A Scandal in Bohemia: Character List & Analysis

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  • 0:00 A Scandal in Bohemia
  • 0:36 Holmes & Watson
  • 2:12 King of Bohemia
  • 3:14 Irene Adler
  • 4:38 Minor Characters
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

In this lesson, we'll get to know the characters in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes short story, 'A Scandal in Bohemia,' including the idiosyncrasies and defining qualities of Holmes, Watson, Irene Adler, and the King of Bohemia.

A Scandal in Bohemia

A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is important story in the Sherlock Holmes canon because it introduces many of the characters who will return again and again in his subsequent stories. It's the first story in the first of three collections of tales featuring Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, published in 1892. However, the stories are arranged in non-chronological order. For instance, Watson mentions several other of Holmes's adventures, including A Study in Scarlet.

Holmes & Watson

The stories are narrated by Dr. John Watson, Sherlock Holmes's good friend and companion. That means that everything the reader knows about the world of Sherlock Holmes is coming from Watson's particular perspective. By now, Sherlock Holmes is so famous he barely needs an introduction, but for the sake of 19th century readers, Doyle goes on at length about Holmes's unique characteristics.

When A Scandal in Bohemia begins, Watson and Holmes are already close friends. Watson regrets not having seen Holmes for some time. Given Watson's recent marriage to Mary Jane, he's been spending most of his time at home. Apart from narrating the events, Dr. Watson himself plays a relatively small role in the story. We learn of his admiration of Holmes, his powers of observation, and his willingness to break the law. Holmes and Watson are quite a pair.

Watson describes Sherlock Holmes as a man with a 'Bohemian soul,' unconventional and out of touch with society, ''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 keen nature.''

Doyle spends an inordinate amount of time establishing Holmes as a master of disguise with a superior intellect. For example, in the process of solving the mystery of an anonymous letter, Holmes and Watson's methods of analysis differ. Holmes says, ''You see, but you do not observe.'' Here, Holmes demonstrates his method of deduction, extrapolating from the details of the letter, from the handwriting to the type of paper, with the intention of figuring out who might have sent it.

I carefully examined the writing.

King of Bohemia

Holmes's new client arrives wearing a mask and introduces himself as Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman. Of course this is a disguise, and Holmes sees right through him.

The man entered
King of Bohemia

Watson is put off by the new client's flamboyant appearance: ''His dress was rich with a richness which would, in England, be looked upon as akin to bad taste.'' Watson goes on to note the strength of the man's physical appearance as well as demeanor. He is a tall man, 6 ½ feet, and the kind of man that controls the attention of a room.

The fact that the client has gone to great lengths to make his identity a secret speaks to his high social status and fear of being accused of impropriety. He's a proper man with a proper upbringing, a man of dignity, but also of shame. He prides his good name and his privacy, and will go to great lengths to protect them.

Holmes sees right through his disguise. He is in the presence of Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, King of Bohemia.

Irene Adler

To Holmes, the beautiful and cunning Irene Adler is simply ''the woman.'' Holmes admires her wit and cleverness. He offers her the distinction of being the only woman to ever have met his match. Irene Adler is a trained actress and as good at putting up a disguise as Holmes himself.

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