"To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman" [SCAN]
It is the first story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and it is also the first of what we might call the stories of legend: those Canonical tales that have inspired our imaginations far beyond the events that Watson wrote down.
We already have Holmes and Watson, legends enough for anyone, but just as "The Greek Interpreter" reveals brother Mycroft Holmes, and "The Final Problem" outlines the evil figure of Moriarty, "A Scandal in Bohemia" introduces a character so compelling that she pervades our image of Sherlock Holmes forever after. Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory — to us, she is always "the woman!"
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Music creditsPerformers: Uncredited violinist, US Marine Chamber Orchestra
Publisher Info.: Washington, DC: United States Marine Band.
Copyright: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
Narrator: [00:00:01] Welcome to Trifles - a weekly podcast about the Sherlock Holmes stories.
Clive Merrison: [00:00:05] It is of course a trifle but there is nothing so important as trifles.
Narrator: [00:00:10] Yes the Greek interpreter interpreted, the Norwood builder built, and the Reigate Squire puzzled. But there are so many other details to pick apart in the stories.
Jeremy Brett: [00:00:19] Pray, be precise as to details.
Narrator: [00:00:22] You know the plots but what about the minutiae? How many disguises did Sherlock Holmes use? What were the street Arabs? And how did he get information from his underground network?
Denis Quilley: [00:00:33] You are very inquisitive Mr. Holmes.
Jeremy Brett: [00:00:35] It's my business to know what other people don't know.
Narrator: [00:00:38] Scott Monty and Bert Wolder will have the answers to these questions and more in Trifler.
Clive Merrison: [00:00:45] The game's afoot.
Narrator: [00:00:48] Episode 12 Irene Adler: A Legend Is Born.
Scott Monty: [00:00:55] Welcome back to Trifles - that Sherlock Holmes podcast that helps you delve into some of the details deep within the Sherlock Holmes stories. I'm Scott Monty.
Burt Wolder: [00:01:07] And I'm Burt Wolder.
Scott Monty: [00:01:09] And boy the water, she is deep. She is cold. She is Irene Adler. And this case -- boy if there isn't another character that springs out as prominently as Irene Adler -- and there really are just a handful in the Sherlock Holmes stories - the repeat characters the famous characters that get written about again and again and incorporated into every movie and television show and pastiche. The handful usually includes Professor Moriarty, Mycroft Holmes, Mrs. Hudson, and Inspector Lestrade. Now with Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade, they appeared multiple times in the canon. Mycroft, while he is Sherlock Holmes is only brother as mentioned in the canon, he appears in two stories but only two stories. And the same with Professor Moriarty. Technically he only appears on stage in one story but he is behind the doings of another story. He appears in The Final Problem and his hand is felt in The Valley of Fear. But it's Irene Adler who only appears in that single story. But because of that famous opening of being the woman - as considered by Sherlock Holmes - our imaginations have been inspired far beyond those events that Watson actually wrote down. So, thinking about this woman who pervades Sherlock Holmes's mind everafter -- or certainly our minds as she is always the woman -- we wanted to take our cue from a series of publications that Rosemary Michaud put out years ago called "The View Halloa," and she says a legend is born.
Scott Monty: [00:03:12] "There's no doubt that Irene Adler fascinates us. But was she after all such a very big deal to Sherlock Holmes. Shouldn't we read just a bit skeptical of a woman who apparently enjoyed the company of a bounder like the King of Bohemia. Was Irene anything more to Sherlock Holmes than a valuable lesson in the perils of underestimating an opponent? A living breathing Norbury whose picture he kept in a handy place for those times when he felt that his swelling ego needed an ice pack.
Scott Monty: [00:03:46] I think that's a that's a fascinating way to look at what for many of us or for many individuals has seemed like an infatuation. Why how do you think this all plays out.
Burt Wolder: [00:04:01] Well I'm struck by the fact that when Conan Doyle came to -- as we know A Study in Scarlet appeared in print in 1887, and 1890 the second novel appeared: The Sign of Four -- and it was at this point that the cases of Sherlock Holmes began to grab popular culture because: Conan Doyle began placing the cases of Sherlock Holmes in The Strand Magazine in that first series of stories, which we then came to know as The Adventures (because that was how the compilation book was entitled). And each one of the stories with the exception of the first one has a title with the word "adventure" in there. And the very first story that very first case that Conan Doyle provided to the Strand magazine was "A Scandal in Bohemia." And here's a case where he chooses to present Sherlock Holmes. Against the backdrop of this remarkable and fascinating and interesting woman by far the most--well, certainly among the most fascinating and interesting and captivating and capable women in the canon, if not THE most fascinating interesting and capable people in canon.
Burt Wolder: [00:05:18] First of all she says she is an artist of considerable skill. World wide world renowned Soprano. She was born in New Jersey homes as an entry about her in his in his elaborate dossiers.
Scott Monty: [00:05:34] A foreigner. Again!
Burt Wolder: [00:05:36] Yes she is a well-known adventurous. We hear that word adventuress introduced for the first time. Has the long alliance with the King of Bohemia as we know; frequently--comfortably adopts men's clothing because, so like Holmes is comfortable in disguise and uses disguise to participate in parts of society that she could not otherwise do easily. And in the end of course, leaves us by being a jump ahead of the great Sherlock Holmes. So for the first presentation of this remarkable character in what will become a long continuing series stretching from the 1890s to the 1920s, we see him against the backdrop of someone who presents as being smarter more capable and an equally mysterious.
Scott Monty: [00:06:31] But do you think she wears men's dressing gowns?
Burt Wolder: [00:06:36] [LAUGHTER] Only when she was smoking cigars.
Burt Wolder: [00:06:41] Folks, refer back to Episode 10 for the inside joke on that one. No I think that's a really astute observation there because you know right off the bat we are -- she is she's not just presented as as well as a one-dimensional character. I mean when you really stop to think about it, there is a lot of depth or character. But again when when when presented against that backdrop I think it it it makes it even more fascinating and makes it more wondrous. Because yeah, we had our experience with Sherlock Holmes figuring out this transcontinental set of murders in A Study in Scarlet with chasing after lost treasure, and The Sign of Four. But this is really his first embarkation on the short story world on these formulaic short stories in The Strand Magazine written by Watson which will appear again and again. This is - for the larger public - their first introduction to Sherlock Holmes. Fascinating that not only should it be against an unconventional opponent of a woman who is an opera singer who dallied with a king, but it's it's a case for defeat. And sure for the for the average person, there may be a soft spot in their heart for such an individual --and given that she was a beauty for the typical male of course-- we would suspect that he harbored some secret love for her. But this isn't any typical male. This is Sherlock Holmes. This is a man whose heart was was negligible when it came to ruling his emotions - his head ruled. And to think that he would keep her photo around or keep that sovereign on his watch chain as a souvenir. It's probably a pretty powerful reminder to him of what went wrong. By way of circumstance, I just happened to be reading Warren Buffett's annual letter to his shareholders.
Burt Wolder: [00:09:14] [LAUGHTER] Well isn't that funny. And I was just reading that about 10 minutes and I was astonished to find out that Mr. Buffett mentioned Irene Adler in there.
Scott Monty: [00:09:23] Not your typical weekend reading I can assure you.
Scott Monty: [00:09:27] Warren Buffett of course is the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway a large holding company.
Burt Wolder: [00:09:31] The Oracle of Omaha.
Scott Monty: [00:09:33] Exactly. This is a guy who drinks Coca-Cola for breakfast. He made a point in his letter about some past mistakes and specifically around the insurance industry. And of course we know that Holmes had experience with the insurance industry as well. One of the most winning women that he ever knew was was hanged for poisoning for children for their insurance money. But in this case in 1996 he says that Berkshire-Hathaway purchased Geico -- foolishly using Berkshire stock. A boatload of stock. Let's see... they.. sorry, that was to purchase General Reinsurance or so they acquired half of Geico they didn't already own. With cash then they used Berkshire stock -- a boatload of it -- to buy General reinsurance in late 98. The problem there is that like making a purchase earlier for Dexter Shoe, where they used stock for purchase, Dexter went out of business later that year and yet the stock ballooned to more than 12 times its original worth. OK. So when he made that purchase with General Reinsurance what it ended up happening is that it increased all of the outstanding shares of stock that they had. So by the time they had another opportunity and the insurance industry to make a purchase he'd made that cash again. Having learned from his mistakes and having kept those examples around of pain -- of paying only in stock and seeing the stock balloon later after a company went out of business -- and you know having having an increased the number of outstanding shares. So it's not unheard of for a very successful person to keep around memories of defeat, to keep themselves from falling into that same trap once more.
Burt Wolder: [00:11:53] That's a very interesting example. The the interesting thing about --- one of the ways to look at this of course is from the standpoint of Conan Doyle: Conan Doyle made no secret of the fact that he'd never really thought much of Sherlock Holmes. I mean, he did from the standpoint of being a writer, Conan Doyle-- Sherlock Holmes is kind of annoying. First of all, you have to think up a plot. And I think Conan Doyle was reasonably eloquent about the fact that he found the time devoted to thinking up the plots challenging. But second of all, Holmes -- we've talked about this before -- Holmes is sort of a center-stage character when he is onstage. He needs to do interesting and fascinating things -- and so that's a bit of a challenge to come up with those kinds of things -- so for the first case, Holmes is a given since the series is all going to be about Holmes and Watson. BUT... here we have Irene Adler! An exotic talented artist allied with the King of Bohemia, a talented singer, a woman of the world -- but also a wronged woman. You know she's been pursued, and in some detail-- her luggage has been upset, her belongings have been ransacked. You know we get all of the details about that. So here is this lone woman admittedly remarkable talented capable, but at the mercy of this large, unfeeling force that then retains Sherlock Holmes. And that's a theme -- the wronge woman alone against great odds that comes back again and again in the canon.
Burt Wolder: [00:13:27] But the second thing is that Holmes because he is Sherlock Holmes can figure out a way to get this remarkable woman to reveal to him the location of the thing that she cares most about, and it's the smoke rocket that causes her to reach without thinking for her most precious possession. So Holmes has insight into how this particular person would think and feel and react. And therefore, when you get to the end and you find out that she's on to him and a step ahead of him, it's even more galling -- and beautifully fascinating for the reader. And I think that's why we're we're captivated by Irene -- by being presented with someone who is an equal of this man and why over the years people have thought again and again and again about what their possible combination might have led to.
Scott Monty: [00:14:20] Yeah and when you think about the the lengths that Holmes went to to get his prize -- first of all intuitively understanding what a woman would reach for in a time of danger. And he said to Watson a mother would would go for a baby, a married woman maybe for jewelry -- but he knew that this was something of value. So he was able to put himself in the in the mindset of Irene Adler.
Burt Wolder: [00:14:53] Yeah exactly and I think it's the only time Holmes speaks admiringly about the beauty of the woman. It's not the only incident -- certainly one of the few -- she really is that dainty is sitting under a bonnet for the 1890s This is equivalent to.
Scott Monty: [00:15:09] Va-va-va-VOOM!
Burt Wolder: [00:15:11] Va-va-va-VOOM, Watson!
Scott Monty: [00:15:15] And so you've got that ability to empathize to think like you're your intended prey. And at the same time you've got Holmes various disguises: he disguised himself as a nonconformist clergyman (again reference back to Ash Wednesday) and he also disguised himself as an ill-kempt drunken groomsman. So it has all the hallmarks of what we have come to know Sherlock Holmes as, not to mention getting Watson to help him come along and you know make mischief right. And yet --and yet -- he was defeated in all of that. And as clever as he was, there was someone -- and not just anyone -- but this fascinating woman who was cleverer than he.
Clive Merrison: [00:16:10] It is of course a trifle. But there is nothing so important as trifles.
Narrator: [00:16:16] Please join us again next week for another installment of Trifles. Show notes are available on Sherlock Holmes podcast dot com. Subscribe to us on iTunes and be sure to check out our longer show I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, where we interview notable Sherlockian and share news and go into even more depth on certain topics.
Peter Barksworth: [00:16:38] You take my breath away, Mr. Holmes.
Jeremy Brett: [00:16:42] That is why I've chosen my own profession - or rather created it. For I am the only one in the world.
David Burke: [00:16:49] The only unofficial detective?
Jeremy Brett: [00:16:52] The only unofficial consulting detective.