Tag Archives: A Scandal in Belgravia

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


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