That was no lady, that was Sherlock Holmes
Along with being the working definition of THE master detective, one of the things you soon learn on reading the original stories about Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle about Sherlock Holmes, here after known as “The Canon,” is that he was also a master of disguise. Appearing in disguise in 10 stories in The Canon, unless I miscounted, he is so good at the craft that not even Watson is able to tell who he was when playing at being someone else.
Taking on such diverse characters as a sailor, two different sorts of sea captains, an Italian priest, an elderly seller of books, an opium smoker, a drunken groom, a non-conformist clergyman, a French laborer, an Irish American spy, and, in The Mazarin Stone, an elderly woman.
Based on a play that Doyle had written in 1921 called “The Crown Diamond,” I suspect this disguise came about manly because of the British love of men dashing about on stage dressed as women more than anything else, but whatever the case there you have it and so there ends the tale of Sherlock Holmes in a dress.
Not quite, don’t forget the pastiches, more or which have been written about this character than any other fictional character by a factor of at least a big freaking bunch to 1, alright I haven’t done a real calculation, or been able to find one about this, so I don’t have an actual count and mount, but I feel confident I’m correct.
It’s there, in stories by others, good, bad and just horrid, that you find Sherlock Holmes disguising himself as a woman with enough regularity to make Jimmy Olsen jealous (another “master of disguise” they couldn’t keep out of a frock.)
Some I am aware of are:
The Case of Emily V. By Keith Oatley
Written from the point of view of a woman undergoing therapy with Sigmund Freud Holmes once again appears as an old woman.
Draco, Draconis by Brett Spencer & Dorian David, this is based on a script from the Granada Series based often on highly altered stories from The Canon; this one has a brief example of Sherlockian drag.
The Incredible Umbrella by Marvin Kaye. A fantasy in which the hero moves from one fictional world to another, sometimes picking up the aid of famous literary characters along the way, (the Frankenstein Monster, on whom he has bestowed the name the Boris, is his side-kick) at one point he enlists the aid of Sherlock Holmes who at one point disguises himself as a woman in Flatland.
We find Homes impersonating women in two stories, The Adventure of the Left-Behind Wife and The Adventure of the Other Woman by Michael Mallory who has written a number of pleasant, heretofore unknown, adventures about Dr. Watson’s second wife Amelia. In one, falling back on what seems to be his favorite such alter ego, Holmes appears as an old woman, while and in another he passes himself off as Mrs. Watson!
Getting out of short stories, Holmes appears as a woman a number of times in novels written by Laurie R. King featuring Sherlock Holmes’ young female apprentice Mary Russell, appearing for instance as a nun in, A monstrous Regiment of Women.
More interesting however is when Mary is taken to one of the many bolt holes that Holmes has hidden around London where he keeps most the items he uses in taking on undercover guises out of the way of his regular digs. While there Mary Russell notices that Holmes has a large collection of frocks and shoes of a size to fit his frame, indicating he may do that sort of thing more often than anyone knows.
In the Singular Habits of Wasps by Geoffrey A. Landis, and The Mycroft Memoranda by Ray Walsh, we find that Holmes has more than just old women in his repertoire when he appears in each at story at one point as a London prostitute!
In the Martin Davies,’ Mrs. Hudson and the Spirits’ Curse, we find Holmes a crone again; we also discover that he apparently spreads being a detective like a contagion as it mainly features Mrs. Hudson as the sleuth.
Sherlock Holmes can also be found tant que femme in, A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, W.G. Grace’s Last Case by William Rushton, Call Me Wiggins by Norman Schreiber, The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer, The Case of the Gustaffson Stone by June Thomson, and in the horror story, The Quality of Mercy by William Meikle.
Are there others? I’m willing to bet almost certainly there are, as I said earlier there are a heck of a lot of Sherlock Holmes pastiches.
I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to one day find out someone who has made a specialty of turning out a whole string of “newly discovered” stories where either during the years before he met Watson, or during The Hiatus, Holmes chased after the game that was afoot, and did it in the latest Victorian women’s high-bottom shoes.