As promised, I’m back with my third post from my Sherlock Holmes reading challenge. People who are viewers of “Sherlock” will know that the contemporary parallel to this particular story is “A Scandal In Belgravia” and Sherlock’s opponent is, of course, the only woman to best him in “The Woman”, Irene Adler.
Unlike the “Sherlock” version of the story, Watson is happily married to Mary by the time the time Holmes encounters Irene Adler and has been living away from Sherlock, as in the television story “His Last Vow”. In fact, fans of “Sherlock” will recognise some of the dialogue from “Vow” in this story, specifically the dialogue regarding the fact that Watson has settled into married life from the evidence of him putting on weight.
You can sense that this is still early days for the Holmes mythos because, yet again, Holmes gives Watson another lesson in observation and deduction with John as the example – the third time in three stories – as though Conan Doyle was still trying to drive home Sherlock’s powers of detection.
Given that this is a shorter story than “A Study In Scarlet” or “The Sign Of Four”, this story is particularly Sherlock heavy. It starts with Watson relaying the fact that Sherlock doesn’t see women in the romantic sense, which given the fact that Irene bests Holmes in this story lends the story a tinge of the romantic.
As in “Belgravia”, this story hinges around the fact that Irene is seeking to blackmail a notable royal, in this case the King of Bohemia, due to an indiscretion when he was the Crown Prince. Holmes is entrusted to be the agent to recover the evidence.
The narrative is very pacey, in comparison to the first two stories (it took me a couple of hours to read), which is fitting as Holmes’s adventures were being chronicled in newspapers and the character of Holmes and Watson are consistent with how they are portrayed in “Scarlet” and “Sign” – Holmes as the cold, calculating investigator and Watson as his chronicler – as intelligent and ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his comrade in arms, but always half a step behind due to his view of the world in comparison to Sherlock.
The King of Bohemia is very much seen as just a client in this case, as opposed to Mary Morstan, who is very much somebody who accompanies Holmes and Watson in their previous adventure.
The character of Irene Adler is an interesting one as she seems to have been retconned through the passage of time. If you’ve seen the Downey Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” films, Adler has become a career criminal, of sorts, whilst the “Sherlock” version is a dominatrix who deals with obtaining classified information and working as an agent of Jim Moriarty.
In the book, Irene is a totally different kettle of fish – she’s an opera singer, actor and “adventuress”. Her driving motivation a sense of injustice, as in the cases of Holmes’s two previous adversaries, and is described at the end of the story.
Another interesting thing is that, unlike the adversaries from the first two stories, you hardly see a great deal of “The Woman” herself. A lot of what is described of her is through conversation, observation and by a significant letter. In fact, we only see her interact with Holmes twice in the story and briefly so.
The fact that her appearances are so fleeting, the fact that she beats Holmes, plus the fact that there is no case of murder in this story, are really what gives “Scandal” it’s romantic touchstone, even though Holmes himself would not see it so.
Unlike the previous two stories, it’s not essential to have seen the “Sherlock”, in fact, it may be helpful to try to put aside Lara Pulver’s fantastic portrayal as the modern day Adler when reading this story as the two versions motives are poles apart, even though her actions aren’t.
For anyone who is following my reading challenge, the next story that I’ll be reading in publication order will be “The Red-Headed League”.