Posted by: amoru22r | November 2, 2020

Illustrated Disguise in “A Scandal in Bohemia”

The way the illustrations in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia” depict disguise varies with notable differences between the disguise of the King of Bohemia and those of Sherlock Holmes. 

The King of Bohemia arrives at Baker Street disguised as Count Von Cramm, a bohemian nobleman, but is immediately exposed by Holmes’ deduction skills. The first illustration introduces Count Von Cramm, and the next shows the King after he has been found out. The only difference between the two illustrations is that in the former, the King wears a mask to be Count Von Cramm, and in the latter it only needs to be removed for him to become the King. In both pictures the King’s clothing, hair, and stature remain the same, clarifying that it has always been the same man all along.

Sherlock Holmes is depicted as tall, slim, with dark hair and a somewhat receding hairline.

However, unlike the illustrations of the King of Bohemia and his disguise, Sherlock’s disguises are drawn as entirely different people. First, the “drunken-looking groom” has a whole different face and a lighter hair color than Sherlock’s, as shown in comparison with the dark haired groom in the second image. The same goes for the “simple minded clergyman,” with white hair and a smiling, slightly aged appearance that is, again, an entirely different face. It is possible that Sherlock may have donned wigs for these disguises, but Watson doesn’t mention this. He observes only that the “drunken-looking groom” is uniquely “side-whiskered” (Conan Doyle 7), but says nothing of a wig for this disguise or for the clergyman’s. Therefore, I’m extending my analysis of these images to say that not only do they depict Sherlock’s characters with new faces, but also with new hair. 

The choice to present Sherlock’s disguises as entirely different figures suggests his aptitude for disguise. In contrast, the depiction of the King and his disguise as one in the same and as easily detectable emphasizes Sherlock’s skill in the manipulation of his own visibility and of others’ perception of his identity. The King’s disguise fails and Sherlock’s disguises succeed. 

Additionally, I’d like to consider how we find out at the end of the story that Sherlock’s disguise as the clergyman failed to convince Irene Adler. Adler trusts the appearance of the clergyman at first sight, but quickly becomes suspicious of the chaos he sparks in her home and is able to deduce that it is actually Sherlock. Furthermore, she tells us that Sherlock failed to recognize one of her disguises. He notes her disguise’s voice, saying, “I’ve heard that voice before” (Conan Doyle 13), but he cannot distinguish the identity behind it. I think it is interesting that Conan Doyle and The Strand Magazine don’t provide readers with an illustration of Irene Adler and her disguise as a “slim youth in an ulster” (13). I would think that Adler’s disguise would be drawn just as foreign and unidentifiable from herself as Sherlock’s disguises are from him, since her disguise succeeds against his eye. The writing, if not the illustration, establishes that she is a formidable opponent in this respect.

Work Cited

Conan Doyle, Arthur. “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Stanford University, 2006. 


  1. I love this reading of disguise in the story and its accompanying illustrations. You raise a somewhat implicit but important issue — the careful collaboration between Arthur Conan Doyle and Sidney Paget which was necessary to create a visual representation of Holmes’ impressive skills of disguise.

  2. This was a great read! I really liked what you pointed out about the differences in the King’s disguises versus Holmes’s. It really helps to shed some light on why, exactly, Holmes was not only able to easily fool others through changing his appearance but also how he could, deduction skills aside, effectively see through the King’s facade quickly. Your point about Adler makes sense as well – she is equal if not superior to Holmes in many aspects, and her being able to successfully pull off a disguise that fools him is par for the course. Thank you for sharing this! 🙂

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