When Helen Stoner arrives at Baker Street, she is as transparent to detectives of Victorian social constructions as she is to Sherlock Holmes, detective of “strange” and “fantastic” and “singular” cases. The “Adventure of the Speckled Band” by Arthur Conan Doyle constructs femininity and womanhood of a particular upper-class sort. It does this through an emphasis on the delicate nature of these women with special attention to their purity and vulnerability. Their delicate natures require protection, and Doyle establishes Holmes as a singular example of Victorian manhood, capable of providing that safe-guard to feminine innocence.
An understanding of Victorian femininity as it appears in this story must begin with a discussion of class. Helen Stoner is the step-daughter of one Dr. Roylott, who pursued his degree despite coming from a high-class family because he was determined not to live “the horrible life of an aristocratic pauper” (155). He marries a woman of considerable income, all of which is in his control. Although the cultural capital of owning a manor and being a Roylott designates the family as upper-class, the diminution of income due to falling agricultural prices and the fact that Helen and her sisters are required to do servants’ work places them in another class entirely. And yet we know that Helen does not think of herself as a member of the lower classes. For one thing, her association with Mrs. Farintosh, owner of the opal tiara, clues us in to the sort of people she associates with (monied), and her response to the public disgrace of her step-father’s violent outbursts enlightens us as to her disassociation with the villagers (by her ability to buy out of public disgrace).
Helen Stoner carries out the cultural performance of wealth without the money to back it up, making her case even more pathetic (both to Holmes and readers). The income her mother left the family was meant to ensure their happiness (155), but Helen is prevented from any happiness, from any social connections, and from securing a marriage until much later than average, because she has to work to take care of Dr. Roylott. Her sister is described as having prematurely white hair as a result of working so hard (156).