Sherlock Holmes and Women

Was Sherlock Holmes a misogynist? A sexist pig? Or simply scared of women?

Sherlock Holmes and Women

What Sherlock Thought of Women

Real Quotes by Doyle

In trying to read the psych of this recondite character, let's look at five relevant quotes to determine what Sherlock really thought of women.

Sherlock Holmes Quotes About Women #1

Comments from the peanut gallery: In the first short story, Scandal in Bohemia Watson repeated Holme's self-assessment expressed in that quote. But might we detect the possibility that Holmes has a just a bit of a sour grapes attitude on Watson's engagement? What does the older brother do when the younger brother gets the first girlfriend? Sherlock always had the upper hand - with Watson and almost everyone else. Except where women were concerned.

Contrast that with this statement to Watson from The Valley of Fear several years later:

Sherlock Holmes Quotes About Women #2

Translation: You know I have no plans of marrying. But if I did ....

In The Devil's Foot we get another taste of that "cold reason" Sherlock held so tightly to:

Sherlock Holmes Quotes About Women #3

And then in one of the very last stories when the retired detective solves one more case in The Lion's Mane we get this sentiment:

Sherlock Holmes Quotes About Women #4

We find this riveting tidbit from The Dying Detective:

Sherlock Holmes Quotes About Women #5

Was Sherlock Holmes a Misogynist?

One definition of mysogynist is someone who hates, dislikes, or distrusts women. And we have it right from the horse's mouth (the horse being Watson) in the last quote above that "He disliked and distrusted the sex." So there you have it; what greater evidence can one ask for?

But before we tar and feather the old boy for his hateful misogyny, let's look a bit closer at the definition of misogynist. It is someone who dislikes or distrusts women AND THUS mistreats them. Not marrying a woman is not a form of abuse. (He actually did any women who were interested in him a favor by ignoring them.)

He did not mistreat women. He treated them with manly respect and kept them at arm's distance. He gave his many female clients his full attention, took care to ensure their safety regardless of risk to his own, neglected thought of payment, and wished them health and happiness when their case closed.

Which, by the way, is what he did with his male clients as well.

Only his best friend knew he didn't really like or trust women. (Of course, the best friend had the nasty habit of publishing his partner's secrets. But its all part of the literary ploy we call "fictitious transparency.")

Women really had no reason to complain at his treatment of them. If the men who desired women treated them as fairly and "chivalrously" as Sherlock, the world would be better off indeed.

So Why Didn't Sherlock Trust or Like Women?

Sherlock plain and simply didn't understand women or their logic. Again, let's let the text speak for itself:

"And yet the motives of women are so inscrutable. You remember the woman at Margate whom I suspected for the same reason. No powder on her nose - that proved to be the correct solution. How can you build on such a quicksand? Their most trivial action may mean volumes, or their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin or a curling-tongs."

In about as plain of language as can be mustered, the master of reasoning admitted he didn't understand the reasoning of women. To the modern day feminist, the quote above is inexcusably sexist. We must allow for some Victorian indiscretion here. (There are things about our modern culture the Victorians would think utterly outrageous, and so we of theirs.) And we don't have to go back 100 years to hear men say that women are a bit nuts.

Are women illogical compared to men?

Certainly the logic of a Victorian woman was different from her male counterpart. But inspite of some skepticism about it, she DID have logic. She could not have navigated the social constructs of her day and manage to put food on the table without it. But a woman's logic differed from the male's and often they didn't understand each other. Then or now.

The book title, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" states the same thing. But poor Sherlock didn't have the book to read. He had to suffer through feminine logic in case after case until finally, in The Man With the Twisted Lip our famous abstract logician announced:

"I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner."

Some might call that women's intuition. (Which, by the way, is a form of logic - albeit one that most men don't understand as well as women.)

Armchair Quarterback in the Battle of the Sexes

I love to call Sherlock the armchair quarterback in the battle of the sexes. He was well aware of the game and how it was played. He just didn't want to get in and play it himself.

About Sherlock's feelings of love, Watson wrote this in the first paragrph of Scandal in Bohemia:

"He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer - excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all of his mental results."

Let's not forget, as we analyze that quote, that it was of the young Sherlock it was written, and written by Watson as he introduced his readers to the only woman he knew who attracted Holmes, "the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory." We have seen above how that cold-hearted logician did thaw with age.

But my use of that famous quote is this: Sherlock recognized love as a major motivator of human action. Good thing too.

Over half of the sixty Sherlock tales have a plot in which romance is the motivator. Love was definitely in the air.

But Sherlock didn't inhale.

Why Did Sherlock Avoid Women?

Ah, the hundred dollar question: just why did Sherlock find half the population so difficult to trust, so hard to understand?

Elementary, my dear Reader. Inexperience!

Women were absolutely out of his realm. So committed was he to cracking the code of human behavior, he would not have been nonplussed by little girls or big girls if he had been around them.

Therefore, the logical conclusion is that he had no women or girls around him growing up.

Slowly Watson gleaned this understanding of the family background of his tight-lipped companion: Mother? Sister? Aunt?


If Sherlock and Mycroft were analyzing this family from afar, they would immediately deduct there was no mother in the home. Hence, she died.

And with so obvious a gap in Sherlock's emotional connection to women, we must assume she died when he was young. Likely he was young enough that he doesn't really remember her; but old enough that he remembers the pain of needing her. Probably he was three to five years old - a devastating time for such a loss. He cried for her but she didn't come.

Big boys don't cry. Women can't be trusted. They leave you hurting when you need them most.

Raised by a detached father and a nerdy-genius older brother, he lacked the experience needed to understand 50% of society. Perhaps his father relied primarily on male servants or employed nasty older female ones. Sherlock went to a male boarding school and then a male college. He studied chemistry, crime, and martial arts and found no feminine colleagues to collaborate with. In school he heard perplexing things whispered about these strange creatures and saw his classmates behave in curious ways when they came under their spell.

Logician beware!

It's a guess. It's all a guess. But it certainly fits the data.

What Women Think of Sherlock Holmes

So we have learned what Sherlock thinks of women which is - he typically didn't think of them. But what did women think of Sherlock?

Glad you asked because women helped make Sherlock the world's most popular character. Click the link to find out why - but before you click - can you name the two qualities women want most in a man? (Just to be perfectly accurate, not all women are interested in the same thing. But pretend you're on a game show and try to conjecture the two most popular masculine traits.)

And I'm sure you'll be delighted to know that Sherlock possessed BOTH of those traits!

Doyle's Methods

Strategy #1: Don't Look

Sherlock refers to "his methods" quite a bit, but maybe we should look at Doyle's method for creating this unique creature without a love-life who makes everyone else pre-occupied with his love-life.

Picture this: you are at a murder scene. A detective arrives to investigate. You are likely not thinking, "Hmmmm I wonder if this guy is married. No wedding ring? Wonder if he has ever been in love."

No, for crying out loud. There's a dead body on the ground and you couldn't care less about the detective's personal life.

So how did Doyle create such a fascination with the inner-life of his cool-minded character?

He told his readers in the very beginning NOT to expect Sherlock to fall in love. It's like telling someone, "Whatever you do, don't look up." Of course you want to look up.

You tell everyone this guy is never going to fall in love, and they wait for him to do so.

When you contemplate his strategy, Doyle really was a master craftsman.

Strategy #2: Look Again

Here's another glimpse at Doyle's creative creation. The Adventure of the Speckled Band was Doyle's personal favorite and remains one of the most widely read Sherlock tales.

A woman arrives at his flat early in the morning trembling with terror.

"You must not fear," said he soothingly, bending forward and patting her arm. "We shall soon set matters straight, I have no doubt."

Notice Holme's total self confidence that he can handle her problem even before he knows why she fled to him in fear for her life. AND he had the reputation to back up his words.

Telling a scared woman that he can take care of her and solve her problems would create an emotional dependency for many women. Maybe Sherlock wouldn't have known that.

But Doyle did.

Would Sherlock have made a good mate?

With all this talk of Sherlock's slowly becoming more adjusted to women and women finding him attractive, some just might ask what would have happened if the canon had lasted another ten years. Would Sherlock have thawed enough to have made a good spouse?

The answer is a resounding "No!"

He wouldn't have been abusive, mind you, but he also wouldn't have been loving. It would have been a loveless match, childless, boring and disatisfying to both.

As well as to his readers.

I mean, you just can't have a woman sitting around 221b Baker Street waiting for him to come home late at night and berating him for leaving his disguises on the floor. It would ruin the whole thing.

What else could Doyle have done with the couple than have them occupy one floor of Mrs. Hudson's house? Give them a large country estate? Wouldn't work. He needed to be in the middle of London with his ear to ground, or at least his eye on the agony columns of the metropolitan papers.

Nope, we have to hand it Doyle. He really got this right. We might rejoice and grieve with Watson as love came and went from his life but Sherlock Holmes was and must always be a permanent bachelor.

And at least he did have his bees to look forward to.

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Compelling mystery of the whistle in the night
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Is this one of Doyle's best - or worst - stories?
Crooked Man
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A truly crooked man in a twisted tale of betrayal
in Bohemia
Scandal in Bohemia
Multiple scandals in this drama of love gone wrong
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Irony of honor in one of his saddest cases
The Final
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Doyle's daring decision and the outcry that followed
More About Sherlock Consulting Detective
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More About Dr. Watson Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes
There's more to Dr. Watson than readers first see
Super Hero Prototypes Holmes and Watson: Superheroes prototypes
Are Holmes and Watson the super hero protypes?
List of All Short Stories List of Sherlock Holmes Short Stories
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Famous quotes, brilliant sayings, and intriguing insights
Action Plot Summary Summary of Sherlock Action Plot
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Sherlock stories for kids
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What makes Sherlock #1 Sherlock Holmes popularity
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What about women?
Sherlock Holmes and Women
An armchair quarterback in the battle of the sexes

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