On a Room of One’s Own: Sherry Thomas’ “A Study in Scarlet Women”

As I said on my IG, you know that part in (the amazing) A Room of One’s Own where Woolf talks about what fate Shakespeare’s sister, had she existed and been as talented and him, would have met? Sherry Thomas uses that premise for a female Sherlock Holmes (and Watson!) in A Study in Scarlet Women, the first in the Lady Sherlock series, and it is fantastic. Intelligent, full of humanity and compassion, entertainingly whodunnity.

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I don’t have much to add to that except

  1. A Room of One’s Own” remains, to me, one of the most wonderful essays on women, fiction, economic independence and the historical forces that have for so long constrained female creative production.
  2. As I was typing that, and dipping back into the essays, it reminded me strongly of this, (the wonderful)  “A Story of a Fuck Off Fund” , which is similarly about the privilege and importance of economic empowerment.
  3. Sherry Thomas writes wonderful historical romance novels about strong, resourceful women which are not (I’m not the best judge of these things, but they don’t seem to me to be) anachronistic: my favourites are Ravishing the Heiress (which has a great arc about Victorian era marketing), and The Luckiest Lady in London.  Her heroines have agency and strength of will and a sense of worth.
  4. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, has a great review up here.

Some stuff I highlighted from A Study in Scarlet Women:

“Of course she would have preferred to pull herself out of her difficulties by her own competence alone. That, however, was not the world in which she lived.” (This book is really great about acknowledging the constrained world of Victorian females, due primarily to economic dependence, and the very real dangers of choosing to live outside the safety of the family. This comes up with the housekeepers and maids, as well, and how much they are at the mercy of the “master of the house” being non-predatory, as well as the protective networks they form around each other.)

“Inspector Treadles was most respectful to Charlotte. But it was a respect that stemmed from gallantry, the kindness the strong owed to the weak, not the regard one held for an equal, and certainly not the admiration he felt for Lord Ingram, whom he clearly considered his superior.”

“Do not undervalue what you are ultimately worth because you are at a momentary disadvantage.” (and similarly later) “Remind yourself that you’re far more likely to undercharge than overcharge, my dear, because you don’t yet understand your own value and you’ve never been taught to demand your full worth.” (This really resonated with me!)

“I had a young girl under my care and I wanted her to see that life went on. That the loss of a man, even if he had been the love of her life, was not the end of a woman’s existence. That such a loss was something she could recover from, with both courage and grace. But now (…) let me try it. Let me try having as a companion someone before whom it is useless to pretend that everything is all right. Let me try living without hiding my grief, because to her that grief would already be as plain as day.” (I loved this – but I’m a sucker for this kind of emotional heroism; putting aside your own pains and hurts to serve another, out of love and gallantry and duty. It is often abused, or turned into a martyr narrative, but in this case, it was lovely.)

Definitely looking forward to the next in the series, whenever it comes out!

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