“A Scandal in Bohemia” presents a number of intertwined romantic and intellectual pairings: on the one hand, there is the engagement of the King of Bohemia to the Princess of Scandinavia, the marriage of Irene Adler and Godfrey Norton, and the fling between the King and Adler; on the other hand, there is the mutual admiration between both Holmes and Watson and between Adler and Holmes. This juxtaposition of romantic and platonic love establishes a sense of hierarchy in which romantic love, based on passion and emotion, is portrayed as inferior to an intellectual connection. There is a sense of mutual admiration between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler that borders on romantic interest but is based entirely in a meeting of two extraordinary minds.
Watson notably chooses to begin his tale by focusing on Holmes’s admiration for Adler. Prior to discussing the details of the case itself, he announces, “To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman.” This establishes their relationship as the fundamental building block of this story, and as the central character in Holmes’s world. Holmes generally has a low opinion of women, deeming them of a lesser intellect. While to modern readers this is certainly an unfair judgment, up to this point Holmes had not come into contact with a woman with mental capacities to match his own. Adler, however, manages to trick Holmes with a disguise, spy on him to find out his plans, and then foil those plans by leaving England before he can retrieve the King’s photos. He is duly surprised and impressed. While this does not change the way Holmes feels about women in general, it places Adler in a different category altogether: “In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex,” according to Watson.
Holmes's feelings of surprise and admiration for Irene Adler are not unrequited, as Adler is clearly fascinated by the detective as well. She is equally surprised that Holmes is able to deceive her with his disguises, despite the fact that she had been warned of his extraordinary abilities. Though Adler escapes before Holmes and the King can retrieve the photo they seek, she leaves a letter, not addressed to the King—the man she had previously taken as a lover—but to Holmes, recognizing him as a “formidable […] antagonist” and seeming to take pleasure in recounting his deception. While she has found her romantic match in her new husband, Godfrey Norton, she has also found her intellectual match in Sherlock Holmes.
Similarly, there is a sense of mutual admiration between Holmes and Watson that is entirely outside of—and superior to—any romantic sentiment. Watson is a true and loyal friend, devoted to the documentation of Holmes’s detective work out of pure admiration. He explains that it is “a pleasure to me to study his system of work, and to follow the quick, subtle methods by which he disentangled the most inextricable mysteries.” It is this pleasure that kept the two men close during the time before Watson’s marriage. Despite claiming a satisfying life as a married man, Watson clearly misses Holmes, and when he happens by Baker Street, he is “seized with a keen desire” to see his friend. When he arrives, he is undeterred by strange and silent manner, because he is one of the few people who truly understands him.
Holmes may not be expressive or emotional, but he has his own ways of expressing his admiration for his friend. Once he and Watson have discussed the upcoming case, Holmes asks Watson to stay, noting that he needs him: “I am lost without my Boswell,” he says, referring to James Boswell, whose biography of his friend Samuel Johnson is one of the most celebrated biographies of all time. Holmes is at his best when he has an audience, and Watson provides that for him, both through his unflagging admiration and his published chronicles of their adventures together.
In contrast to these celebrated intellectual matches, the romantic entanglements in “A Scandal in Bohemia” are of little consequence and something of a distraction to the main action. The King’s relationship with Adler is presented primarily as a problem to be solved—in fact, the King would like to destroy all evidence of their prior affections by destroying the photograph. He describes himself as having been “mad-insane” at the time, especially considering that as royalty, he could not possibly be linked to a commoner, much less a “well-known adventuress” such as Adler. There is no hint of romance in the King’s planned marriage to a Scandinavian princess, either. He will only note that she is “the very soul of delicacy,” referring to her highly principled nature. He expresses no love for her, nor feels any real loyalty. When Adler has revealed her ultimate plan to get away without giving up the desired photos, the King is reminded of his affection for her: “Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity that she was not on my level?” In the King’s context, marriage is separate from romantic sentiment, and suitability is based entirely on social status.
Watson’s recent marriage is also presented as something of a problem, as it has kept the two friends apart for so long. In addition, Watson references married life once at the beginning of the story, yet once he and Holmes are reunited, he returns to his bachelor lifestyle, spending his free time with Holmes while on a case and even sleeping at 221B Baker Street instead of at his marital home.
In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” despite the fact that Holmes’s case involves saving a royal marriage, romance and love have little value to these characters. Despite being in happy marriages to other people, both Watson and Adler establish their most vital connections to Holmes via their mental capabilities. While it does not preclude the possibility of these characters finding fulfillment in love in their own personal lives, it is clear that this emotion has no place in their dealings with Holmes.
Love, Friendship, and. Admiration ThemeTracker
Love, Friendship, and. Admiration Quotes in A Scandal in Bohemia
You see, but you do not observe.
Not a bit, Doctor. Stay where you are. I am lost without my Boswell. And this promises to be interesting. It would be a pity to miss it.
“The facts are briefly these: Some five years ago, during a lengthy visit to Warsaw, I made the acquaintance of the well-known adventuress, Irene Adler. The name is no doubt familiar to you.”
I wish she had been of my own station! What a queen she would have made!
“From what I have seen of the lady she seems indeed to be on a very different level to your Majesty”
“Your Majesty has something which I should value even more highly,” said Holmes. “You have but to name it.” “This photograph!”