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“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name.”So begins the very first story in the very first collection of stories about Sir Arthur Conan Doyles fictional detective with a phenomenal brain, Sherlock Holmes. A Scandal in Bohemia was originally published in The Strand Magazine in 1891, and altogether Arthur Conan Doyle ended up writing 56 short stories about his most popular invented character. It was not the worlds introduction to the great detective however, as it had been preceded by two of the four Sherlock Holmes novels – A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. So although we tend to think of this as our first introduction to Sherlock Holmes, it is not. That honour lies with A Study in Scarlet. We now usually read A Scandal in Bohemia as the first in the collection entitled, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.The story begins whilst Dr. Watson is visiting Holmes, and the two are exchanging banter. A mysterious visitor arrives, introducing himself as Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman who claims to be acting for a wealthy client. However, the reader soon learns the measure of Holmes, as he quickly deduces that the visitor is not all that he seems. He is none other than Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, and is the hereditary King of Bohemia. Realising the impossiblility of denying his true identity, the King reveals his face and tells the pair his problem.He is to become engaged to Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meiningen, a young Scandinavian princess. However, five years previously he had been involved with an American opera singer, Irene Adler, who now lives in London. He was now trying to recover certain letters and an incriminating photograph of the pair of them, which he had sent to her during their relationship. He had tried everything in his power, but Irene Adler refused to return them.The King says that he would give one of [his] provinces to have the photograph back, and Sherlock Holmes is intrigued enough to take on the case with the assistance of his friends, Dr. Watson. The tongue-in-cheek dialogue between the two sparring partners is very enjoyable,“By the way, Doctor, I shall want your cooperation.I shall be delighted.You dont mind breaking the law?Not in the least.Nor running a chance of arrest?Not in a good cause.Oh, the cause is excellent!Then I am your man.I was sure that I might rely on you.” Conan Doyle of course invented the names of these royal personages, which seem so much of a mouthful. Interestingly though, he placed his fictional dynasty in a real country, Bohemia, whose Austrian Emperor bore the title the King of Bohemia. There was however no such place as the Kingdom of Scandinavia.How Sherlock Holmes sets about solving the problem is ingenious, and sets the standard for the stories which follow, some of which are even better in my view. The plot is fast-paced, involving trickery, more than one marriage, secrets and subterfuge, a smokescreen, a street brawl, an exciting chase scene, and the use of the modern railway system. We learn much about Sherlock Holmess unique combination of arrogance, sensitivity, and sense of humour (even though sometimes it may seem misplaced). There is a double impersonation, by which we learn that he is a master of disguise and acting, and we learn that he has much respect both for his friend and colleague Doctor John Watson, and also for a strong proud woman, who has no malice but much intelligence.Arthur Conan Doyle himself ranked A Scandal in Bohemia fifth in his list of his twelve favourite Sherlock Holmes stories. It is memorable for introducing the character of Irene Adler, the only woman who ever managed to outwit the detective. Since it is one of the first occasions we meet Sherlock Holmes, it is remarkable how quickly it conveys his character in one short story. We observe his brilliance in deducing the problem and identifying the king in the first place. We also note his arrogance and witty waspish comments. For instance when the King enthusiastically expostulates, Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity she was not on my level?Holmes replies scathingly that Miss Adler is indeed on a very different level from the King. And we see ... or perhaps a better word would be observe ... (for in Sherlock Holmess own words, sometimes, “You see, but you do not observe”) that he has a soft centre after all, by his sentiment in wanting to keep the photograph of Irene Adler in preference to a far greater monetary reward.“And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom of Bohemia, and how the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes were beaten by a woman’s wit. He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I have not heard him do it of late. And when he speaks of Irene Adler, or when he refers to her photograph, it is always under the honourable title of the woman.”

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