How does Arthur Conan Doyle present Irene Adler in "A Scandal in Bohemia"?

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Sherlock Holmes, being a man of the highest intellect and deductive abilities, often comes across as a bit arrogant, and perhaps well he should be, for there are few others who have his powers of observation, cunning, and knowledge of human nature. This is why the character of Irene Adler...

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Sherlock Holmes, being a man of the highest intellect and deductive abilities, often comes across as a bit arrogant, and perhaps well he should be, for there are few others who have his powers of observation, cunning, and knowledge of human nature. This is why the character of Irene Adler makes such a profound impression on him.

From the first descriptions of Irene Adler, she seems an intriguing woman who would capture the attention of most. According to Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, she is described as an "adventuress" with "a soul of steel." In addition, he states that she is extremely beautiful and has a mind "of the most resolute of men." When Sherlock gets a first glance at her, he describes her as "a lovely woman, with a face that a man might die for."

More importantly, she displays a cunning that even Sherlock Holmes cannot help but admire. After Sherlock employs a plan and stages a false threat of fire at her home in order to get her to reveal the location of the photographs with which she is blackmailing the hereditary king of Bohemia, he goes the next day to get the desired pictures. Instead, Irene Adler has left him a letter where the photographs were supposedly stationed. In it she writes that she became suspicious of him when the false fire occurred. She ran upstairs and had her coachman follow the actions of Holmes as she changed into a male disguise. She then followed Holmes to his home to make sure she was in fact the great detective's suspect. Then, in a show of daring, she even wishes Holmes good night, tempting his powers of observation, which could possibly reveal her identity.

This ability to observe others' deceptions and employ disguises would certainly gain the admiration of Holmes, as these in fact mirror his own most powerful abilities. Her bit of daring in which she wishes him good night would also imply an arrogance and pride, which Holmes himself possesses.

The author uses Sherlock's final action as one of the greatest indicators of how the reader should view Irene Adler. When Irene reveals in her letter that she will not harass the king, the king offers Sherlock the reward of an emerald snake ring. Holmes refuses and asks instead to keep the picture of Irene she left for the king. Holmes sees her as an object of admiration and wishes to keep the picture as a reminder.

Through Irene's similarities to the great master detective, the author wishes us to view her as an individual of the highest intellect and worthy of readers' admiration as well.

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In "A Scandal in Bohemia," Doyle presents Irene as a mysterious character who is very different from other women:

To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman…In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.

This quote also suggests that she exerts a powerful influence over the men in her life and this power derives from a combination of her wit and beauty. The King of Bohemia, for example, says that "she has the face of the most beautiful of women," while Sherlock calls her "the daintiest thing under a bonnet." But her wit is, perhaps, her most striking feature because she is able to outwit both the King of Bohemia and Sherlock himself. In a clever twist, she uses some of Sherlock's own methods to achieve this, notably the use of disguise, as we learn from her letter:

But, you know, I have been trained as an actress myself. Male costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage of the freedom which it gives.

Part of Irene's appeal is her ability to act outside the boundaries of accepted gender roles. On the surface, she acts like any other woman, as Sherlock comments:

She lives quietly, sings at concerts, drives out at five every day, and returns at seven sharp for dinner.

But, below this ordinary exterior lies a power which makes Sherlock completely rethink his ideas about women, as Watson comments in the closing lines:

He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I have not heard him do it of late. 

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