Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is so popular a historical figure that many genuinely mistake him to be a real-life detective. No wonder then that his life has been revisited by many a Hollywood movie and television series. But Harry Bradbeer (‘Fleabag’, ‘Killing Eve’) retells the chronicles of the Holmes family with a decidedly unique and feminist perspective: through the lens of Sherlock’s sister, Enola Holmes, a budding detective and prodigy in her own right. Based on the book series by Nancy Springer, Netflix’s ‘Enola Holmes’ stars Hollywood’s best and brightest, namely, Millie Bobby Brown, Helena Bonham Carter, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, and Fiona Shaw.
The film, to a great extent, revolves around Enola’s enigmatic mother, Eudoria, played by Bonham Carter. Enola’s relationship with her mother serves as the foundational pillar for her talents and smarts. Paradoxically, the Holmes matriarch remains, for a great portion of the film, absent (but with good reason, as we discover later). So, who really was Eudoria Holmes, as chronicled in the books of Nancy Springer? Join us as we find out below.
Who Was Eudoria Holmes?
The backstory of Lady Eudoria Vernet Holmes, mother to Enola, Sherlock, and Mycroft, makes for great Hollywood flick material in itself. Born out of Springer’s pastiche, Eudoria remained at the heart of the very first ‘Enola Holmes’ mystery. In the book, ‘The Case of the Missing Marquess’, Eudoria’s disappearance formed the crux of the plotline.
In the original works of Doyle, Holmes’ mother is not bequeathed a name (although some speculate that she may have been named Violet, given Doyle’s penchant for the name), nor persona. In subtle ways, her character in Springer’s editions does pay homage to Doyle’s classic works. In Doyle’s ‘The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter’, Sherlock alludes to his grandmother’s heritage, saying, “[she] was the sister of Vernet, the French artist.” Springer borrows Vernet as Eudoria’s middle name.
But just as Holmes’ mother is nowhere to be spotted in the original volumes of Doyle, no particular mention is made of Holmes’ sister, save for one specific instance in ‘The Adventure of the Copper Beeches’, where Sherlock utters, “I confess that it is not the situation which I should like to see a sister of mine apply for.” In Springer’s novels, Eudoria names her daughter, and Sherlock’s sister, Enola, which is, rather ominously, the word ‘alone’ spelled backward. As if preparing her daughter for her own disappearance years down the line, Eudoria would also oft mention to Enola, “You will do very well on your own, Enola.” Eudoria employs an outlandish approach to parenting Enola and divests from the Victorian ideals of yore in favor of a more contemporary and free-spirited upbringing. The Holmes matriarch herself is portrayed as ‘well-bred and artistic’, a staunch suffragette and wife to a late Rational logician.
Springer depicts Eudoria as a late-stage parent to Enola, having given birth to her at the age of 50. Enola views this, and herself, as a source of discomfiture to her brothers, nearly 20 years elder to her. Discord between the brothers and Eudoria, however, runs deeper than this. After the death of Eudoria’s husband when Enola was all of four, Mycroft, with Sherlock’s blessing, sowed the seeds of conflict by assuming the role of monetary provider and so-called ‘man of the house.’ The independent, free-thinking Eudoria did not take kindly to such controls and barred her sons from stepping foot in Ferndell Park, their childhood home.
The film portrays Eudoria’s background almost verbatim, but diverges from the books in one crucial way: in lieu of depicting Eudoria Holmes as having run off to lead a militant suffrage movement, as the film does, the books depict her running off to join the gypsies and break free of rigid Victorian society. Even in her absence, Eudoria’s influence continues to be felt by our young heroine, in both literature and cinema.
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