To what Degree do Women in the Stories of Sherlock Holmes Conform to the Gender Roles in the Victorian Era?

Term Paper, 2021

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Victorian Era: A Period of Change

3. The role of women during the Victorian Era
3.1 The Concept of Separate Spheres
3.2 The Notion of Love and Marriage
3.3 The Ideal Image of Women, Sexual Ethics, and Double Standards

4. Time Classification of Sherlock Holmes

5. The Role of Women in Sherlock Holmes
5.1 The Concept of Separate Spheres in Sherlock Holmes
5.2 The Notion of Love and Marriage in Sherlock Holmes
5.3 The Ideal Image of Women, Sexual Ethics, and Double Standards in Sherlock Holmes

6. Conclusion

7. Outlook

8. Works Cited

1. Introduction

Women are part of almost every Sherlock Holmes story (cf. Poole 2014: 16). But in how far are women presented in the stories of Sherlock Holmes and does the portrayal allow inferences regarding the Victorian Era? This paper tries to find overlaps between the women in Sherlock Holmes and women in Victorian England. For reasons of the limited text size of this paper, only the original texts from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will be dealt with. The various adaptations, that appeared later, will not be covered. The leading question of this term paper is: To what degree do Sherlock Holmes women conform to the gender roles in the Victorian Era? To find answers on that question, the structure of the paper is as follows.

First, a contextual overview about the Victorian Era will be given. The Era will be classified in time, such as historical developments. Secondly, gender roles in the Victorian Era will be discussed. The explanation will include roles of Victorian men for reasons of exemplification and comparison. However, this paper focus is in particular on the role of women in the Victorian Era. The roles of Victorian women will be structured into three sub-sections.

One sub- section deals with the concept of separate spheres in the Victorian Era, another on the notion of love and marriage and lastly with the ideal image of women, sexual ethics and double standards in the Victorian Era. Afterwards, these sub-sections will be brought into context with the Sherlock Holmes stories. Therefore, the canon will be classified in the time context. Furthermore, exemplary women who appear in the canon will be analysed and their roles will be compared with the roles of Victorian women. The three sub-sections will be put in context with Sherlock Holmes., by trying to allow draw comparisons. Lastly, a conclusion will be made, and an outlook will be given towards possible further research.

2. The Victorian Era: A Period of Change

The Victorian Era refers to the time from 1837 to 1901 when Queen Victoria reigned in Britain (cf. Gilmour 2013:1; Heinz 2006: 156). Although the Victorian Era has a fixed time frame, one should be careful to make generalised statements about the epoch.

One reason for this is, that the epoch lasted over a long period. The Victorian Era itself can be divided into three short periods. The early Victorian period covers the time from 1830 to approximately 1850. The mid-Victorian period covers the time up to approximately 1870 and the late Victorian period lasted until around 1890. Thus, statements about the early Victorians might not necessarily be true for Victorians of later time episodes (cf. Gilmour 2013: 1). Another reason that makes it difficult to generalise about the time epoch is that the Victorian Era is referred to as being an Age of Transition that is known for its many historical shifts (cf. Heinz 2016: 156). According to Frawley, the three terms “progress, expansion, [and] mobility” (Frawley 2017: 364) are exemplary for Victorian history as almost every part of Victorian daily life was characterized by changes (cf. ibid.).

When Queen Victoria started to reign in 1837, only a minor part of England's population could travel a larger radius than 10 miles around their place of origin. The literacy rate was comparatively low at that time, as only a little over 50 percent of England's population was able to read or write. At the beginning of Victoria's reign, children at the age of five were likely to work in factories and mines. The political power at that time exclusively belonged to a limited group of men who owned property (cf. Phegley 2012: xi).

On the contrary, in 1830 railway lines were opened and from then on spread fast across Britain (cf. Frawley 2017: 364). By 1901, when Queen Victoria died, not only railways but also fast and cost-effective transportation for goods and passengers enabled (cf. Phegley 2012: xi). Therefore, traveling became much easier throughout the Victorian Era (cf. Frawley 2017: 364). Moreover, the technological developments in that time made communication easier (cf. ibid.). Technical developments made it possible to establish the use of telegraph messages that could reach the outer regions of the British Empire in a matter of minutes. (cf. Phegley 2012: xi).

Furthermore, the Victorian Era is well known for its industrial revolution that resulted in the emergence of an industrial society. Towns and cities became larger, and the population increased. Also, a rapid expansion of government activities could be determined (cf. Frawley 2017: 364). By the end of Victoria's reign, religious affiliation was no longer necessarily decisive for gaining a seat in the parliament (cf. Phegley 2012: xi). Moreover, during the Victorian Reign education became compulsory (cf. ibid) so that literacy rates increased (cf. Frawley 2017: 364). This increase as well as the observable growth in print culture promoted the establishment of a mass reading public (cf. ibid.).

In summary, it can be said that nearly every area of life was shaped by transformations. These transformations had mainly technological and political reasons. Technological developments and political reforms resulted in progress (cf. Phegley 2012: xii). The latter “reshaped parliament, elections, universities, the army, education, sanitation, public health, marriage, working conditions, trade unions, and civil and criminal law” (ibid.: xii). Despite the excitement for transition and progress, late-Victorians were also longing for stability and conformity regarding social values, relations, and ideas about family. Partly, these longings were accompanied by spiritual longings such as supernatural beliefs (cf. Heinz 2016: 157). This is part of the reason why the Victorian Era is considered to have been ambivalent and paradox in its overall character (cf. ibid.: 156).

3. The role of women during the Victorian Era

The following chapter deals with the role of women during the Victorian Era. It is divided into three subtopics describing the women's role from different perspectives. These subtopics provide information on 1) the concept of separate spheres, 3) the notion of love and marriage and 3) the ideal image of women, sexual ethics and double standards.

3.1 The Concept of Separate Spheres

In the 18th century it was assumed that both sexes were fundamentally similar, while in the Victorian Era differences emerged. During the latter time, the viewpoint on sexes changed to one that considered the shapes, bodies, and minds of both sexes to be naturally different from each other.


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To what Degree do Women in the Stories of Sherlock Holmes Conform to the Gender Roles in the Victorian Era?
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg  (Institute of Engilsh Studies)
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Sherlock Holmes, English Literature, Victorian Era
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Anonymous, 2021, To what Degree do Women in the Stories of Sherlock Holmes Conform to the Gender Roles in the Victorian Era?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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