By BSB Sarah
It’s time for another Femme Friday! Today we need to talk about the awesomeness that is Violet Hunter.
Miss Hunter is the client in “The Copper Beeches”, the final story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In addition to introducing us to this lady who knows she is pretty darn rockin’ and isn’t afraid to casually mention it, the story also provides a good dose of perspective for all of us who have ever feared that this new haircut may have been a horrible, life-altering mistake.
Our story begins with Holmes in a strop. He knows his world has hit rock bottom, that the criminals of the world will never provide him with entertainment again. His evidence: a letter from a young woman asking to consult on whether or not she should take a position as a governess. Enter Miss Violet Hunter, her courage, her self-confidence, and her amazing hair.
Despite the impression Holmes took from her letter, Violet is not an indecisive person who has to poll the audience before doing anything. The job she has been offered comes with a great salary (more than double her last position) and what appears to be not a lot of work. The one problem is the extremely weird person who wants to hire her. As soon as she walks into the employment agency, Jephro Rucastle checks her out and declares her “accomplishments” perfect for the job. She counters that her, um, accomplishments may be less than he imagines and rattles off things that were considered proper accomplishments for a lady of the time: a little French and German, music, etc. And by the way my eyes – and brain! – are up here, buddy. Since you’re pretending to want to hire me for said brain.
The job is caring for only one child. Oh, and his wife is “faddy” and may want her to wear a certain blue dress and sit a certain way and little things like that. But that’s no big deal, right? Oh, and your fabulous chestnut hair is just the sort of thing we’re into but cut it really short because we like it that way. We the readers, having watched many crime shows and generally been told to trust our instincts when it comes to creepy old men, think we know where this is going. We would probably feel safer taking our chances against unemployment and starvation than follow this guy to his middle-of-nowhere house.
Miss Hunter, however, has never watched CSI and doesn’t care. She declines the offer not only because she has every right to be creeped out but because Rucastle and his “faddy” wife do not properly appreciate the gloriousness that is her hair and want it gone before they will employ her. A girl has to set limits somewhere. However, after a couple days of thinking and a couple more bills turning up in the post, she has to face the reality that her hair is not going to do her any real good if she is literally living on the street. But she does want a second opinion from someone who knows a thing or two. With no family or friends, she has turned to Holmes for his widely-known ability to make sense out of weird stuff.
Holmes, after listening to her story, apparently can make very little sense of it. He sends her off telling her not to worry but if she is in danger to fire off a telegram and he will come charging in to aid her. She isn’t too happy with this “danger” business but goes anyway because she doesn’t have a lot of options. However, our girl Violet is not one to sit around and let a mystery go unsolved, especially when all the weird stuff is happening to her personally. Using her own observational powers (which she is not afraid to brag about later because face it, she does pretty well), she manages to gather quite a lot of evidence of even more strange goings-on – a man lurking in the bushes, shuttered tower rooms, and hair that looks exactly like hers hidden in a drawer. However, she does not call on Holmes until she is justly terrified by strange shadows moving in the attic and her employer threatening her with a giant dog.
Holmes and Watson arrive and as usual Holmes deduces the evidence into a coherent story, but it is up to Violet to actually get things done. She has come this far on her own and so Holmes assigns her the role of disposing of anyone who might get in the way of solving the mystery. Now that she has braved the creepy house and creepier people, gathered the evidence, brought Holmes there when the Rucastles are conveniently going out, and temporarily removed everyone else who would get in their way, it is up to Holmes and Watson to do the serious investigative work of kicking down doors, holding a gun, and jumping to an incorrect conclusion about where the formerly imprisoned Alice Rucastle has gone.
Holmes calls Violet Hunter a “quite exceptional woman” and Watson, bless his romantic heart, is convinced that this is the woman for Holmes. Watson, however, is doomed to be disappointed. Holmes is not interested despite being duly impressed with her cleverness and courage. However, this is just as well since Violet Hunter remains perfectly capable of making her own way in the world, soon becoming head of a private school and meeting with “considerable success.” If courage is not the absence of fear but being afraid and charging ahead anyway, then Violet Hunter is indeed as courageous as she is pragmatic, observant, and resourceful.