“A Scandal in Bohemia” has always been my favorite Holmes story. For once in Conan Doyle’s stories a woman is not simply a character but arguably the lead. She doesn’t rely on Holmes and Watson to solve her problems, she both creates and fixes them on her own. In “The Five Orange Pips” Holmes says that he has been beaten thrice by men, and once by a woman. So who was Irene Adler?
Born in New Jersey in 1858, Irene Adler had a German last name, lived all over Europe, maintained a successful career in a competitive field, conducted scandalous affair with a Bohemian King, and rushed in to marriage with an Englishman. As a Mezzo Soprano opera singer, the majority of her roles would have been those of young men, known as “trouser roles”, though there are a number glamourous ill-fated temptresses also in her range. Holmes scholars have cast her as everything from Lola Montez’s daughter to Nero Wolfe’s mother. She is the worldly opposite to Holmes eccentric Baker Street life. While she’s presumed dead at the end of the story her life remains so interesting that she has survived on in numerous film adaptations, far more than her 14 pages would have predicted.
Even the title of this story remains ambiguous. The reader is led to believe two things: that there is A) A scandal and that B) It takes place in Bohemia. Sadly we’re wrong on both counts. Though this case isn’t completely resolved and it’s possible this story is instead the prologue to a grander scandal in Bohemia.
And what could this scandalous photo have been of? In 1889 George Eastman marketed his No. 1 Kodak camera to the public, making it feasible that the photo could have been taken by an amateur. But it would still require the subject to pose for a significant amount of time. “A Scandal in Bohemia” was published in 1891, and set a few years previous. The technology required to produce a “snap-shot” wouldn’t be perfected until just before 1900. So, one thing to leave you with: What could it be?
The Cycleback museum’s Photo Phacts page: http://www.cycleback.com/1800s/earlyphotos.htm
A Scandal in Bohemia and Sherlock Holmes’s Ultimate Mystery Solved: Pascale Krumm
The Irene Adler Story, Continued: Charles E. Jacquart