A Scandal in Bohemia by Arthur Conan Doyle: Plot Summary

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  • 0:04 A Scandal in Bohemia
  • 0:47 Holmes in Disguise
  • 1:33 Fire!
  • 2:12 A Mysterious Boy
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

In 'A Scandal in Bohemia', Watson recounts how Sherlock Holmes came to respect and remember a woman clever enough to foil his plans to resolve a case. In this lesson, we'll learn about the plot summary of this Arthur Conan Doyle tale.

A Scandal in Bohemia

A Scandal in Bohemia by Arthur Conan Doyle opens with Dr. John Watson, Sherlock Holmes' famous partner, paying Holmes a visit in his Baker Street apartment. Holmes has received a mysterious message that he concludes is from a wealthy German in Bohemia, a central region in what is now the Czech Republic.

A masked and richly-dressed 'Count von Kramm' arrives. He turns out to be the King of Bohemia and needs Holmes' help. He plans to marry a Scandinavian princess, but first needs to destroy evidence of a previous relationship he had with Irene Adler, a retired English opera singer. Adler is in possession of some letters he wrote to her and a photograph of them together. The king is convinced she'll use the photograph to ruin him out of jealousy. Holmes agrees to take the case.

Holmes in Disguise

Planning to do some reconnaissance, or gather preliminary information, the next afternoon Holmes meets Watson at his apartment disguised as 'a drunken-looking groom, ill-kempt and side-whiskered, with an inflamed face and disreputable clothes.' Holmes explains that he's been posing as a horse groomer in Adler's neighborhood in order to gather information about her daily habits. She's a beautiful woman with a regular schedule, which includes Godfrey Norton, a frequent male visitor.

Holmes sees Norton arrive at her home, Briony Lodge, and go inside to talk with Adler. Norton leaves in a hurry for the Church of St. Monica and Adler does the same. Holmes follows them and discovers they're having an impromptu wedding. They even ask him to serve as a witness. Later, after Holmes recounts his adventure to Watson, he devises a plan to get inside Adler's home and locate the letters and photograph.


That evening, Holmes and Watson return to Briony Lodge, knowing Irene Adler will also return. Holmes is dressed as a clergyman and has paid a 'gang' of scruffy-looking characters to stage a fight on Serpentine Avenue, in which he's instructed Watson not to interfere. When Adler arrives, the 'fight' breaks out and Holmes steps in to 'help' her, only to get 'knocked out.' The grateful Adler has him brought into her house to recover.

When Holmes gives the signal from inside, Watson throws a smoke rocket into her window and shouts 'Fire!' The ruffians in the street repeat the alarm. Adler, thinking her home is on fire, races to a hidden panel and starts to rescue the photograph. Holmes tells her it's a false alarm and escapes to meet Watson on a nearby street corner.

A Mysterious Boy

As Holmes and Watson re-enter the Baker Street apartment, a mysterious boy in an ulster (long overcoat) says, 'Good night, Mister Sherlock Holmes.' Holmes has no idea who it is. The next morning, Holmes, Watson, and the king return to Briony Lodge to steal the letters and photograph. However, the house is deserted. A woman tells them they were expected and that Adler and Norton have permanently skipped town. Inside, Adler has left a different photograph of herself in an evening gown for the king and a letter for Holmes.

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