Following their budding romance in Enola Holmes, the young Viscount Tewkesbury and Enola reunite in Enola Holmes 2 where Tewkesbury officially begins his pursuit of Enola with the wave of a fan. Unbeknownst to Tewkesbury, he is mistaken about what his particular fan-waving motion means and accidentally sends Enola the wrong message. In fact, the real-life secret language of the fan used in 19th-century English polite society is far more complex than Enola Holmes 2 depicts.
Enola Holmes 2 unravels the case of a missing matchstick factory girl, Sarah Chapman, and the heinous truth behind her disappearance. Enola slips into a ball undercover one night, attempting to talk to William Lyon, the son of the matchstick factory owner and a person of interest in Sarah’s case. She meets Lady Mira Troy, the Treasury Minister’s private secretary who tells Enola that the ladies of the parties are using their fans to send secret messages, “saying everything that is forbidden.” As Enola would later learn, the secret language of the fan is useful in more ways than one.
Tewkesbury Didn’t Actually Say “I Love You” To Enola
Enola and Tewkesbury bump into each other at the charity ball thrown by Henry Lyon, the owner of the matchstick factory based on the true story of the 1888 matchgirls strike. While hatching her plan to approach William Lyon, Enola takes an impromptu dance lesson from Tewkesbury in a washroom. Needing to talk to William Lyon, Henry Lyon’s son, Enola must first be able to create the opportunity to have a conversation, and nothing other than dancing gives a young lady unchaperoned time to spend with a gentleman. Before they go their separate ways, Tewkesbury gestures to Enola with a fan, telling her “you’ll learn” what the message means eventually. It is revealed later in the movie that he intended to profess his love for her with the gesture, reiterating to Enola out loud this time, “I love you.”
According to a leaflet published by a fan supplier to Queen Victoria, the ruler of England in the time of Enola and Sherlock Holmes, “I love you” was gestured by drawing the fan across your cheek, which is not exactly what Tewkesbury did in Enola Holmes 2. Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy, the French fan maker who published the leaflet detailing “The Language of the Fan,” listed many more fan motions and their corresponding messages in the leaflet. In Enola Holmes 2, spreading the fan half-open, Tewkesbury raised it to his right cheek and lowered it slowly, which is far from Duvelleroy’s designated motion for “I love you”, and does not vaguely resemble any of the other messages outlined on Duvelleroy’s leaflet either. Hence, although Tewkesbury’s coded fan message creates an endearing moment shared between himself and Enola, the fan gesture doesn’t actually say anything at all. Fortunately for Tewkesbury, Enola, equally ill-versed in the language of the fan, is none the wiser of his mistake.
The Message Enola Sent With Her Fan
Having been brought up by the unconventional mother that is Eudoria Holmes, Enola finds herself a fish out of water in formal settings among gentle society. As clumsy as Tewkesbury’s use of the fan is in Enola Holmes 2, Enola herself is entirely ignorant of the secret language of the fan until Tewkesbury teaches her how to signal “I love you.” She does, nonetheless, accidentally send some pointed (and contradicting) messages to a poor, unsuspecting man at the charity ball. Mocking the other ladies’ use of the fans, Enola fans it quickly in front of her chest, telling the man on the opposite balcony “I am engaged,” and then holds it open in front of her face with her left hand, which signals that she is “desirous of acquaintance,” inviting him to approach her.
Who Invented The Language Of The Fan
Fans were used for both practical and social reasons in 19th-century England under Queen Victoria’s rule. Helpful in keeping the ladies in corsets cool and pesty bugs away, the fans were also used to flirt, and how elegantly a lady held and used a fan was a signal of her status in polite society. Even before Duvelleroy printed his “The Language of the Fan” leaflet, fan print designer Charles Francis Badini invented “fanology” by designating letters of the alphabet to specific body movements combined with fan placements. Each letter was designated two signals, and both spelling out and receiving messages would have been tedious tasks.
Formal systems such as the ones established by Badini and Duvelleroy, though fun to decipher, often conflicted with each other, were hard to distinguish, or were simply redundant. Even for a seasoned detective such as Henry Cavill’s Sherlock Holmes, the language (or languages) of the fan would be too confusing to use as a secret code. Hardly a practical way to communicate, the rules and systems of the fan codes were in reality used mostly as a marketing tactic to promote fan sales by fan makers. Proving successful in Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy’s case, the French fan maker’s published leaflet helped him gain popularity in London and paved the way for him to become Queen Victoria’s fan supplier.
What Secret Messages Enola Should Have Sent With The Fan
There are many instances in Enola Holmes 2 where the secret language of the fan would have come in handy, if only Enola was familiar with it. When the man at the ball mistakenly took Enola’s playful gestures as a serious invitation for an acquaintance, Enola could have simply placed her fan on her left ear, subtly telling the gentleman “I wish to get rid of you”. Following the advice of Mira Troy (Enola Holmes 2‘s version of Moriarty), Enola could have also signaled to William Lyon that she wished to speak to him by touching a closed fan’s tip with her finger, though it is doubtful that he would have seen her subtle message in a crowded and busy room. Similarly, Enola could have carried an open fan with her left hand, signaling “come and talk to me.”
How Accurate Is Enola Holmes 2’s Use Of The Language Of The Fan?
Although Tewkesbury’s use of the fan isn’t quite as precise or graceful as would have been required in Victorian England, the movie is not entirely off-base with its use of the fan’s code. A few scenes earlier, when Enola first arrives at the ball, she notices William Lyon nodding to Lady Cecily across the room, who draws the feathers of her fan across her right cheek slowly and subtly. Little does she know, Lady Cecily is likewise undercover at the ball, trying to uncover the real reason behind the matchgirls’ deaths by typhus. Enola later connects the dots between Tewkesbury confession of love and Lady Cecily’s fan motion, realizing that “Lady Cecily” is in fact Sarah, who is having a love affair with William.
In another scene at the ball, the camera lingers on a lady holding her fan open in front of her face with her right hand, then closing it and placing the handle on her lips and gazing suggestively up at a man who smiles down at her. Deciphering her messages with Duvelleroy’s leaflet, one finds that “carrying in the right hand in front of face” means “follow me,” and “with handle to lips” equates “kiss me,” an offer that the gentleman seems happy to accept. Therefore, chalk the inconsistencies up to a bad take of Tewkesbury’s scene or his character’s unfamiliarity with using a fan, but the intentions for Enola Holmes 2 to portray Duvelleroy’s code was simply poorly executed, not negligent.