Study Guide

A Scandal in Bohemia

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Scandal in Bohemia Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Soon after his first marriage, Dr. John Watson leaves the Baker Street flat that he has shared with Sherlock Holmes and returns to private medical practice. In the course of his calls, he passes through Baker Street one day, sees Holmes pacing before the window, and on an impulse walks up to visit his friend. Holmes tells him that a client is expected that evening, one whose case may be interesting to Watson in his capacity as Holmes’s chronicler. The client arrives, a huge man, richly and garishly dressed and wearing a mask. Holmes quickly penetrates the disguise, however, and identifies the man as King Wilhelm of Bohemia. The surprised king unmasks and tells Holmes why he has come.

It seems that some years earlier, the king fell in love with a young soprano named Irene Adler. The woman is not only beautiful but also possessive. The king’s engagement to another woman, a princess, will soon be announced, and Irene Adler has sworn to stop the wedding. She threatens to publish a compromising photograph of her and the king, thereby creating a scandal that will lead the bride’s family to call off the wedding. She refuses to sell the photograph to the king; twice, burglars have failed to find it in her house; her luggage has been searched without success; and on two occasions robbers have stopped her, but without finding the picture. The king lays the matter in Holmes’s hands, begging for his help.

The next morning, Holmes disguises himself as a seedy-looking horse groom and goes to the neighborhood around Miss Adler’s house to see what gossip he can pick up. There he not only learns that Miss Adler has an admirer, Godfrey Norton, but also becomes involved in an incident that amuses as well as enlightens him. He sees both Norton and Miss Adler set off in separate carriages for a nearby church. When he follows them there, the disguised Holmes is commandeered as a witness for their wedding. Now that Irene Adler is...

(The entire section is 794 words.)

A Scandal in Bohemia Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

As “A Scandal in Bohemia” begins, it is March, 1888. The recently married Dr. John Watson happens by his old bachelor quarters at 221B Baker Street and finds Sherlock Holmes pacing the floor in the brilliantly lit rooms. Since Watson has married and settled into domestic tranquillity, Holmes, for whom the life of the emotions would be grit in his machinery, has been alternating between cocaine-induced dreams and his fiercely energetic solutions of mysteries abandoned by the official police. On this evening, Holmes takes an unusual assignment, unlike those of the two previously published cases, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. Indeed, Watson indicates that this is the first case in which Holmes fails, and his defeat comes at the hands of a woman, Irene Adler, an American singer, actress, and adventurer “of dubious and questionable memory,” now deceased.

It may be because this is one of the earlier Holmes tales that it deviates so interestingly from the pattern of solution that later came to dominate these stories. This story strikingly resembles its great predecessor, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter,” in which Auguste Dupin determines the hiding place of a woman who is apparently of the French royal family and then recovers a letter being used to blackmail her. Like Dupin in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Holmes surprises his friend early in the story with an accurate account of Watson’s recent activities based on details about the condition of his shoes.

Holmes’s task is to locate and recover a photograph...

(The entire section is 649 words.)