Short Story Analysis: A Scandal in Bohemia

Writer: Raghed Hamza
Editor: Amal Magdi

Of all detective stories and novels, perhaps none is more famous than the actual adventures of Sherlock Holmes, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. These marvelous tales are a central bank of wonder and marvel, filled with Doyle’s shrewd and lovable characters. His remarkable world began with A Scandal in Bohemia, published in the late 1800s as the first short story in a collection called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The narrative is that of Dr. James Watson, friend and colleague of Sherlock, as he recounts the story of how the King of Bohemia sought the assistance of Holmes in a matter of compromising nature – the restoration of an ignominious photograph comprising the King and a woman named Irene Adler. The matter is of utmost importance to the King because he is situated to marry a Scandinavian princess, and Irene Adler has threatened to publicize the photograph, for she hopes that the king will marry her instead. Captivating his readers’ attention, Doyle uses the character of John Watson to show us the methodology and intellect with which Sherlock Holmes operates.

​A Scandal in Bohemia gives readers an insight into Victorian Era London through the abundance of carriages and the specific dialect with which the characters converse. 

In addition, Watson’s narration describes his friend Holmes’ unique way of life and his rejection to any form of human emotions, “He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer.” At the beginning of the story, when the King of Bohemia arrives at Holmes’ lodgings – disguised as a haughty nobleman due to the humiliating nature of the case –  Sherlock immediately sees through the disguise and identifies the man as King of Bohemia, in spite of them never seeing each other before, “If your Majesty would condescend to state your case…” Only Sherlock Holmes would have been able to identify a man by his appearance, and this point is made quite clear by Watson’s narration.​ John Watson’s admiring account of Sherlock continues throughout the story; many times more he speaks of his friend’s quick wittedness, such as when they try to steal the photograph from Irene Adler’s house. Sherlock devises a most conspicuous plan of pretense where he, impersonating a kind clergyman, falsely gets injured in front of Adler’s house. Foreseeing and anticipating the actions of other people – a fine quality of Holmes’ – he leaves the woman no choice but to let the injured man on her front doorstep enter her house. This situation is ironic to the King’s methods, which included force and attempted theft, unlike Holmes’ clever plan. Upon Holmes’ instructions, John Watson throws a smoke container into the house and yells fire, out of sight from the unsuspecting Irene. “When a woman thinks that her house is on fire, her instinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values most”, explains Holmes to Watson, half an hour after the whole fiasco.  As such, Holmes finds the place where the photograph is hidden, and intends to call at Irene Adler’s house with the King the following morning. 

However, when the company arrives at the lady’s house, they find the house empty and a letter in the hiding place of the long gone photograph. The letter is written by Irene, addresses Sherlock Holmes, and explains how she has surreptitiously run off with her newly wed husband after figuring out that the famous detective was on her tail, and cared not anymore for the King and his photograph, though she will keep it for safeguarding.

​Due to the mindset of most people in the Victorian Era, women were generally in a class below men – very far below, as they had barely any rights and were supposed to obey their husbands without question. However, Doyle endorses a situation in which a woman defied and outwitted two notable men, the King of Bohemia, and the best detective in England. The King’s descriptions of her, “she has the mind of the most resolute of men” and “Would she not have made an admirable queen?” raise the high status of Miss Adler. Moreover, Watson remarks on how Sherlock’s blasé feelings towards people in general was altered by this singularly remarkable woman. As Watson started off this whole narrative with, “To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman… In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.”