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scandal bohemia

What do we learn about Sherlock Holmes from 'A Scandal in Bohemia'?


We learn in this story that Holmes is, after all, fallible. In his previous appearances, in the two novels A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four he cleared up all points of the case presented to him in a spectacularly successful manner. Here, however, his ‘best plans (are) beaten by a woman’s wit,’ as Watson notes rather wryly. Irene Adler outsmarts him, fools him by a disguise, just as he usually fools others, and leaves the country, taking with her the incriminating photograph which her former lover the King of Bohemia had wanted Holmes to secure. True, she promises not to use the photograph against the King as she is now happily married elsewhere, but it is scant consolation for Holmes.

We also learn in this story that Holmes is certainly not averse to sidestepping the law in order to achieve his object. In this case, he breaks into Adler’s house in his attempt to retrieve the photograph. Watson, too, is more than ready to help him in this.

Perhaps the most striking thing that emerges about Holmes in this story is that he is susceptible to female charms. Watson, always at pains to stress his formidable reasoning powers, emphatically denies that he has fallen in love:

It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler …. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer.

Even if not actually in the grip of the ‘softer passions’, though, Holmes makes no secret of his overwhelming admiration for Irene Adler. She is intelligent, beautiful, and certainly seems to leave a lasting impression upon the great detective when he asks to keep her photograph – not the photograph that the King had wanted, but another one, just of herself, which she rather cheekily sends with her farewell letter. Never again in the whole Holmes canon does Holmes appear so in awe of a woman.

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