Irene Adler

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Irene Adler
Sherlock Holmes character
First appearance"A Scandal in Bohemia"
Created bySir Arthur Conan Doyle
In-universe information
OccupationOpera singer
SpouseGodfrey Norton

Irene Adler is a fictional character in the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A former opera singer and actress, she was featured in the short story "A Scandal in Bohemia", published in July 1891. Adler is one of the most notable female characters in the Sherlock Holmes series, despite appearing in only one story. While not technically a criminal and bearing no malice towards Holmes, she outsmarts him and evades his traps. Sherlock Holmes refers to her afterwards respectfully as "the Woman".[1][2]

In the original Doyle story, Watson notes Holmes has no romantic interest in Adler or in women in general, pointing out the detective only exhibits a platonic admiration for her wit and cunning.[1] Despite this, some derivative works reinterpret Adler as a romantic interest for Holmes or as a former love who later regularly engages in crime.[3]

Fictional character biography[edit]

Holmes (in disguise) at the wedding of Irene Adler and Godfrey Norton, 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget

Irene Adler appears only in "A Scandal in Bohemia". Her name is briefly mentioned in "A Case of Identity", "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", and "His Last Bow".

According to "A Scandal in Bohemia", Adler was born in New Jersey or Chelsea, London in 1858. She had a career in opera as a contralto or soprano, performing at La Scala in Milan, Italy, and a term as prima donna in the Imperial Opera of Warsaw, Poland. In Poland, she became the lover of Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein and King of Bohemia. The King describes her as "a well-known adventuress" (a term widely used at the time in ambiguous association with "courtesan"[4][5]) who has "the face of the most beautiful of women and the mind of the most resolute of men." Thereafter, she moves to England and marries Godfrey Norton, causing the King to fear she may attempt to blackmail him.

Character sources[edit]

Lillie Langtry (circa 1882), one possible model for Irene Adler

Adler's career as a theatrical performer who becomes the lover of a powerful aristocrat had several precedents. One is Lola Montez, a dancer who became the lover of Ludwig I of Bavaria and influenced national politics. Montez is suggested as a model for Adler by several writers.[6][7]

Another possibility is the actor Lillie Langtry, the lover of Edward, the Prince of Wales.[6] Writing in 1957, Julian Wolff, a member of the literary society The Baker Street Irregulars, comments that it was well known that Langtry was born in Jersey (she was called the "Jersey Lily") and Adler is born in New Jersey.[5] Langtry had later had several other aristocratic lovers, and her relationships had been speculated upon in the public press in the years before Doyle's story was published. Another suggestion is the dancer Ludmilla Stubel, the alleged lover and later wife of Archduke Johann Salvator of Austria.[8]

Holmes' relationship to Adler[edit]

Adler earns Holmes's unbounded admiration.[9] 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 dryly replies that Adler is indeed on a much different level from the King.[10]

The beginning of "A Scandal in Bohemia" describes the high regard in which Holmes held Irene 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. [...] 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.[10]

In derivative works, she is frequently used as a romantic interest for Holmes, a departure from Doyle's story where he only admired her for her wit and cunning.[9][3] In his Sherlock Holmes Handbook, Christopher Redmond writes "the Canon provides little basis for either sentimental or prurient speculation about a Holmes–Adler connection."[11]

Carole Nelson Douglas wrote a series of eight novels and six short-stories focusing on Adler, beginning with Good Night, Mr. Holmes which details the events of "A Scandal in Bohemia" from her point of view, and continuing her other adventures in numerous locations around the world.

The Young Adult series Sherlock, Lupin and Me is about the adventures a young Irene Adler has with a young Sherlock Holmes and Arsène Lupin.

Name pronunciation[edit]

Different pronunciations of Irene Adler's first name have been proposed. The traditional British pronunciation of the name is "Eye-ree-nee", which has been used for Adler's first name in some adaptations, including the BBC 1989–1998 radio series. The standard American pronunciation of the name, "Eye-reen", would be appropriate since Adler is said to be from New Jersey. It may also be pronounced this way in modern British usage. This pronunciation has been used in television adaptations such as Elementary, Cashville and Sherlock. Another pronunciation, "Ayr-ray-na", was used in the Granada television series. This pronunciation has a "continental flavour" fitting Adler's career as an opera singer in continental Europe.[12][13]

Actresses who have played Irene Adler[edit]


Name Title Date Network
Marian Seldes CBS Radio Mystery Theater – "A Scandal in Bohemia"[14] 1977 CBS Radio
Sarah Badel The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – "A Scandal in Bohemia" 1990 BBC Radio 4

Stage plays[edit]

Name Title Date Type
Inga Swenson Baker Street 1965 Musical (Broadway)

Television and DTV films[edit]

Name Title Date Type
Charlotte Rampling Sherlock Holmes in New York 1976 Television film (American)
Anne Baxter The Masks of Death 1984 Television film (British)
Morgan Fairchild Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady 1992 Television film
Liliana Komorowska The Royal Scandal 2001 Television film (Canadian)
Anna Chancellor Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars 2007 Television film (British)

Television series[edit]

Name Title Date Type
Olga Edwardes Sherlock Holmes - "A Scandal in Bohemia" 1951 (British)
Larisa Solovyova The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson - "The Treasures of Agra" 1983 (Russian)
Gayle Hunnicutt The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - "A Scandal in Bohemia" 1984 (British)
Lara Pulver Sherlock - "A Scandal in Belgravia" 2012 (British)
Sherlock - "The Sign of Three" 2014 (British)
Natalie Dormer Elementary 2013-2015 (American)
Lyanka Gryu Sherlock Holmes 2013 (Russian)
Rie Miyazawa Sherlock Holmes 2014-2015 (Japanese)
Maaya Sakamoto Case File nº221: Kabukicho[15] 2019 (Japanese)

Theatrical films[edit]

Name Title Date Type
Rachel McAdams Sherlock Holmes 2009 (British-American)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows 2011 (British-American)
Mary J Blige Sherlock Gnomes 2018 Paramount


  1. ^ a b "A Scandal in Bohemia" by Arthur Conan Doyle. Published 25 June 1891 in the July issue of The Strand Magazine.
  2. ^ Rosemary, Herbert (2003). Whodunit? : a Who's Who in Crime & Mystery Writing. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 4. ISBN 0195157613. OCLC 252700230.
  3. ^ a b Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), Warner Bros. Pictures.
  4. ^ Pal-Lapinski, Piya (2005). The Exotic Woman in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction and Culture: a Reconsideration. Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England. p. 71. ISBN 978-1584654292.
  5. ^ a b Redmond, Christopher (2002). In Bed with Sherlock Holmes: Sexual Elements in Arthur Conan Doyle's Stories. Toronto, Canada: Dundurn Press. pp. 57–66. ISBN 978-0889241428.
  6. ^ a b Redmond, Christopher (1993). Sherlock Holmes Handbook. Toronto, Canada: Dundurn Press. p. 51. ASIN B01K3NVXDQ.
  7. ^ Doyle, Arthur Conan (2005) [1893]. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. New York City: W.W. Norton. p. 17. ISBN 978-1989201046.
  8. ^ Miller, Russell (2008). The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle: A Biography. New York City: Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 978-0312378974.
  9. ^ a b Bunson, Matthew (1997). Encyclopedia Sherlockiana. New York City: Simon & Schuster. p. 3. ISBN 0-02-861679-0.
  10. ^ a b Thompson, Dave (2013). Sherlock Holmes FAQ. Applause. p. 74. ISBN 9781480331495.
  11. ^ Redmond, Christopher (2009). Sherlock Holmes Handbook: Second Edition. Toronto, Canada: Dundurn Press. p. 53. ISBN 9781459718982.
  12. ^ Johnson, Roger; Upton, Jean (2012). The Sherlock Holmes Miscellany. The History Press. pp. 155–156. ISBN 9780752483474.
  13. ^ "A Scandal in Bohemia". BBC Radio Sherlock Holmes. Episode 5. 7 November 1990. BBC Radio 4.
  14. ^ Payton, Gordon; Grams Jr., Martin (2012). The CBS Radio Mystery Theater: An Episode Guide and Handbook to Nine Years of Broadcasting, 1974–1982. McFarland & Company. p. 216. ISBN 9780786492282.
  15. ^ "CHARACTER | オリジナルTVアニメ「歌舞伎町シャーロック」公式サイト". (in Japanese). Retrieved 1 December 2019.

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