Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“A Scandal in Bohemia” was the first Sherlock Holmes short story that Arthur Conan Doyle published. Two earlier novels, A Study in Scarlet (1887) and The Sign of Four (1890), had already introduced the great detective to the public, but largely in the character of, as Watson says, “the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen.” A theme that runs throughout the Holmes stories is that reason is a trusted guide through the confusion of everyday life. As Holmes says to Watson, representative of the ordinary person, “You have not observed. And yet you have seen.”

For those who both see and observe—such as Holmes—even an apparently meaningless detail speaks volumes—and the trained mind is a reliable guide. However, there is something mechanical about the way that Holmes is presented in the two long stories that introduced him, and Doyle both modifies his theme and amplifies the character of Holmes in “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

The story’s first sentence says of Irene Adler, “To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman”; the last sentence is almost identical: It says that Holmes always refers to her “under the honorable title of the woman.” In this story, if Sherlock Holmes is the intellect, Irene Adler is clearly the emotions. Watson emphasizes this interpretation by stating Holmes’s aversion to all emotions as disruptive of the working of his mind,...

(The entire section is 406 words.)