Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Short Stories on Wednesdays - A Scandal in Bohemia by Arthur Conan Doyle

Please visit Breadcrumb Reads for other short stories this Wednesday.

Here's how I chose this week's story. Tom just began reading Laurie R. King's The Language of Bees, and mentioned that it features Damian Adler, the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. I did a search and discovered that Irene Adler is mentioned in four stories, but A Scandal in Bohemia is the one in which she plays a starring role. I realized that while her name is part of the popular culture, and I have been familiar with it for ages, I've never read the story about her. I actually haven't read very much of the Sherlock Holmes canon. But that will change. I loved this story. I thought the detail was fantastic, and I really got to know Holmes and Watson quite well.

A Scandal in Bohemia is in

Look at that price! It is a 1978 edition.

I really enjoyed John Watson's telling of the tale. Sherlock refers to him as his 'Boswell,' the biographer of Samuel Johnson in the 1700s. Watson says that he hasn't seen Holmes too much lately because of his new marriage.
My marriage had drifted us away from each other. My own complete happiness, and the home-centered interests which rise up around the man who first finds himself master of his own establishment, were sufficient to absorb my whole attention; while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own nature.
I've not taken cocaine but I think that it is not what may be called a 'drowsy' sort of drug, and Conan Doyle's saying this shows the reader that Holmes' natural energy level is amazingly high! This little paragraph also shows us the difference in the two men. It got me thinking about a few other male companions who are the same sorts of opposites. Jeeves and Bertie Wooster; Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin; Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings. The first ones are geniuses, while the second ones are not as brilliant but are certainly more kindly souls. Together they make rather a perfect human being, so paired together they each fulfill what the other lacks. I find this utterly fascinating. I like both men in each group, almost equally well.

Since he is in the neighborhood, Watson decides to drop in one evening. Though Holmes is not 'effusive' in his greeting, Watson feels quite certain that the great detective is glad to see him. Holmes immediately notices that Watson has gained weight and has been tramping around in wet conditions, astounding John Watson as always. Holmes explains that most people 'see' but do not 'observe.'

Holmes reads a letter he has just received telling of an upcoming visit by a masked man who wants to keep his identity secret. From the writing paper and the way the note is written, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson that the writer is a German writing on paper from Bohemia. When the man arrives, he begins an involved tale but using the famed powers of observation, Holmes already knows who the man is - the King of Bohemia. He is about to be married, but an old love interest has a photograph of the two of them and has threatened to send it to the family of his fiancée. He wants Holmes to get ahold of the picture.
This woman is Irene Adler, 'the well-known adventuress'
Born in New Jersey in the year 1858. ... Retired from the operatic stage.
There have been five attempts made to get the photo back, with no success. Sherlock Holmes takes on the case and we find out why, in John Watson's words,
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.
I had the best time reading this story. It is wonderfully engaging. I so enjoyed all the characters, and all of Holmes' deductions and schemes. My previous connection with Holmes has been through the Laurie R. King series, and though I am very, very, very late to this party, I'm now an Arthur Conan Doyle fan!

A Scandal in Bohemia
18 pages long.
first published, July 1891 in the Strand Magazine.


  1. I've read this one recently too and at some point plan to post about it on my blog.

    I like your observations of the Holmes-Watson partnership/friendship. If I remember right I think it's in this story that Watson also mentions that falling in love wouldn't work well for a man of Holmes's temperament but might unbalance his mind - and I laughed because does he think cocaine wouldn't? :) I also never thought of it as a drowsy drug.

    And Irene Adler is a great character. I like how there's more to her than meets the eye here, more than a jilted former lover.

    Great review!

  2. Oh, I can tell by your comment how much you enjoyed this, too, HKatz! And think of coke calming someone down. I love it. And I agree about Irene. I knew nothing about her except her name and connection to Holmes. I know there's a mystery series starring her by Carole Nelson Douglas that I may just begin reading! And do you like the Robert Downey Jr/Jude Law/Rachel McAdams movie? I loved it, and am excited to see part 2 at Christmas. I also love the new PBS version with two young men in modern times who just happen to be Sherlock and John. Great stuff.

  3. I've read quite a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories but not this one, though I have seen the dramatisation of it. You have such a treat ahead of you, Nan. The first two novels are excellent as is The Hound of the Baskervilles. I need to catch up with Mary Russell too, have read up to book four I think, but know there are four or five more now that are very good.

  4. This is probably one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes story. Glad to be reminded of it again.

  5. I read a lot of Sherlock Holmes when I was young, but so much is forgotten and in my adulthood I have never been clear about Irene Adler. the books by Carole Nelson Douglas are supposed to be good, but I haven't read them. We really enjoyed the new PBS series too.

  6. Cath, I think I remember telling you once that I had trouble with the Conan Doyle stories. Now I wonder why? :<) Maybe I just read a couple that I didn't care for and just gave up. I have a few Mary Russells ahead of me, too, beginning with this one Tom is reading. I love that series.

    Che, I am looking forward to more adventures!

    Pat, this is the story that will make her 'clear.' It's a great tale. Maybe you've got a copy sitting around somewhere? I think there are more episodes of the modern Sherlock Holmes coming up in January.

  7. Another provocative review of a short story, Nan. I need to read Arthur Conan Doyle. A few of his books sit on my shelves, untouched. You may have spurred me on.

    By the way - was at the library yesterday, returning books, paying late fines, and checked out The New Yorker. I'll be reading The House on Sand Creek later this afternoon, when I can find some quiet time.

  8. I have a collection of Sherlock Holmes -- I'll go back and read this one. Thanks!

  9. Penny, I must get some more ACD. I think this story is all I have. I can't tell you how it pleases me that you went to such effort to read the McGuane story. After years of being away from the New Yorker, we began subscribing again, and are so happy. They never get read in a week because there is so much great material in each issue.

    Annie Joy, lucky you to have that collection!

  10. Hi! Nice to meet you-- visiting from Short Stories on Wed.

    I've watched Sherlock movies but not read any of of the stories yet. One of my co-bloggers is a mystery fan and her praise of the genre has piqued my interest so I've bought a few bargain priced mysteries for dabbling.

    Scandal sounds good-- I hoped it was in my mystery anthology but no luck-- I've got The Copper Beeches instead.

    And very interesting observation about male duos-- I find those sorts of things fascinating too.

  11. I think it's wonderful how a short story can open up the world of a new author to us.

    This series is such a GREAT idea, Nan!

  12. Lesa, have you seen the new one on PBS? Modern day Holmes and Watson. Fascinating. I'm quite a fan of mystery. In the past few years I've really gotten serious about reading Agatha Christie and have become a huge fan. I read quite a few different series, my favorite modern one being by Deborah Crombie.

    Debbie, I am really enjoying this weekly reading of a short story.

  13. What a fun excerpt! I don't read nearly enough short stories.

  14. I read my first Sherlock Holmes a couple of months ago (A Study in Scarlet) and I really enjoyed it and would like to read more. I also have ACD's Tales of Terror and Mystery which is definitely coming out one Wednesday soon. Great review!

  15. No, I haven't seen the modern Holmes but I have watched a lot of great Brit mystery series-- Well, my hub is addicted and I get lured in too.

    I bought a couple of Agatha Christie books at Goodwill and the first 'No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' that my friend recommended. I'm looking forward to reading them all but will probably start with the classics first-- I have a thing for classics.

  16. Trish, I don't either, and that's why I joined this weekly reading of a story. Short stories fill my head and heart in a very different way from books. Unexplainable but true.

    Sophia, I must read ASIS. I just went searching and found the whole book online!

    So I hope to read it soon.

    Lesa, here's a bit about it.

    I think the new series begins in January. The old ones are available from Netflix both on Instant and dvd. And I just found The Copper Beeches online! Thanks for mentioning the title. (didn't Maeve Binchy write a book called The Copper Beech?) Oh, and I love the Mma Ramotswe books.

  17. Imagine - this same edition in a second-hand shop would likely cost *more* than its $5.95 price tag; those Norton editions are timeless!

  18. Dawn, I love my Norton Anthologies. They were the textbooks of my college years.


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