“It is with a heavy heart,” Doctor John Watson wrote in 1893, “that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished.”
The rain outside the window. Eighteen months since John’s last appointment with his therapist. “You know why I’m here. I’m here because – ” He handwaves the end of the word off in a puff of unspeaking pain. “Sher – my best friend – Sherlock Holmes – is dead.”
Making Moriarty a convincing character is so difficult that Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t try.
“You have probably never heard of Professor Moriarty?” said he.
“Ay, there’s the genius and the wonder of the thing!” he cried. “The man pervades London, and no one has heard of him. That’s what puts him on a pinnacle in the records of crime.”
I felt slightly cheated by tonight’s Sherlock.
The stick from which Holmes deduces Doctor Mortimer’s career and habits, makes a reappearance as a harpoon from which no deductions are drawn at all, but Sherlock’s swift conclusion about the early departure, the woman on the train and the disappointing breakfast, concluding with almost the same line as in August 1901:
“I observe from your forefinger that you make your own cigarettes. Have no hesitation in lighting one.”
were perfectly splendid. So was the sniffing. Kreetch texted me during this scene: And you think Sherlock has bad nicotine withdrawal *twitch*
The rapid-fire replay through The Hound of the Baskervilles was neatly redone from 110 years ago (- give or take – the original was serialised in the Strand in 1901-1902, but takes place in 1889, though Baker Street fans have long been mystified that Watson appears to be separated from his wife and living in Baker Street just as in bachelor days). Spoilers under cut.
I finished watching the first episode of 2012′s Sherlock just after midnight, and attempted to analyse out my feelings about it for a couple of hours before giving up – I couldn’t do it, at least not beyond the Bohemia/Belgravia translation, without sleep, and also I needed to re-watch the whole episode, re-read the original 1891 story, and take a look at the previous 1984 transition to the screen.
The original story, first published in 1891, opens with a statement:
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. ….. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
In the TV adaptation from 1984 with Jeremy Brett, David Burke and Gayle Hunnicutt, the opening scene is a burglary – two men interrupted in the course of a burglary first by a man with a club, then by a woman with a gun. The men leave, scared off by the armed and ruthless woman: and Doctor Watson’s voiceover begins with “To Sherlock Holmes, she was always The Woman, the beautiful Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.”
spoilers below the cut-tag
The short story “A Scandal in Bohemia” was the first to be published in the Strand magazine, in 1891. (Until I checked the date, I was convinced it must have been 1895, but the broken hit counter on John Watson’s blog must be from some other source.)
The parallels between the 19th-century story and the 21st-century TV episode are strong. The changes are significant.
The location. The use of “Bohemia” was a classic bit of wordplay. The Kingdom of Bohemia was a country located in the region of Bohemia in Central Europe – which became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early 19th century, and is now mostly inside Czech Republic. But a Bohemian is also “a gypsy of society” 1848, from French bohemién (1550s), which was the name given in France in the 15th century to the Romany (they were wrongly believed to have come from there, though their first appearance in West Europe may have been directly from there) or from association with 15c. Bohemian heretics. This use was popularised by Henri Murger’s 1845 story collection Scenes de la Vie de Boheme the basis of Puccini’s La Bohème. First used in English 1848 in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair – “So our little wanderer [Becky Sharp] went about setting up her tent in various cities of Europe, as restless as Ulysses or Bampfylde Moore Carew. Her taste for disrespectability grew more and more remarkable. She became a perfect Bohemian ere long, herding with people whom it would make your hair stand on end to meet.”
The term ‘Bohemian’ has come to be very commonly accepted in our day as the description of a certain kind of literary gipsey, no matter in what language he speaks, or what city he inhabits …. A Bohemian is simply an artist or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art. ["Westminster Review," 1862] Online Etymology Dictionary
What is Belgravia?
“Belgravia is a district of central London within the City of Westminster, located to the south-west of Buckingham Palace and its boundaries are Knightsbridge to the north, Grosvenor Place & Buckingham Palace Road to the east, Pimlico Road to the south, and Sloane Street to the west …the large houses, especially those in Belgravia & Eaton Squares, amongst the most expensive anywhere in the world, often costing more than £15 million.” CWHR
The use of Belgravia is a tipoff (if you know enough about London) to know that “The Woman” is immensely wealthy and deals directly with immensely wealthy and well-connected people. Beyond that there is no wordplay, no double-meaning, as there is between the kingdom of Bohemia and the Bohemian Irene Adler:
“Let me see!” said Holmes. “Hum! Born in New Jersey in the year 1858. Contralto–hum! La Scala, hum! Prima donna Imperial Opera of Warsaw–yes! Retired from operatic stage–ha! Living in London–quite so! Your Majesty, as I understand, became entangled with this young person, wrote her some compromising letters, and is now desirous of getting those letters back.”
More of this later.
Sherlock: Irene Adler is THE woman