enola is an atheist and her big heroes are Malthus and Darwin. Of course, when she talks about cross-pollinating orchids, she fails to mention the devout Catholic monk who first started that field of study: Gregor Mendel. Interestingly, though, there is actually a moment in the second book when a character delves a bit more deeply into the moral problems with evolution, musing that natural selection would dictate that it is moral and good to let the weak die. This is only mentioned once, however.
Earlier, I spoke of Gypsies. This is because Enola’s mother has run away to live with them. They worship her like a deity, by the way. Completely normal thing to expect from an entire people group but okay. Anyway, Enola’s mother is not a role model, although the books try to portray her this way. Besides abandoning her 14-year-old daughter, we learn that she never really showed Enola any love. In the last book, Enola receives a letter from her mother explaining that it might be better for Enola to remain childless because of her personality. Her mother also says that her being a mother got in the way of her being a person so she had to leave. This is only a very limited selection of random nonsense from Enola’s mum. She also seems to believe she owes nothing to her sons (because she does not like them) and that her parenting was good because it made Enola who she was.
Enola’s mother also has very strong feminist ideals, the books tell us. These she has passed on to her daughter. It mostly shows itself in her abhorrence of corsets and marriage. According to the books, “The sufferings of an upper-class girl in a typical boarding school are only slightly less severe than those of an imprisoned criminal upon a treadmill. I speak of painful physical rigours that result invariably in deformity and sometimes in death.” How dreadful. One person did comment on my Goodreads review of this book that this might be because Enola Holmes and her mother are part of the New Women movement, which saw marriage as a form of prostitution (sleeping with a man in exchange for financial security) and viewed corsets and long skirts as a source of oppression. While this may be the case, it is never explained in the books that Enola’s views may be subjective. Her horror stories are treated as fact. Either way, in these books, Enola does not have to learn anything. If she hurts her brothers’ feelings, it is because she would literally die if they made her conform to societal norms. Instead, it is the men who need to learn to leave Enola alone.
Speaking of which, Enola’s journey seems to end when her brothers learn to let her – a 15-year-old girl – do things by herself. Now, this would make sense if the world of the book was a softer version of actual Victorian age London. However, it is not. Each book has various descriptions of prostitutes and old women with ringworms in their hair. We are treated to an extensive description of how rats would eat a baby’ face. A lady has a stillbirth, after which a crazy person steals the baby from her arms and yeets it into the sea. This is not a sweet world where young girls would easily survive. But Enola’s smart, you see. She can read and fully understand a page at a glance. She can carry people around without a problem for considerable amounts of time. And, as mentioned in part 1, she is so much more intelligent than everybody else. This part was so annoying to me because we really are supposed to side with Enola when her brothers are literally afraid that she might be kidnapped and turned into a prostitute.
Other than that, the books have a few other irritating qualities:
– A very surprising use of the phrase “proud b*tch” in book 2
– Showing off vocabulary at the expense of reading pleasure. Nobody understands the word “dolichocephalic.” Just say “long and thin.”
– Random philosophical musings that take 2 paragraphs and are then never referred to again.
– Clothing descriptions like this: “a heavenly confection of cerulean blue dotted swiss gathered into scallops over a skirt of midnight blue, with a wide white satin belt, a blue bodice trimmed in white, a dainty blue hat topped with daisies and ribbons, and a blue-and-white parasol ruffled with dotted swiss.” Please stop.
– Sherlock and Mycroft change their minds on women very quickly, which begs the question: Why did their mother not raise them differently? How did they end up so sexist when both their father and mother were very forward-thinking?
Anyway, that’s it. Yes, I enjoyed some parts of these books. However, the sheer amount of nonsense and contrivances was too much for me. I would never let my young, impressionable daughter read these books. It would only teach her that everyone around her is wrong whereas she is perfect. That is not the type of message I am looking for in a fun children’s book.
“I have quite changed my mind, Enola, about your future. I pity any man who ever marries you. Indeed, I think perhaps you ought not to marry.” – Sherlock Holmes, speaking facts