Re-reading the original Sherlock Holmes stories. The first two novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, sold poorly, but Arthur Conan Doyle kept on keepin’ on, with Holmes short stories in England’s Strand Magazine. This is where Holmes exploded into overnight popularity. The first of these, A Scandal in Bohemia, introduces one of the most intriguing characters in Holmes lore.
The facts of the case: A masked man (!) meets with Holmes and Watson, revealing himself to be the King of Bulgaria. A female adventuress (!!) named Irene Adler has a compromising photo of her and the king, which could ruin the king’s upcoming arranged marriage. Snatching the photo back from Irene is tricky, because Irene is one step ahead of Holmes the whole time.
Great detective: Holmes’ skill as a master of disguise is on the forefront. First he hides as a “drunken groom” working with horsemen outside Irene’s house, and then as an elderly priest to get inside. We’re told that he’s spent the previous few weeks alone in his rooms with just his books and his cocaine.
Good doctor: Watson says he’s enjoying the married life, and he’s started his own private medical practice. He just happens to be stopping by for a visit the same night the king shows up, just by coincidence.
Who’s at the door: The famous Irene Adler gets her one and only moment in the spotlight. She’s originally from New Jersey (!), became a successful opera singer, and then quit the music life in favor of international intrigue. In this story, she marries a lawyer named Norton, with Holmes in disguise acting as witness at the wedding. Irene returns the favor by passing Holmes on the street disguised as a boy.
We’re famously told that, “To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman.” He speaks highly of her, he keeps a sovereign from her wedding on his watch chain as a keepsake, and he asks the king for Irene’s photo in exchange for monetary pay. Yet we’re also told whatever he felt for her, it was not romantic love. So, is this a love story or isn’t it? The debate rages on.
Action hero: To trick Irene into thinking her house is on fire, Holmes creates a smoke bomb out of a piece of pipe and two self-lighting caps. Watson then sneaks around the back of the house and chucks inside on Holmes’ signal.
When Holmes asks Watson if he’s willing to break the law and run the risk of arrest for a good cause, Watson responds, “I am your man!”
Yes, this is canon: It might seem weird that a freakin’ king shows up at Holmes’ door, but the story tells us that one of Holmes’ previous cases was a “mission” for the reigning family of Holland. This establishes that hanging out with royalty is just a part of this guy’s daily life.
Holmes’ housekeeper in this story is Mrs. Turner, not Mrs. Hudson.
Indubitably: Irene Adler certainly leaves her mark with this one story, and one in which she barely appears no less. It makes you want an entire series of her solo adventures.
Next week: I’ve never been a ginger.
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