illustration of Sherlock Holmes in profile looking across a cityscape with a magnifying glass in the distance and a speckled band visible through the glass

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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How are women, such as Helen Stoner, portrayed in Sherlock Holmes stories, particularly in "The Speckled Band"?

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It is fair to say that women are largely presented in a secondary role in the Holmes stories. To be more specific, they are usually treated with respect by Holmes and Watson, but they are usually seen as needing help. You might think of this is being a fairly straightforward representation of period attitudes. Men were assumed to be the ones in charge, the ones creating problems, and the ones solving them. If a woman came to Holmes with a problem, he rushed in to help. Helen Stoner is a good example. She brought Holmes a problem and he was glad to help—but the resulting portrait is largely one of passive helplessness.

The exception, of course, is the wonderful Irene Adler, whose brain is shown to be every bit as sharp as Sherlock's in the wonderful story "A Scandal in Bohemia."

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