This is the toast I'll be giving at tonight's society meeting:
I’m relatively new to the ‘Question’, so while I did take some time to look at the minutes and review some of what has already been said about the woman, my approach tonight -- if you’ll permit me -- is to talk a bit about why Irene Adler has always been important to me personally and to me as a female Sherlock Holmes fan.
Back in May, I was lucky enough to go to New York City for a screening of the BBC’s premiere episode of Series two of Sherlock. A Scandal in Belgravia. Which was of course based on the classic Sherlock story of a very similar title: A Scandal in Bohemia.
The head writer and co-‘creator’ of the show, Steve Moffat, has been criticised for a number of changes he made to the story. Specifically, to the the fate of Irene Adler. During the Q&A that followed the screening, a fan asked him to address some of these changes and why he made them. Now, I’m not going to tell you what those changes were per se -- I’d hate to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen is -- but he did offer up a bit of an explanation as to why he made them:
“I love the original story -- but [Irene’s] triumph in the original story is to move house with her husband. [....] Do you know what? I remember reading that story, I loved it -- I love all the Sherlock Holmes stories -- but it had a better beginning than an end. Because it starts off saying ‘to Sherlock Holmes she was always ‘the woman’ and as a twelve-year-old boy I was sitting there going well! What’s this going to be! I can’t imagine what torments are in store-- what magnificent thing is she going to do? -- And running away wasn’t it. Actually, at that age I was actually like ‘Sherlock, why are you so keen on her’ there is something else going on for you here because I’m not getting it.”
As an audience member, as a fan of the BBC show and as someone who has grown up loving Sherlock Holmes and has always admired Irene Adler for her cunning, wit -- and the magnificent way she beats Sherlock at his own game -- I was nothing short of mortified by his assessment of her character and especially of her story.
Not only did what Steve Moffat have to say belittled her accomplishments -- it also tarnishes her happy ending. There is nothing wrong with with a woman whose story ends with her falling in love and getting married. In makes her, in the very simplest of terms, and to reiterate the quote: ‘to Sherlock Holmes, she was always the woman...who got away. Captivating because she remains -- and will forever remain -- a mystery which is the one thing that Holmes can never resist. And it’s very important to point out that, it isn’t Sherlock that gets to decide to keep her a mystery, it’s her choice.
Irene Adler is set apart. Throughout Dr. Watson’s narrative, Irene’s significance to Holmes is, I think, highlighted in how alike she and Sherlock actually are. Holmes with his ‘Bohemian Soul’ to Irene’s Adventuress, his violin to her voice -- his ‘cold, precise [....] balanced mind’ to hers which is described as being as resolute as any man’s. Alongside her ‘soul of steel’ which Holmes had to employ treachery to shake.
The most significant similarity between the two of them, of course, comes at the climax of the story when Irene wears a costume to trick Holmes in much the same way he dressed as a clergyman to fool her. Of course, only one of them was deceived completely and Irene got away with the husband that Holmes helped her secure -- and the prize that he couldn’t.
The truth is that historically the Sherlock Holmes fandom has been a gentleman’s club. The Baker Street Irregulars, founded in 1934, only started to invite female members as recently as 1991 -- and many groups, such as the Speckled Band of Boston, still refuse access to female members today. Personally, I think this is a problem, especially when so many of the younger fans of the series are women -- and it honestly makes no sense to me, considering one of Sherlock’s greatest adversaries and -- I’ll say it -- equals was, in fact, a woman.
To Irene Adler -- proof positive that great minds do think alike.