Many Sherlock Holmes fans say that A Scandal in Bohemia is one of the best Sherlock Holmes stories ever written.
I wouldn’t go as far as that - in fact I think many other stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are better than this one.
But then, comparing Holmes stories is like comparing awesomeness level 1 to awesome level 2 and awesomeness level 3. ;-) All are awesome.
Yes, A Scandal in Bohemia is awesome too.
Here goes my rating for this cool story.
It all begins when the King of Bohemia comes to Sherlock Holmes and asks him to save him from scandal.
This king is about to be married soon. No problem there.
The problem is that there's this woman called Irene Adler who was the king’s ex-girlfriend. This woman is now threatening to expose her relationship with the king on the day of his marriage announcement, through a photograph she has. The king doesn’t want that to happen.
He could have said, "Go ahead. I'm not scared of exposure. After all, it's the truth." But nope. In those times apparently, this was scandulous! The king's scared!
Could Holmes please help him recover the photograph that Irene Adler has - the photograph that has both the king and Irene?
Illustration in the original 'A Scandal in Bohemia' by Sidney Paget (Colour: 'Art in the Blood')
Now normally, this should be pretty easy and it shouldn’t even require Holmes’ exceptional reasoning skills. I mean, all the king wants is a photograph and he is a king. Shouldn’t it be easy to recover a simple photograph?
Well, it should be easy - but the problem is that Irene Adler is exceptionally intelligent. She rocks! The king has had her stopped and searched, and he’s even had her house ransacked (he’s seriously desperate!). But - he’s not found the photograph.
Irene has been a bit too clever for him.
Our dear old Holmes lays out his plans to recover the photograph. As usual, he does not use force to recover it. He does not use anything but clear reasoning and deduction.
The interesting question however is: is Irene too clever for even Holmes? Is she a bit too cool?
The clash between Holmes’ intelligent plan and Irene’s intelligent response - that’s what makes this story amazing.
At the beginning of the story, Watson walks into Holmes’ apartment for a 'long time, no see' kind of chat.
The moment Holmes looks at Watson, he’s out with some stunning deductions.
Now if this isn’t magic, what is?
I love these moments of deduction in so many Holmes stories.
The deductions pique your curiousity and you become eager to understand how on earth Holmes deduced these things!
Definitely a magical moment for me in this story.
The King of Bohemia does not tell Sherlock Holmes that he is a king.
He says he is Count Von Kromme, a Bohemian nobleman. But Holmes is well, Holmes. In his classic Holmesian style, he deduces that it is the king himself and suddenly addresses the nobleman as Your Majesty, casually, as if it had always been obvious. ;)
The king is stunned. Of course, he then admits that he is indeed the king and proceeds with his story.
The fact that a lie just can't get past Holmes - that makes the moment special.
This is one of my favourite moments in the story.
Just when he thinks, he's fooled Irene Adler and just when he's about to enter his Baker Street apartment, a young man says to Holmes, "Good night mister Sherlock Holmes".
Holmes is curious about who this could have been. He even says , "I wonder who the deuce that could have been".
This young man is Irene Adler in disguise!
I find this to be very interesting because Holmes has just pulled such a cool prank on her. He's almost outwitted her and figured out where that scandulous letter is.
And some minutes after that prank, she has the intelligence to reason it all out and the nerve to even say 'Hi!' ;)
It is also magical because it is the first time in any Holmes story that Holmes is so completely outwitted. Don't get me wrong. I love seeing Holmes win.
But once in a while, when Holmes meets his match, it's fun!
Here's the original Sidney Paget illustration that shows Irene Adler (in disguise) wishing Holmes good night (The person on the right is Adler).
I like the moment when Holmes finishes reading Irene's letter - the letter in which she tells him how she saw through his plan clearly.
This letter basically tells Holmes (not in these words):
I like the fact that Holmes doesn't feel resentful against Irene. He doesn't even feel frustrated.
He feels respect for Irene - so much so, that he asks the king for the photograph of the woman just so that he can be reminded of how he was outwitted.
Holmes accepts defeat graciously. That makes this moment special for me.
When I read A Scandal in Bohemia, there were quite some questions in my mind.
For instance - the king in question is the king of Bohemia. Where is Bohemia today?
Also, the king is going to be married to the daughter of the king of Scandinavia. What was Scandinavia upto in 1888 - the year the story is based in?
Here are some fun facts I’ve found out about these and other interesting parts of the story.
Bohemia today refers to a region in the western part of the Czech Republic. Here’s, Bohemia on the map of Europe today (the dark green portion is Bohemia).
The whole shaded portion (dark+light green) is the Czech Republic.
Now - was Bohemia a separate Kingdom in 1888, the year in which A Scandal in Bohemia is set? Well, it was and yet it wasn’t.
You see at that time, Bohemia was seen as a different country but it was ruled by the House of Hasburgs - the dynasty that ruled Austria. So basically, Bohemia was a different country but it had no special king. The king of Austria was automatically the ruler of Bohemia as well.
So whoops - the king of Bohemia didn’t really exist! Monseur Doyle made him up. ;-) Interesting.
In A Scandal in Bohemia, the king is about to get married to the daughter of the king of Scandinavia - Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meiningen. That’s a nice name.
However, what was this kingdom of Scandinavia then?
Well, this is Scandinavia today:
Scandinavia generally refers to Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
In 1888, Sweden, Norway and Denmark were different countries. Denmark was completely detached but Sweden and Norway had one king - despite there being two different countries.
This type of union between two countries where the countries are different, the laws are different, but the king is the same is called a personal union between two countries.
Well, the point is: there was no kingdom of Scandinavia at that point! So yes, Conan Doyle basically invented it. Not that we’re offended (we’d never be offended with the dude who gave us Holmes ;-) ), but well, it is fun to know this, isn’t it?
What did photographs at that time look like? For instance, what might the photograph of Irene Adler and the king of Bohemia have looked like?
Here’s an example of a photograph taken in the late nineteenth century…
At that time, box cameras were used to take photographs.
The box camera was simple in its operation - all it had was a lens at one end and a film at the other end. Remember the cameras you were taught about in school? The ones made of cardboard? Those were box cameras.
PS: I cannot help wonder - how times have changed! And yet, Holmes remains as dear to audiences worldwide as he was then.
A Scandal in Bohemia was first published in the July, 1891 issue of the Strand Magazine. Want to take a peek at the absolute original version?
Click here to view how the story looked like when it was first published (turn to page 61).
Well, so that's about A Scandal in Bohemia. I hope you've enjoyed reading this page as much as I've enjoyed creating it. Explore other stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes here.
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