"A Scandal in Bohemia" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It first appeared in the edition of The Strand magazine which was published on June 25, 1891. It would later appear as the first story in the anthology The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, first published on October 14, 1892. It was the third story based around the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson which Doyle wrote, following the two novels A Study in Scarlet (1887) and The Sign of the Four (1890), and the first of fifty-six short stories which he would write about them.
In the story, the King of Bohemia secretly engages the services of Sherlock Holmes in order to prevent a scandal which would stop him from getting married. Some years earlier, the King was in a relationship with the American woman Irene Adler, a fact which would be deeply shocking to the parents of the Scandinavian princess he is due to marry if they found out about it. Irene Adler is in possession of a photograph which proves that the King was once her lover. She has threatened to send it to the parents of the princess on the day that the King's engagement is formally announced. Holmes is tasked to do what many others have failed to do and to obtain the photograph by any means possible. Although Irene Adler manages to outwit Holmes, the King is nevertheless satisfied with the detective's work.
"A Scandal in Bohemia" has been adapted to other media numerous times, often in combination with other short stories by Doyle.
The story is included in a list of the twelve best Sherlock Holmes stories compiled for The Strand magazine by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1927 and in a list of the ten best Sherlock Holmes stories voted for by the readers of The Baker Street Journal in 1959.
The story opens on the evening of March 20, 1888. Dr. John Watson is now married and has a private medical practice. He no longer lives with Sherlock Holmes and has not seen his friend in some time. He has, however, read in the newspapers about cases which Holmes solved, including one in which his services were engaged by the Dutch royal family. Having just seen a patient, Watson passes through Baker Street on his way home. He decides to visit Holmes while he is there.
Holmes shows his friend a letter that he recently received. It requests that he be at home at eight o'clock that evening to receive a visitor who may be wearing a mask. The letter makes reference to the services which the detective recently performed for the royal family of Holland and asks for his help in solving another very serious problem. From the slightly unusual phrasing in the letter, Holmes knows that it was not written by a native speaker of English and deduces that it must have been written by someone whose first language is German. The paper on which the letter is written is of a kind unknown in England. Examination of watermarks on the paper prove that it came from the Kingdom of Bohemia.
When Holmes' visitor arrives, Watson volunteers to leave but Holmes insists that he stays. Holmes then tells the visitor that anything which he has to say to him he must also be willing to say in front of Watson. The visitor is a tall, muscular man. He is flamboyantly dressed, his clothes are, "rich with a richness which would in England be looked upon as akin to bad taste". The top half of his face is hidden behind a velvet mask. The visitor calls himself Count von Kramm but Holmes immediately recognizes him as the King of Bohemia. Seeing no need to further conceal his identity, the King casts off his mask.
The King explains that several years earlier he was romantically involved with Irene Adler, an American-born former opera singer who now lives in London. He is soon to marry the daughter of the King of Scandinavia, a very conservative man who would put a stop to the marriage if he knew that the King of Bohemia had had a previous relationship with a commoner. Unfortunately Irene Adler has a photograph which shows herself and the King together. She has threatened to send it to the King and Queen of Scandinavia when the King of Bohemia's engagement is formally announced in three days time. The King tells Holmes that the photograph is of a large size, which means that Irene Adler does not carry it around with her. He also says that there have been several attempts to purchase or steal the photograph from her, all of which have failed. He tells Holmes Irene Adler's address. He promises the detective unlimited expenses so that he may do whatever is necessary to prevent the scandal, giving him one thousand pounds with which he can get started. He also makes both Holmes and Watson swear that they will not speak of the matter publicly for at least two years. After the King leaves, Holmes tells Watson to come to see him at three o'clock the following afternoon.
The following afternoon, Holmes returns to Baker Street in disguise at about four o'clock. He explains to Watson that he went to the street where Irene Adler lives, pretending to be an out of work groom. He groomed the horses of some of the cabmen gathered there and learned a lot from them about Irene Adler and other people who live on the street. He discovered that Irene Adler had only one regular male visitor, a lawyer named Gordon Norton. Holmes saw Gordon Norton briefly enter and then leave Irene Adler's house, before telling a cabman to take him to St. Monica's Church. Shortly afterwards, Holmes saw Irene Adler tell her coachman to take her to the same church. Holmes followed them and ended up becoming the only witness to Irene Adler and Gordon Norton's wedding. After the wedding ceremony, Irene Adler and her new husband went their separate ways. She told him that she would return home at seven o'clock that evening.
Holmes tells Watson of his plans for that evening. He says that he will gain entrance to Irene Adler's house and that Watson is to stand by her living room window. When Holmes gives the signal, Watson is to throw in a firework and shout, "Fire!" The two men will meet up again at a nearby street corner. Holmes explains that there will be some unpleasantness but that Watson should not intercede whatever happens. Before leaving, Holmes disguises himself as a clergyman.
Watson and Holmes arrive at Irene Adler's house shortly before seven o'clock that evening. Watson is surprised by how many people are gathered on a residential street. When Irene Adler returns home, two men both try to open the door of her carriage, apparently in the hope of receiving a small coin. Some of the other people on the street show their support for one of the men while others support his rival. A fight ensues. Holmes, pretending to be a clergyman, steps in to stop the fight. He is struck and falls to the ground bleeding. (Holmes later reveals that the entire incident was staged, he had hired all the people involved and the blood was red paint which he had concealed in his hand). Holmes is taken into Irene Adler's house. He asks a maid to open a window, at which point, Watson throws in the firework and shouts, "Fire!"
Having met up with Watson again, Holmes explains that the incident was staged in order to find out where Irene Adler had the photograph hidden. Believing that her house was on fire, Irene Adler automatically went to save her most precious possession, the photograph. Holmes briefly saw it, behind a sliding panel in the living room, before he said that there was no fire, made his excuses and left. When Holmes returns to Baker Street, a young man says, "Good evening. Mr. Sherlock Holmes", to him. Holmes thinks that he recognizes the voice but does not know who the young man is.
At eight o'clock the following morning, Holmes, Watson and the King of Bohemia go to Irene Adler's house. A servant tells them that Irene Adler and her husband are not there, both of them having set out to leave England forever three hours earlier. Behind the panel, Holmes finds a letter addressed to him and a different photograph of Irene Adler on her own, intended as a present for the King. In the letter, Irene Adler explains that she was warned several months earlier that the King would probably engage the services of Holmes. Following the evening's strange events, she suspected that the clergyman may have been Sherlock Holmes in disguise. She was the young man who had spoken to him, having disguised herself before following him. She goes on to state that she loves her husband and now has no intention of trying to prevent the King's marriage. She will, however, keep the photograph to guarantee her own safety.
Holmes apologizes for not having been able to recover the photograph. The King, however, is confident that Irene Adler will keep her word and not try to use the photograph against him again. He offers Holmes an extra reward. Holmes chooses to take the photograph of Irene Adler.
William Gillete's 1899 stage play Sherlock Holmes is based on "A Scandal in Bohemia", "The Final Problem" and A Study in Scarlet. Two silent films, both called Sherlock Holmes, from 1916 (starring William Gillette) and 1922 (starring John Barrymore), were based on the play. A third movie version of the play, starring Clive Brook as Holmes, was released in 1932. It was also the basis for a 1938 radio play in which Orson Welles played the detective.
The 1965 Broadway musical Baker Street is a loose adaptation of the story.
The first episode of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the 1983 British series from Granada television starring Jeremy Brett, is a faithful adaptation of "A Scandal in Bohemia". The episode "A Scandal in Belgravia", from the second season of the BBC TV series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch, first shown in the United Kingdom on January 1, 2012, is a partial adaptation of "A Scandal in Bohemia" with the addition of several new plot elements. The story had earlier been adapted as part of the 1961 BBC TV series Sherlock Holmes. The TV movie The Treasures of Agra, shown on television in the Soviet Union in 1983 is an adaptation of "A Scandal in Bohemia" and The Sign of the Four. The American TV movie The Royal Scandal, first shown on the Hallmark Channel in 2001, is based on "A Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans".
- ↑ In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1927 list of the twelve best Sherlock Holmes stories, "A Scandal in Bohemia" is ranked as the fifth best, following "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", "The Red-Headed League", "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" and "The Final Problem".
- ↑ In the 1959 Baker Street Journal list of the ten best Sherlock Holmes stories, "A Scandal in Bohemia" is ranked as the fifth best, following "The Adventure of the Speckled Band". "The Red-Headed League", "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" and "Silver Blaze".
- ↑ The Kingdom of Bohemia (the territories of which are now part of the Czech Republic) existed as a genuine geographical location at the time of Doyle's writing. However, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and did not have its own monarch.
- ↑ In reality, there has never been a country called the Kingdom of Scandinavia. However, at the time of Doyle's writing, a single monarch was the head of state of both the Kingdom of Norway and the Kingdom of Sweden. Doyle names the Scandinavian princess Clothilde Lothram von Saxe-Menigen, giving her the surname of the family which ruled the Duchy of Saxony at the time of his writing.