Sherlock: Translated from Bohemia

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


Filed under Sherlock Holmes

6 responses to “Sherlock: Translated from Bohemia

  1. Emily

    um, this isn’t official or anything, and possibly is just paranoia on the part of a really enthusiastic fan, but ACD wrote of Sherlock Holmes’ death in the year 1895.

  2. Pingback: TV in Review: Sherlock, “A Scandal in Belgravia” « polentical

  3. 1895 is a reference to Vincent Starrett’s classic Sherlockian poem, 221B:

    Here dwell together still two men of note/Who never lived and so can never die:/How very near they seem, yet how remote/That age before the world went all awry./But still the game’s afoot for those with ears/Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:/England is England yet, for all our fears/Only those things the heart *believes* are true.//A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane/As night descends upon this fabled street:/A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,/The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet./Here, though the world explode, these two survive,/And it is always eighteen ninety-five.

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