Posted by: ahmed22k | November 25, 2015

Of Dubious and Questionable IDENTITY…

Sherlock Holmes definitely DID NOT understand women:

In The Adventure of the Illustrious Client, Holmes contends: “Woman’s heart and mind are insoluble puzzles to the male.” In The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane, he confesses: “Women have seldom been an attraction to me for my brain has always governed my heart” (The Victorian Web).

Holmes does not appear to have any romantic interests, because the feeling of love or “grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his” (Doyle 1). Nonetheless, a number of attractive young women appear in the Sherlock Holmes series, including Violet Hunter (“The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”) and Mary Morstan (first introduced in The Sign of Four), who eventually marries Dr. Watson.

But only Irene Adler from “A Scandal in Bohemia,” makes a lasting impression on Holmes.

WHO is this character that “eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex” (Doyle 1)?

This retired operatic diva is seen only from the eyes of men:

  • Adler is “the daintiest thing under a bonnet- men of at Serpentine Mews
  • Adler possesses “the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men”- King of Bohemia,
  •  “A lovely woman,” with a “face a man might die for” –Holmes,
  • For Sherlock Holmes, “she is always the woman; I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name” – Watson

THE three primary male characters in SCANDAL:


 The Scandal story mentions Adler was:

  • born in New Jersey in the 1850s.
  • followed a career in opera as a contralto, performing at La Scala in Milan, Italy,
  • ” a well-known adventuress” (the term had an ambiguous association with the word courtesan)
  • served a term as a prima donna in the Imperial Opera of Warsaw, Poland Apparently, it was there that she became the lover of King of Bohemia (who was staying in Warsaw for a period).

Irene Adler only appears in one story. But her name is briefly mentioned in “A Case of Identity”, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” and “His Last Bow”. Additionally, in “The Five Orange Pips”, Holmes says that he has been outwitted four times, “thrice by a man and once by a woman” (The Victorian Web).

Rumour has it that the “late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory” is based on an actual female persona.

But if Irene Adler was based on a true personality an actual female persona- then we must also consider the King of Bohemia’s true identity.

Now Watson was known to change names and locations to protect prominent persons who might be embarrassed by their reason for calling upon Holmes. For this reason, he also held back certain cases, to be only published at an appropriate time. This allowed a distance between the client and the case to be established, eliminating any threats and providing protection to the clients. This was especially important in preventing any aristocratic identity from being compromised. Thus, Watson was careful in his descriptions.


Did you know the last king of Bohemia, Mathias died in 1611. So the King of Bohemia is either pure fiction or based on another royal subject.

In a chapter, A Scandal in Identity, from “Profile by Gaslight,” critic Edgar W. Smith postulates that Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, and hereditary King of Bohemia, was none other than:

“HRH Albert Edward- Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII of Great Britain)” (Smith).

In A Scandal in Identity: Reconsidered, from the online Journal “Neo-Victorian Studies,” Michael J. Quigley insists Watson’s description of the king of Bohemia suggests “a man alien to the ways of proper English gentlemen, let alone a British royal. His large physical appearance, arrogant demeanor and a penchant for an extravagant dressing style is described by the doctor as having “a richness which would, in England, be looked upon as akin to bad taste” (Quigley).

So is Ormstein not based on the Prince of Wales, or is Watson trying to protect his true identity?


  • the affair with an Opera singer five years ago
  • the confession that he allowed himself to be photographed
  • his preparation to marry the Scandinavian princess

Further revelation:

The king states, “I was only Crown Prince then. I was young. I am but thirty now” (Doyle 4). But at the time the story was written, the Prince of Wales was 47 years old in 1888 (Quigley). This would have been an obvious fact to Sherlock Holmes. Moreover, there was no title for Crown Prince in the British system, and the very term underscores a European dynastic line. The heir to the throne of the UK is simply known as “the Prince of Wales.”

Once again, these apparent discrepancies (in the age, and Ormstein’s title), which appear invented rather than real, serve as contradictions when attempting to base his identity on the Prince of Wales. Either this undermines the true identity or suggests that the Prince of Wales was not the mysterious royal figure who had an affair with Irene Adler.


King of Bohemia was none other than the “Archduke Rudolf Karl Josef, Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia” writes Piya Pal-Lapinski, Associate Professor at BGSU.

“Born in 1858, making him 30 years of age at the time he commissioned Sherlock Holmes.

Rudolf was apparently already married, to Princess Stephanie” (Smith), but Holmes does not press the dishonest royal on this subject. That means the situation as already scandalous.

According to Smith, Rudolf’s mother, “Empress Elizabeth of Bavaria, did not like Princess Stephanie, describing her as a clumsy “oaf” so it makes sense that Rudolf found solace in other female companionship” (Quigley).


Speaking of inspiration, here are a couple of CHARACTER INSPIRATIONS for Irene Adler:

Lillie Langtry, one possible model for Irene Adler

https://maggiemcneiLillie Langtry, one possible model for Irene

As a theatrical performer who becomes the lover of a powerful aristocrat, Adler had several precedents. Here are the suggestions for Doyle’s inspiration for Adler in his lifetime:

  1. Lola Montez- “a dancer who became the lover of Ludwig I of Bulgari and influenced national politics.
  2. In fact, Montez is identified as a model for Adler by several writers” (Pal-Lapinski).
  3. Lillie Langtry, singer, and the lover of Edward, Prince of Wales.   Julian Wolff points out in the Adventures of Conan Doyle, Adler was born in New Jersey and “Langtry was called the “Jersey Lily.”” Apparently, Langtry later had several other aristocratic lovers, and her relationships had been “speculated upon in the public press in the years before Doyle’s story was published”(Smith).
  4. Ludmilla Stubel, singer and the alleged lover and later wife of Archduke Johann Salvator of Austria ( Pal-Lapinski).

I personally think that the relationship between the Archduke Rudolf Karl Josef (Crown Prince of Austria + Hungary + Bohemia) and the anonymous Irene Adler is the best theory.

Perhaps, Rudolf had an affair with Adler, but did not reciprocate any feelings of love, and turned to the younger “Marie Vetsera”- the demure, attractive 17-year-old daughter of a diplomat belonging to the Austrian court (Quigley).

Was being discarded for a younger and far less accomplished woman, the very reason Irene Adler wrote in her letter to Sherlock Holmes she was “cruelly wronged”?

In January 1889, Rudolf and Marie were found dead in their secret abode on Cleveland Street. Now whether their deaths were the result of a suicide pact or murder- nobody knows. But the Cleveland Street scandal became public knowledge and might have been the prominent figures that the story is based on. But was the protection of identity necessary? After all, these characters were no longer alive.


Doyle, Conan: A Scandal in Bohemia; The Strand Magazine, Stanford Press, 2006, Print.

Pal-Lapinski, Piya, The exotic woman in nineteenth-century British Fiction and Culture: A reconsideration, 69-71; UPNE, 2005.

Miller, Russel, Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, Random House, 2010. Print

Smith, Edgar.W,“A Scandal in Identity,” Profile by Gaslight, New York: Simon and Schuster, 250-262, 944.

Quigley, Michael J, A Scandal Identity: Reconsidered,<;




  1. Great topic and well written. Do you have any more
    resources about this that you reccommend?

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