What happens in A Scandal in Bohemia?

In A Scandal in Bohemia, King Wilhelm of Bohemia hires Sherlock Holmes to prevent Irene Adler from publishing several damaging photos. Holmes successfully locates the photographs, but when he goes to retrieve them, he finds that Adler has anticipated his move and taken the photos.

  • Dr. Watson has moved out of 221B Baker Street following his marriage. He visits Sherlock on the same day that King Wilhelm of Bohemia brings Holmes a new case.

  • Holmes is hired to find some compromising photos that Wilhelm's former lover, Irene Adler, has threatened to publish in order to prevent Wilhelm's wedding.

  • Holmes determines the location of the photos, but when he goes to retrieve them, he learns that Adler has already moved the photos. Wilhelm need not worry, however: Adler has just gotten married and and has no desire to prevent Wilhelm's wedding now.

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(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 married, Holmes expects her to leave London at any moment. He must therefore act, and do it swiftly.

On the following day, Holmes again disguises himself, this time as a clergyman, and requests Watson’s help for his scheme. They go to Adler’s house separately. Once there, Watson sees Miss Adler arrive, and she is immediately beset by a crowd of loafers. Holmes, in disguise, comes to her aid, is attacked and apparently wounded by the crowd, and falls to the ground. He is carried into Adler’s house and laid on a couch near a window where Watson can see him. On Holmes’s signal, Watson throws a smoke bomb through the window, and the people on the street outside begin to cry “Fire!” After the tumult that follows, Holmes joins Watson outside, and on their walk back to Baker Street, he explains what has happened.

Reasoning that Miss Adler had the photograph well hidden somewhere in her house and that she would immediately go to it in an emergency, Holmes stage-managed the little scene outside her house to see where she would run in such a case. The plan worked, and now he knows where the photograph is hidden. On the morrow he plans to go to the...

(The entire section is 1,443 words.)