GTOs (girls together outrageously)

Patricia Lou Guy

Verona, Italy

[0.1] Abstract—Memories of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (ASH) fan group.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan community; Memoir

Guy, Patricia Lou. 2017. "GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously)." In "Sherlock Holmes Fandom, Sherlockiana, and the Great Game," edited by Betsy Rosenblatt and Roberta Pearson, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 23.

[1] The only organizations I have ever willingly joined are the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (ASH) and the Baker Street Irregulars (BSI). I joined ASH in 1982 because I had already been socializing with them, and knew and liked all the members. I joined BSI in 2010 because I knew all the women members and the smart BSI (often referred to as the Boys) who used to hang around the Adventuresses' events back in the days of segregation.

[2] In fact, ASH was formed in the late 1960s in part as a jolly alternative to the Baker Street Irregulars, who at that time refused to accept women among their ranks.

[3] We Adventuresses loved books, we loved to laugh, we knew how to have a good (and occasionally riotous) time. Perhaps even more than an appreciation of the Holmes stories themselves, it was the camaraderie and the feeling of having found a home that drew me to ASH: the joy of being able to be with people who got the jokes, who could top a funny line and who could understand the wisdom that comes from diving into a book and living in someone else's reality for a time.

[4] When I moved to New York City in late 1977 to manage the Mysterious Bookshop—a job I was offered because I have always been a voracious reader of mystery novels—I was fortunate enough to immediately fall in with the Adventuresses, and I began attending their monthly get-togethers (ASH Wednesdays) in 1978.

[5] What a magnificent group we were! At our meetings, we sang too loudly, we laughed too loudly, and we were free to be who we really were—women with agile minds and a knack for mischief. I look back on those days fondly. Of course, we did our own bit of backlash segregation: No Boys Allowed—well, not until the bar opened.

[6] Every January in New York, there is a marathon of events revolving around Sherlock Holmes. This is generally referred to as the Birthday Weekend, as it is nominally organized to celebrate the birthday of the Great Detective. The Boys would always swing by our ASH January dinner after their own had finished and compare notes on their program versus our program, and try their best (which was often not quite good enough) to pick up attractive young women (we were in our succulent 20s and 30s then).

[7] I don't really know what the BSI dinners were like in this period, but I sincerely doubt they included more boisterous merrymaking than that to be found at a typical ASH do. Yes, we occasionally had to face an embarrassed waiter who asked us to tone down the singing as the diners in the room below had complained. This often as not was greeted with laughter and a call for more wine! I am proud to say that I was a member of the "rowdy table." There is something invigorating about being naughty! I urge you all to try it now and then. Evelyn Herzog could bring us to order (at least our version of order) with an authoritative cry of: "Ladies! Ladies!"

[8] I was staying at the apartment of Mickey Fromkin and Susan Rice, two fabulous ASH, on the eve of my trip to France in 1982. It was to be one of my free-wheeling rambles around Europe in search of some as-yet undefined je ne sais quoi. That year, serendipity led me to picking grapes in Champagne and living for a time in Paris, and this in turn led me to my entry into the wine trade.

[9] That late summer evening in Mickey and Susan's book-filled front room, Evelyn Herzog, ASH's Principal Unprincipled Adventuress and founding mother of the organization, told me that I could not set out to live the life of an Adventuress without becoming one officially. She invited me to join ASH and gave me the investiture name of Mlle. Vernet, the name of Sherlock Holmes's maternal grand-mère. It is a name with which I am very proud to be associated. The fading yellowed certificate that commemorates this event hangs in my office as I type this.

[10] Over the next few years, I bounced back and forth among the UK, France, and New York City. And yes, I did lead the life of an Adventuress (in the swashbuckling sense of the word)—occasionally down and out, but often riding high, and always ready to accept the surprises that life had in store. When I periodically returned to New York City and my ASH friends, I always felt a comfortable, cozy, lively, and vivacious freedom—a sense of being at home.

[11] In 1987, I moved to London to study blind wine tasting, take some professional exams, and broker fine Bordeaux—shades of James Windibank! In order to keep contact with the Ladies of ASH, I wrote an occasional column for the Serpentine Muse, the ASH newsletter. I then moved to Italy in 1991.

[12] This was the year the BSI announced its intention to admit women. The first two were Adventuresses: Evelyn Herzog and Susan Rice. I flew back from Verona for this happy occasion. It was a time of celebration: we had achieved a goal—to be accepted as equals by the Boys of the BSI.

[13] Foolishly, I thought that the Ladies would accept the BSI invitation and then everything would go back to normal—an ASH January dinner and a BSI January dinner.

[14] But that was not the way it turned out. Nor should I have expected it to. Getting recognition from the BSI had long been on the ASH agenda: the new distaff BSI couldn't just snub the Boys and walk away.

[15] The first January ASH dinner without Evelyn and Susan just didn't feel the same. In those moments when the laughter stopped, a funereal air crept in and tried to settle on our high spirits.

[16] The ASH January dinner evolved into a dinner for all Sherlockians who had not been invited to the BSI function, and has gone by many names, among them the Fortescue Symposium and the Baskerville Bash. At a symposium, I delivered a paper on Victorian medicinal imbibing. At the end of the evening, I was asked by an eager participant if I were writing a book on the subject. I said no. Then another kindly person asked the same question. To the third query, I said: "Yes!" And Bacchus at Baker Street became my first Sherlockian book.

[17] During the 1990s, I went back to New York for other alternative January dinners. The format remained the same: the ASH spirit of whimsy was maintained. But every year, more of my oldest and dearest friends were being persuaded into the ranks of the BSI.

[18] As the years passed, I continued to feel a longing for the bonhomie of ASH. I missed my Sherlockian pals and so decided to start the first (and only) ASH scion society: the Assorted and Stradivarious of Verona.

[19] Our first meeting took place on Halloween 2002 in the basement of the wittily named Prosivendolo bookshop (a fruit shop is a fruttivendolo in Italian; hence, this emporium was a prose seller). Around 20 Veronese turned up. They were mildly interested in Sherlock Holmes, but very interested in talking about their trips to London in English. My husband, Michael, and I brought a bottle of port and our pal Ugo gave a dramatic reading of "A Scandal in Bohemia," featuring the beautiful adventuress Irene Adler. The Assorted and Stradivarious has remained mainly Ugo and Michael and me. However, we are always ready to entertain Sherlockians who pass through town. We usually shepherd them to the Filippini for aperitifs and on to the Osteria Carroarmato for eats.

[20] In 2006, in a hotel room at the Algonquin on a sunny morning after the big January dinner, I called a little meeting of some of my favorite ASH and proposed another idea, one conceived—once again—because I was lonely for Sherlockian companionship. I asked them and some clever Boys to write essays for a book called Ladies, Ladies: The Women in the Life of Sherlock Holmes. I did this not so much to amplify the place of women in the Holmes stories, but rather to have a reason to be in weekly contact with some of my closest friends. The book is lovely. It is chock-full of information. But for me, it is a document attesting to longtime friendship.

[21] In 2010, thanks to the lobbying of Venerable Ash and Old Boys from my New York youth, I was accepted into the BSI, with the investiture name of Imperial Tokay. This is a reference to a fine wine with startling medicinal properties, which is mentioned in The Sign of the Four and His Last Bow. The investiture name is, of course, a reference to my career in the wine trade. I am grateful for this honor: the BSI parchment shares wall space with my ASH certificate.

[22] It should be noted that BSI dinners are not like the ASH ones. At BSI occasions, there are no spontaneous bursts of song. When BSI members sing, they are careful not to do so too loudly (just loudly enough). There are seldom whoops of laughter at the drinks table or seemingly nonsequitous table talk that leads to creative interpretations of life, liberty, and the Holmes stories—in short, no waggish fun. There is, of course, serious fun at the BSI dinners. But ASH members need a dose of free-floating silliness every now and then. These we find at the smaller get-togethers that pop up during the Sherlockian Birthday Weekend in January and at the monthly ASH Wednesday meetings.

[23] The first time I went back to New York in the mid-2000s to attend a BSI dinner, I was assailed by a covey of young women. One of them (you know who you are, Lyndsay) looked at me reverently, her eyes wide with wonder, and said: "You're one of the old ASH." Over the rest of the weekend, I found myself saddled with that label. It was disconcerting, because I knew that—in her heart, mind, and soul—an ASH never grows old.