A strong, brave and proactive woman who is honest about her own failings, not seeking the reader’s sympathy but instead focusing entirely on one thing – revenge against the man who wronged her, revenge at all costs. She of the infamous acid-throwing incident, mutilating the evil Baron Adelbert Gruner because death would have simply been too good for him, divides opinion and remains a controversial figure.
When I was approached by Tamara R Bower and Resa Haile, fellow writers and members of The Studious Scarlets Society, about a project looking at the woman from the canon and just such ambiguities, I suggested Kitty straight away. Here we have a character who can be easily perceived as either a victim, cast aside by Gruner and condemned to a life of poverty, or a villain – a vengeful jilted mistress whose final horrific act can have no justification.
I was asked to take her on, to write an essay examining these complexities both in the context of the narrative and the wider society at the time.
It was a joy to write and I’m delighted that my essay has been included in the anthology – Villains, Victims and Violets, which has successfully secured a publisher (Brown Walker Press) and will be launched in August this year. Alongside 28 other female writers we have each contributed an essay to this exciting publication analysing women from the canon – their motivations and complexities in both a Holmesian and historical context. I’m honoured to have been included as part of this fantastic collaboration of talented and interesting authors.
‘The female characters in Sherlock Holmes’ world are faced with unique situations,’ write Tamara and Resa when describing VVV. ‘The answers they often find involve Holmes, who is repeatedly deemed sexist by modern writers. Holmes’ fictional biographer, John Watson, reports in one adventure that Holmes has an aversion to women.
Is this consistently true? As for the women, coming into his world can be lifesaving or hazardous. So it’s long since time to apply a different lens to the women who engage and motivate Sherlock Holmes. The centre of each essay is agency—the opportunities for independence and self-determination, which were few and far between in Victorian England. What we find all too often are silences around the women. And yet, women in the stories—clients, villains, victims, and Violets—are pivotal in the world of Sherlock Holmes.
To understand his world is to gaze unsparingly into the lives of the women who lived in it: the villains and what drives them astray; the victims Holmes races to rescue; and the violets, who make up the strongest and most pivotal characters from Holmes’ unforgettable cases. The authors behind this book pull back the curtain on their small, private spaces, revealing their “proper”–and not so proper–place as women in a man’s world at the dusk of the 19th century and the dawn of the 20th.’
A great project, an interesting addition to any Sherlock Holmes collection and for anyone with an interest in the experiences of women during such a pivotal time in our history. Very proud to be part of it.