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the case of the left-handed lady

7 february 2022

At the end of The Case of the Missing Marquess, Enola Holmes had slithered free of her less-smart brother Sherlock and established herself as a tracer of lost persons, a "Scientific Perditorian," stocked with money and disguises to conceal the fact that her entire operation consists of herself, a teenage girl. In The Case of the Left-Handed Lady she is ready to take on her first job. It is brought to her by a physician named Watson. The missing person is Enola Holmes.

The far stupider Mycroft fades from sight in this second Enola novel, but the Sherlock/Enola relationship – part sibling rivalry, part professional admiration, part genuine affection – gains prominence. The brother and sister engage in cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek feintings and failings to find, and along the way Sherlock acquires some real respect for his sister's desire to be free of Victorian dogma.

Naturally there is a mystery plot that ends up tangential to the family drama. As in Missing Marquess, it involves a disappearance from the ranks of the leisure class. Lady Cecily has gone missing this time, vanished into the London underworld, mixed up somehow in Marxist agitation, mesmerism, or worse machinations. Finding Cecily becomes something of a personal mission for Enola, who is likewise a runaway from gentility.

Acute consciousness of stifling class and gender conventions continues to pervade Springer's Enola fictions. (Obviously, did so 15 years ago; the series is long complete and has lately re-emerged as a pendant to its own TV series.) Springer's characters are much more hyperaware of how women and the lower classes should be confined to their place than women and workers are in actual late-Victorian fiction. Or are they? Late 19th-century writers didn't need to underscore, on a moment-to-moment, keenly felt basis, the constraints they lived by. Alerting 21st-century writers to these same constraints requires constant reminding. Enola's verbalizing of her society's code is thus not realistic in terms of Victorian language, but it may convey the lived experience of that era as well as any historical fiction can.

Springer, Nancy. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady. 2007. New York: Puffin [Penguin Random House], 2021. PZ 7 .S76846Carl