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A Scandal in Bohemia is the first short story from the Sherlock Holmes stable by Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle.  It is also the story which has built the Irene Adler legend.

[Spoiler Alert!]

There has been  no love affair between Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes contrary to what is  advertised in the latest Sherlock Movies/ TV series.

A scandal in Bohemia starts with Dr. Watson, reminiscing about an adventure, which took place on 20th March 1888. Dr. Watson  is paying Sherlock Holmes a visit.

A masked visitor arrives and pretends that he is acting in interest of a client.  Sherlock is able to deduce that the visitor is in fact,(wait for it), Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, ( quite easy to pronounce, isn’t it?)  Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein and the hereditary King of Bohemia. ( A province in Germany)

The King tells that he is to be engaged to Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meiningen,(Another easy name!)  a princess.

The king informs that five years back, he was  in a romance with Irene Adler, who was a social butterfly, now retired in London. The king  also confesses sheepishly that he had been careless and left a critical proof of the affair – a photo.

The king now fears that if the strict  family of his bride were to find out about the photo, the marriage would be called off.

The King has tried to recover the photo  through all means possible –  forcibly and financially. But there has been no success.

Adler has been threatening to send them to his future in-laws, causing much anxiety.

The next morning, Holmes visits Adler’s house, disguised as a drunk, unemployed bum. He discovers from the local  workers that Adler has a gentleman friend, a young lawyer named  Godfrey Norton

On that particular day, Norton comes to visit Adler, and soon afterwards takes a cab to a  Church. Minutes later, Irene Adler also gets into her horse-carriage   bound for the same place.

Holmes, too follows the couple into the church. In an unexpected turn of events, Holmes is asked to witness  Norton and Adler’s wedding. Curiously, Adler and Norton  go their separate ways after the ceremony.

Holmes recalls the events of the day to an  incredulous Watson and asks him if he is willing to participate in a  robbery to recover the photograph from Adler’s house.

Watson agrees.

Holmes and Watson visit  the Adler residence. Upon their  arrival, a group of  men loiter around the street in front of Adler’s house. When Adler comes from her wedding,Holmes  brings his scheme into action.

A fight breaks out between the men on the street over some trivial issue and  Adler is dragged into the fight.  Holmes rushes  to protect Adler, and is apparently injured in the scuffle. Adler takes him into her sitting room, where Holmes asks her to open the  windows,so that he may get fresh air.

This is a signal to Watson. Watson immediately tosses a smoke device near the window and screams “FIRE!”.

Holmes slips  out of Adler’s house and tells Watson what he saw. As he had anticipated,  Adler had  rushed to get her most precious item at the cry  of “FIRE”—the photograph of herself and the King. Holmes was able to see where the picture was kept .

He was not able to  steal it at that moment. He explains all this to Watson on the street. Interestingly, Holmes is bid good-bye by a stranger on the street.

The next morning, Holmes explains the situation  to the King. When Holmes, Watson, and the King arrive at Adler’s house, her maid informs them that Adler has left  for the Railway Station in a haste. Holmes quickly goes to the photograph’s hiding spot, finding a photo of Irene Adler  and a letter addressed to him.

In the letter, Adler tells Holmes that she is  impressed by Holmes’s skills.

In a shocking revelation, she also reveals that it was she who had posed as the stranger who had bid Holmes good-night.

She tells in the letter that she is leaving England forever, with Norton

As a protective measure she  states that she will not expose the King, but will keep the photo with herself.

The King realises what an incredible woman Adler was  and expresses regret that Adler would not be his queen and her lack of ,” level”.

Holmes taunts him back, replying that Adler was indeed on a much different level from the King (by which he means higher—an insult not understood by the King).

When the king asks Holmes how he wants to be paid, Holmes asks for the photograph of Adler. Holmes keeps it as a souvenir of the cleverness of Irene Adler, and how he was beaten by a woman’s wit.

At the conclusion of the story,Watson refers to her as  “the late Irene Adler”, confirming that she died.

Movies and TV series have shown the Holmes Adler relationship in a different light, indicating that there was an affair between them.

However, I wanted the two of them to have an affair – this is just not true!

The story has been depicted in various films and TV series. The most notable of these depictions, in my humble opinion are:-

  1. Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes and Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler in Sherlock Holmes : A Game of Shadows
  2. Benedict Cumber batch as Sherlock Holmes and Laura Pulver as Irene Adler in the Sherlock Episode A scandal in Belgravia
  3. Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes and Gayle Hunnicutt as Irene Adler in the  British TV series – Sherlock Holmes

Even though the writing style is archaic, it will not cease to amaze you. It is still riveting a read in 2017 as it was in the early 20th century.

Writing Style : 4.5/5
Story : 4.8/5
Verdict : Must Read !!! ☆☆☆☆

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About the author

Aniket is a Business Consultant by profession – however his love of books led him to this website, where he posts book reviews and also gets together with new Indian Authors. He can be reached on aniketsitm@gmail.com.

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Pleasantreads Book Review – A Scandal in Bohemia by Arthur Conan Doyle
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