A Scandal in Bohemia
|"A Scandal in Bohemia"|
1891 illustration by Sidney Paget
|Author||Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Series||The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes|
"A Scandal in Bohemia" is the first short story, and the third overall work, featuring Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. It is the first of the 56 Holmes short stories written by Doyle and the first of 38 Sherlock Holmes works illustrated by Sidney Paget. The story is notable for introducing the character of Irene Adler, who is one of the most notable female characters in the Sherlock Holmes series, despite appearing in only one story. Doyle ranked "A Scandal in Bohemia" fifth in his list of his twelve favourite Holmes stories.
Dr. Watson recounts an adventure that started on 20 March 1888. While the currently married Watson is paying Holmes a visit, a masked visitor arrives, introducing himself as Count Von Kramm, an agent for a wealthy client. Holmes quickly deduces that the visitor is in fact Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein and the hereditary King of Bohemia. Realizing Holmes has seen through his guise, the King admits this and tears off his mask.
It transpires that the King is to become engaged to Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meiningen, a young Scandinavian princess. However, five years before the events of the story he had enjoyed a liaison with a "well-known adventuress", the American opera singer Irene Adler, whilst she was prima donna of the Imperial Opera of Warsaw. She has since retired and now lives in London. Fearful that should the strictly principled family of his fiancée learn of this impropriety, the marriage would be called off, he had sought to regain letters and a photograph of Adler and himself together, which he had sent to her during their relationship as a token. The King's agents have tried to recover the photograph through sometimes forceful means, burglary, stealing her luggage, and waylaying her. An offer to pay for the photograph and letters was also refused. With Adler threatening to send them to his future in-laws, which the King presumes is intended to prevent him from marrying any other woman, he makes the incognito visit to Holmes to request his help in locating and obtaining the photograph.
The photograph is described to Holmes as a cabinet (5½ by 4 inches) and therefore too bulky for a lady to carry upon her person. As regards expenses, the King says Holmes has carte blanche and gives him £1,000 (£109,400 today), exclaiming "I would give one of the provinces of my kingdom to have that photograph!" Holmes asks Dr. Watson to join him at 221B Baker Street at 3 o'clock the following afternoon.
The next morning, Holmes goes to Adler's house, disguised as a drunken out-of-work groom. He discovers from the local stable workers that Adler has a gentleman friend, the barrister Godfrey Norton of the Inner Temple, who calls at least once a day. On this particular day, Norton comes to visit Adler, and soon afterwards takes a cab to the Church of St. Monica in Edgware Road. Minutes later, the lady herself gets into her landau, bound for the same place. Holmes follows in a cab and enters a church, where he is unexpectedly asked to be a witness to Norton and Adler's wedding. Curiously, they go their separate ways after the ceremony.
Meanwhile, Watson has been waiting for Holmes to arrive, and when Holmes finally does deliver himself back to Baker Street, he starts laughing. Watson is confused and asks what is so funny. Holmes then recounts his tale and comments he thought the situation and position he was in at the wedding was amusing. He also asks whether or not Watson is willing to participate in a scheme to figure out where the picture is hidden in Adler's house. Watson agrees, and Holmes changes into another disguise as a clergyman. The duo depart Baker Street for Adler's house.
When Holmes and Watson arrive, a group of jobless men meander throughout the street. When Adler's coach pulls up, Holmes enacts his plan. A fight breaks out between the men on the street over who gets to help Adler. Holmes rushes into the fight to protect Adler, and is seemingly struck and injured. Adler takes him into her sitting room, where Holmes motions for her to have the window opened. As Holmes lifts his hand, Watson recognizes a pre-arranged signal and tosses in a plumber's smoke rocket. While smoke billows out of the building, Watson shouts "FIRE!" and the cry is echoed up and down the street.
Holmes slips out of Adler's house and tells Watson what he saw. As Holmes expected, Adler rushed to get her most precious possession at the cry of "fire"—the photograph of herself and the King. Holmes was able to see that the picture was kept in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the right bell pull. He was unable to steal it at that moment, however, because the coachman was watching him. He explains all this to Watson before being bid good-night by a familiar-sounding youth, who promptly manages to get lost in the crowd.
The following morning, Holmes explains his findings to the King. When Holmes, Watson, and the King arrive at Adler's house at 8 am, her elderly maidservant sardonically informs them she left the country by the 5.15 train from Charing Cross railway station. Holmes quickly goes to the photograph's hiding spot, finding a photo of Irene Adler in an evening dress and a letter dated midnight and addressed to him. In the letter, Adler tells Holmes he did very well in finding the photograph and taking her in with his disguises. She also reveals that she posed as the youth who bid Holmes good-night. Adler has left England with Norton, "a better man" than the King, adding she will not compromise the King, despite being "cruelly wronged" by him; she had kept the photo only to protect herself from further action he might take.
The King exclaims how amazing Adler is ("Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity she was not on my level?") Holmes replies Miss Adler is indeed on a much different level from the King (by which he means higher – an implication lost on the King). Thanking Holmes effusively, the King offers a valuable emerald ring from his finger as further reward. Holmes says there is something he values even more highly – the photograph of Adler. Ignoring the handshake proffered by the King, Holmes leaves. He keeps the photograph as a reminder of her cleverness, and of being beaten by a woman's wit. Watson also tells that, since their meeting, Holmes always refers to her by the honorable title of "the woman".
In the opening paragraph of the short story, Watson calls her "the late Irene Adler", suggesting she is deceased. It has been speculated, however, that the word "late" might actually mean "former". She married Godfrey Norton, making Adler her former name. (Doyle employs this same usage in "The Adventure of the Priory School" in reference to the Duke's former status as a cabinet minister.)
Holmes' relationship to Adler
Adler earns Holmes' unbounded admiration. When the King of Bohemia says, "Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity she was not on my level?" Holmes replies that Adler is indeed on a much different level from the King.
The beginning of "A Scandal in Bohemia" describes the high regard in which Holmes held Adler:
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
This "memory" is kept alive by a photograph of Irene Adler, which had been deliberately left behind when she and her new husband took flight with the embarrassing photograph of her with the King. Holmes had then asked for and received this photo from the King, as payment for his work on the case. In "The Five Orange Pips" he comments to a client that he has been defeated on a mere handful of occasions and only once by a woman.[nb 1]
In derivative works, she is frequently used as a romantic interest for Holmes, a departure from Doyle's novels where he only admired her for her wit and cunning. In his Sherlock Holmes Handbook, Christopher Redmond notes "the Canon provides little basis for either sentimental or prurient speculation about a Holmes-Adler connection."
William Gillette's 1899 stage play Sherlock Holmes is based on several stories, among them "A Scandal in Bohemia". Films released in 1916 (starring Gillette as Holmes) and 1922 (starring John Barrymore), both titled Sherlock Holmes, were based on the play, as was a 1938 Mercury Theatre on the Air radio adaptation titled The Immortal Sherlock Holmes, starring Orson Welles as Holmes.
The 1946 film Dressed to Kill features several references to "A Scandal in Bohemia", with Holmes and Watson discussing the recent publication of the story in The Strand Magazine, and the villain of the film using the same trick on Watson that Holmes uses on Irene Adler in the story. In addition, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, who played Holmes and Watson in the film, did the story for their radio series, The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The episode was followed by a sequel, "Second Generation", featuring Irene's daughter hiring Holmes in retirement.
The story was adapted for a 1951 TV episode of We Present Alan Wheatley as Mr Sherlock Holmes in... starring Alan Wheatley as Holmes, Raymond Francis as Dr. Watson and Olga Edwardes as Irene Adler.
"A Scandal in Bohemia" was adapted as one of episode of the Soviet film series "Priklyucheniya Sherloka Kholmsa i doktora Vatsona: Sokrovishcha Agry" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: The Treasures of Agra), (1983, USSR). It starred Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes, Vitaly Solomin as Dr. Watson, Georgiy Martirosyan as the King of Bohemia and Larisa Solovyova as Irene Adler.
"A Scandal in Bohemia" was adapted as the first episode of the 1984–1985 television series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The episode featured Jeremy Brett as Holmes, David Burke as Watson, and Gayle Hunnicutt as Irene Adler.
Bert Coules dramatised "A Scandal in Bohemia" for BBC Radio 4 in 1990, starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson. It also featured Andrew Sachs as the King (Sachs would then go on to play Watson in Coules' "Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" for radio in 2002–2010.
"A Scandal in Bohemia" was featured in a season 1 episode of the PBS series Wishbone, entitled "A Dogged Exposé". In the episode, the supporting human characters search for an incognito photographer at their school who has been publishing embarrassing photographs of students. Intermingled with the plot, the title character Wishbone portrays Sherlock Holmes in a slightly modified adaptation of the original story to compare with the events of the "real-life" plot.
A series of four TV movies produced in the early 2000s starred Matt Frewer as Sherlock Holmes and Kenneth Welsh as Dr. Watson. One of these films, The Royal Scandal, adapted "A Scandal in Bohemia" and combined its story with "The Bruce-Partington Plans".
Steven Dietz's 2006 play Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, adapted from the 1899 play Sherlock Holmes, merges the storylines of "A Scandal in Bohemia" and The Final Problem. In this adaptation, Godfrey Norton is under the employ of Professor Moriarty and whose original plan was to rob Adler. However, they ended up falling in love, complicating the plan and forcing Moriarty to intervene when Holmes begins investigating on behalf of the King.
"A Scandal in Belgravia", episode one of the second series of the TV series Sherlock, was loosely adapted from the short story and aired on 1 January 2012, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, Martin Freeman as Watson and Lara Pulver as Irene Adler. The plot of the short story – Holmes and Watson attempting to recover incriminating photos from Adler – is covered briefly in the first half of the episode updated for the contemporary period (Adler's photos are stored digitally on her mobile phone) and adjusted (the royal they incriminate is British and female); the episode then moves on to a storyline based on other Sherlock Holmes stories and films while including Adler, Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss) and Jim Moriarty.
"A Scandal in Bohemia" was adapted to the second episode "The Adventure of the Headmaster with Trouble" of NHK puppetry Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is a pupil of an imaginary boarding school Beeton School. One day he pretends to be ill and goes to the nurse's office to search the photo that Headmaster Ormstein and school nurse Irene Adler are in. But Adler sees through his feigned illness. Then Holmes and his roommate John H. Watson make a false fire to find the photo but she penetrates their wiles and tells Holmes that she returned the photo to Ormstein.
Rather than creating a fictional country for the King in his story, Conan Doyle chose to place a fictional dynasty in a real country. The Kingdom of Bohemia was at the time of writing a possession of the House of Habsburg and the Austrian Emperors held the title "King of Bohemia". On the other hand, there had never been a "Kingdom of Scandinavia", though the surname of the King's fiancée was that of the actual ruling house of the Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen. At the time of writing, however, Sweden and Norway, the two countries of the Scandinavian peninsula, were politically united, and this might have been the "kingdom of Scandinavia" Conan Doyle meant.
- If we assume this woman is Adler, this contradicts the timeline of the stories. A Scandal in Bohemia takes place "on the twentieth of March, 1888"; The Five Orange Pips takes place before this in "the year '87". The Sherlock Holmes stories are full of such contradictions regarding dates: for example "The Five Orange Pips" mentions the events of The Sign of the Four despite the latter taking place in 1888.
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