Femme Friday: Helen Stoner
Hello, and welcome to another Femme Friday. I’m here with you today to talk about one of the more overlooked Sherlockian ladies: Miss Helen Stoner.
Miss Stoner is featured quite prominently as the client in ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’, a story that even Doyle himself has called his favorite. Miss Stoner approaches Holmes following an unsettling request from her stepfather, Dr. Roylott, that she should move from her bedroom into another room whilst work is done on her own chambers. This may not be that unsettling of request were it not for the fact that the room she is being moved to is the very room in which her twin sister Julia died just before her wedding leaving behind only the baffling final words of ‘The band! The speckled band!’
Miss Stoner may not seem particularly remarkable as character, she is a spinster in her 30’s still living with her father, though newly engaged to be married. But her strength of character lies within the bravery and brightness she displays throughout the story. Dr. Roylott is a particularly ill-tempered man and certainly not someone to be trifled with, as is seen when he bends Holmes’ fireplace poker out of shape with his bare hands. In spite of his violent demeanor Miss Stoner still seeks Holmes’ advice in the matter. Knowing full well that her stepfather will not approve and may likely follow her Helen dresses herself in a veil and takes an early morning train into the city. While she is motivated by her fear of what may happen to her she certainly shows great bravery in going against a man at whose hand, as Holmes observes during her brief visit to 221b, she has been, ‘cruelly used.’ It is even mentioned in the story that Miss Stoner shows signs of physical abuse, baring the marks of Roylott’s fingers as vivid red spots upon her wrist. However, despite this domestic violence Helen still manages to seek Holmes council.
Also, allow me to mention that the residence Miss Stoner lives at, Stoke Moran, is home to several exotic pets, specifically a cheetah and a baboon. These animals belong to Dr. Roylott and have free run of the grounds. One can’t help but feel that it would take a certain kind of bravery to take turn around the garden knowing that there was a very real chance you may encounter a cheetah. It only makes sense that she was ready to marry and escape Stoke Moran and the terrifying creatures, human and otherwise, that populated its grounds.
The physical description of Miss Stoner which is provided certainly paints a picture of a woman who is haunted by the death of her sister and living in a state of fear. Doyle remarks that Helen has “restless, frightened eyes” and compares her to a “hunted animal.” It is also mentioned that Helen’s hair has “premature grey”, a physical feature which is no doubt the result of the stressful life she lives, haunted by her sister’s death and tormented by her abusive father.
She is also quite clever, as illustrated by the fact that Miss Stoner comes to Holmes, not only with the story of her sister’s death, but with a theory on what her last words may have meant. She suspects that the gypsies may have murdered her sister and that the ‘speckled band’ may be a reference either to the gypsies themselves, as a band of people, or to the spotted handkerchiefs they wear. While this theory is, of course, proved wrong by Holmes, it speaks well of Helen’s intelligence and curiosity that she has set the puzzle out for her own mind before approaching the detective with her suspicions.
The character of Helen Stoner also carries with it an interesting distinction in that she is actually known by another name in a different adaptation of the story. In 1910 Doyle, inspired by the success of William Gillette’s portrayal of Holmes on stage, adapted the original into a stage play called ‘The Stonor Case’. In this version of the story, amongst other minor changes, the character of Helen Stoner is called Enid Stonor and is the stepdaughter of Dr. Grimsesby Rylott. It is quite interesting to see such a change as it allows one to look into Doyle’s writing process in a way, allowing us to watch the evolution of the tale and giving a character with a one off appearance a chance at character development.
Helen Stoner is an often overlooked character, one who may initially seem to be a cookie cutter damsel in distress but, the way in which she handles her tribulations lends much to the character, creating another rather strong female presence in the Sherlockian canon.
Taylor is a Baker Street Babe and a founding member of 221B Con in Atlanta, GA.
She enjoys working fan conferences. Along with establishing a Sherlock Holmes one, she works for the British Media Track at Dragon*Con (www.brittrack.org) and previously worked as the merchandise manager for the Harry Potter music festival Wrockstock from its second year in 2008 to its final year in 2011.