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BOOK TALK: A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA–by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    This is the first short story. And the third overall work, featuring Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ It happens to be the first of the 56 Holmes short stories written by Doyle and the first of 38 Sherlock Holmes works illustrated by Sidney Paget (illustrator an artist who specialised on Conan Doyle’s work). The story is notable for introducing the character of Irene Adler, often referred as a romantic interest for Holmes in later derivative works. Conan Doyle ranked “A Scandal in Bohemia” fifth in the list of his twelve favourite Holmes stories.

    “A Scandal in Bohemia” was first published on 25 June 1891 in the July issue of The Strand Magazine, and was the first of the stories collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in 1892.

PLOT

    Dr Watson recounts an adventure that started on 20th March 1888. When, the newly married Watson is paying Holmes a visit. This is when a masked visitor arrives. He introduces himself as Count Kramm, an agent for a wealthy client. Holmes quickly deduces that the visitor is in fact Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein and the hereditary King of Bohemia. Realising Holmes has seen through his guise. The King admits this and tears off his mask.

    It transpires that the King is to get engaged to one Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meiningen, a young Scandinavian princess. However, five years before the current scenario, he had enjoyed a liaison with a “well-known adventuress,” an American opera singer Irene Adler, whilst, she was prima donna of the Imperial Opera of Warsaw. She had since retired, and now lived in London. Fearful … that should the strictly principled family of his fiancée learn of this impropriety, the marriage would be called off. So, he had sought to regain the letters and the photograph of Adler and himself together. Which, he had sent to her during their relationship as a token. The King’s agents had tried to recover the photograph through, forceful means, burglary, stealing her luggage, and even waylaying her. Also, an offer was made to pay her for the photograph and the letters. But she had refused. With Adler threatening to send them to his future in-laws, which the King presumed is intended to prevent him from marrying any other woman. So, he made the incognito visit to Holmes to request for his help in locating and obtaining the photograph.

    The photograph is described to Holmes as a cabinet (5½ by 4 inches) and therefore too bulky for a lady to carry upon her person. As regards expenses, the King said Holmes had a carte blanche and gave him £1,000 (£102,200 today), exclaiming. “I would give one of the provinces of my kingdom to have that photograph!” Holmes asks Dr. Watson to join him at 221B Baker Street at 3 o’clock the following afternoon.

    Next morning, Holmes goes to Adler’s house, disguised as a drunken out-of-work groom. He discovers from the local stable workers that Adler has a gentleman friend, the barrister Godfrey Norton of the Inner Temple, who calls on her at least once a day. On this particular day too, Norton comes to visit Adler, and soon afterwards, takes a cab to the Church of St. Monica in Edgware Road. Minutes later, the lady herself gets into her landau, bound for the same place. Holmes follows them in a cab and enters the church, where he is unexpectedly asked to be a witness to Norton and Adler’s wedding. Curiously, they go their separate ways after the ceremony.

    Meanwhile, Watson is waiting for Sherlock to arrive, and when Sherlock Holmes, finally does deliver himself back at Baker Street, he starts laughing. Watson is confused and asks what is so funny? Sherlock then recounts his tale and comments. He thought the situation and position he was in at the wedding was amusing. He also asks whether or not Watson is willing to participate in a scheme to figure out where the picture is hidden in Adler’s house. Watson agrees, and Holmes changes into another disguise as a clergyman. The duo, depart Baker Street for Adler’s house.

    When Holmes and Watson arrive, a group of jobless men meander throughout the street. When Adler’s coach pulls up, Sherlock Holmes enacts his plan. A fight breaks out between the men on the street over who gets to help Adler. Holmes rushes into the fight to protect Adler, and is seemingly struck and injured. Adler takes him into her sitting room, where Holmes motions for her to have the window opened. As Holmes lifts his hand, Watson recognizes a pre-arranged signal and tosses in a plumber’s smoke rocket. While smoke billows out of the building, Watson shouts “FIRE!” and the cry is echoed up and down the street.

    Holmes slips out of Adler’s house and tells Watson what he saw. As Holmes expected, Adler rushes to get her most precious possession at the cry of “fire”—the photograph of herself and the King. Holmes was able to see that the picture was kept in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the right bell pull. He was unable to steal it at that moment, however because the coachman was watching him. He explains all of this to Watson before being bid ‘good-night’ by a familiar-sounding youth. Who, promptly manages to get lost in the crowd.

    The following morning, Holmes, explains his findings to the King. When, Holmes, Watson, and the King arrive at Adler’s house at 8 am. When, her elderly maidservant sardonically informs them that she has left the country by the 5.15 train from Charing Cross railway station. Holmes quickly goes to the photograph’s hiding spot, finding a photo of Irene Adler in an evening dress and a letter dated midnight addressed to him. In the letter, Adler tells Holmes. He did very well in finding the photograph and taking her in with his disguises. She also reveals that she posed as the youth who bid Holmes ‘good-night.’ Adler has left England with Norton, “a better man” than the King, adding she will not compromise the King, despite being “cruelly wronged” by him. She had kept the photo only to protect herself from any further action he might take.

    The King exclaims how amazing Adler is (“Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity she was not on my level?”) Holmes replies Miss Adler is indeed on a much different level from the King (by which he means higher – an implication lost on the King). Thanking Holmes effusively, the King offers a valuable emerald ring from his finger as further reward. Holmes says there is something he values even more highly – the photograph of Adler. Ignoring the handshake proffered by the King, Holmes leaves. He keeps the photograph as a reminder of her cleverness, and of being beaten by a woman’s wit.

    Watson has already called her “the late Irene Adler,” confirming her death sometime in the intervening three years (between the story’s setting and the publication of “A Scandal in Bohemia”). Watson also tells that, since their meeting, Holmes always refers to her by the honorable title of “the woman”.

    The story is high on humour and even wit, but low on plot intensity. So, before I close, let me take you through this interesting and humorous conversation that happens between Holmes and Dr Watson on page 9 and 10 of the story:  

    “Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into the armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.” *(States Holmes)

    “Frequently” *(Replies Watson)

    “How often?” *(asks Holmes)

    “Well some hundreds of times.” *(Replies Watson)

    “Then how many are there?” *(Questions Holmes)

    “How many! I don’t know.” *(says Dr Watson)

    “Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed …….” *(says Holmes)

    *Not part of the text in the book.

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By Kamlesh Tripathi

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BOOK QUOTES … INTERESTING LINES

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ULYSSESHARRY PORTERBENHUR

  • For as his brain developed—you cannot stop your brain developing, and it is one of the tragedies of the half-educated that they develop late, when they are already committed to some wrong way of life.
  •   “It’s all very well,” grumbled Ellis, with his forearms on the table, fidgeting with his glass. The dispute with Mr. Macgregor had made him restless again. “It’s all very well, but I stick to what I said. No natives in this Club! It’s by constantly giving way over small things like that that we’ve ruined the Empire. This country’s only rotten with sedition because we’ve been too soft with them. The only possible policy is to treat ‘em like the dirt they are. This is a critical moment, and we want every bit of prestige we can get. We’ve got to hang together and say, ‘We are the masters, and you beggars—‘ “ Ellis pressed his small thumb down as though flattening a grub—“ ‘you beggars keep your place!’”
  • He followed her into the bedroom. In a week–it was only a week–her appearance had degenerated extraordinarily. Her hair looked greasy. All her lockets were gone, and she was wearing a Manchester longyi of flowered cotton, costing two rupees eight annas. She had coated her face so thick with powder that it was like a clown’s mask, and at the roots of her hair, where the powder ended, there was a ribbon of natural-coloured brown skin. She looked a drab. Flory would not face her, but stood looking sullenly through the open doorway to the veranda.
  • “Thank you, Monsieur.” She spoke in English but her voice was foreign, a rich low voice very seductive in quality. As she was about to pass on, she hesitated and murmured: “Pardon, Monsieur, but I think you were recently at Grasse?”
  • At the same time, the Emperor had a great desire that I should see the magnificence of his palace; but this I was not able to do till three days after, which I spent in cutting down, with my knife, some of the largest trees in the royal park, about a hundred yards distance from the city. Of these trees I made two stools, each about three feet high, and strong enough to bear my weight.
  • Alas,” said Candide, “my dear Pangloss often proved to me that the goods of this world are common to all men, that everyone has an equal right to them. Acting on that principle, the Franciscan should have left us enough to finish our journey. So you have nothing left, fair Cunegonde?”
  • P.V. Narasimha Rao came from humble home. His intellectual centre was India; his roots were deep in its spiritual and religious soil. His knowledge of Sanskrit profound. He was a man of learning, a scholar, a linguist and a thinker of the first order.
  • Gogol has never heard the term ABCD. He eventually gathers that it stands for “American-born confused deshi.” In other words him. he learns that C could also stand for “conflicted.”
  • The Don said meekly, “Wait, I’ll get you your money.” Then he went out into the garden and said to Sonny, “Listen, there’s some men working on the furnace, I don’t understand what they want. Go in and take care of the matter.”
  • “The rudeness spread to one of the assistant directors,” said Moriarty. “Instead of calling Marilyn for a scene, he would stand there and glare at her, tapping his foot for as long as he could. There would eventually be a big blow up, when all the man had to do was say, ‘Excuse me, Miss Monroe, we’re ready for you.’ She was denied all the prerogatives of a star.”
  • Taken aback by this passionate eloquence, Ruru lowered his staff. He feared that the snake might be a sage in disguise. Seeking to appease the great soul, Ruru said, “You do not seem like an ordinary snake. I believe you must be some other being only temporarily occupying this form. Tell me then, how did you come to be a snake?’
  • The sun was now setting. It was about three in the afternoon when Alisande had begun to tell me who the cow-boys were; so she had made pretty good progress with it- for her. She would arrive some time or other, no doubt, but she was not a person who could be hurried- Sandy’s Tale- Mark Twain page 107
  • I honour your circumspection. A fortnight’s acquaintance is certainly very little. One cannot know what a man really is by the end of a fortnight. But if we do not venture somebody else will; and after all, Mrs. Long and her daughters must stand their chance; and, therefore, as she will think it an act of kindness, if you decline the office, I will take it on myself.
  • FAY. Your son is a thorn in my flesh. The contents of his dressing-table are in indictment of his way of life. Not only firearms, but family-planning equipment. A Papal dispensation is needed to dust his room.
  • In a country as diverse as ours, there will always be passionate arguments about how we draw the line when it comes to government action. That is how our democracy works. But our democracy might work a bit better if we recognized that all of us possess values that are worthy of respect; if liberals at least acknowledged that the recreational hunter feels the same way about his gun as they feel about their library books, and if conservatives recognized that most women feel as protective of their right to reproductive freedom as evangelicals do of their right to worship.
  • The pigeon that stays at home is always in terror for the fate of the pigeon on the wing.
  • All this modern brag about women’s lib, male bashing appeared as poster signs for the erudite to read and jostle through this not-so-good world, as you still had the Ria’s of the world to be saved from the callous studs and the bitchy hens of the ‘scheming jungle’ called society.’
  • ‘Mar. Death is a penalty which a person can pay only once, and she has made that payment. What you wish to do has been done already for you. the last words she spoke were, “Anthony, most noble Anthony!” and in the midst of her speech, a rending groan came in the middle of “Anthony”; the word was split in two between, her heart and her lips. She gave up her life, and the half of your name was buried within her.’
  • “All is well so far. The lambardar reports regularly. No refugees have come through the village yet.I am sure no one in Mano Majra even knows that the British have left and the country is divided into Pakistan and Hindustan. Some of them know about Gandhi but I doubt if anyone has even heard about Jinnah.”
  • In the Mahabharata, Pandu has two wives but cannot have sex with them because of a curse. Pandu means pale and weak and could be related to the Sanskrit word panda meant for men unable to have sex with women for a variety of reasons.
  • ‘Mr Gilmer’s back stiffened a little, and I felt sorry for him. Perhaps I’d better explain something now. I’ve heard that lawyers’ children, on seeing their parents in court in the heat of argument, get the wrong idea: they think opposing counsel to be the personal enemies of their parents, they suffer agonies, and are surprised to see them often go out arm-in-arm with their tormentors during the first recess.’
  • ‘Well, there was once a tortoise, who was, of course, provided with a shell, and within this shell he used to hide for protection against the attacks of his enemies. One day, someone said to him, “You must find it very hot inside there in the summertime. Besides, when you are hidden, no one can admire your bodily perfections. Now, here is a serpent who will give you a million and a half for your shell.”’ ‘Good!’ said Monsieur Fouquet, laughing.       ‘So the tortoise sold his shell, and had to go about unprotected. He was discovered by a vulture, who, feeling hungry, broke his back with a blow of his beak, and had him for dinner.’
  • A little later, full into view swung a duplication of his dromedary, tall and white, and bearing a houdah, the travelling litter of Hindostan.’
  • Viswamitra, the greatest of the ascetic heroes of the Iliad of the East, had in him a perfect representative. He might have been called a Life drenched with the wisdom of Brahma- Devotion Incarnate.’
  • ‘He spoke bluffly, and only somebody like Sherlock Holmes or Monsieur Poirot could have divined that at the sound of her voice his soul had turned a double somersault, leaving him quivering with an almost Bill Rowcester-like intensity.’
  • Initially the losses ran to crores of rupees, Sir, but since we stopped production it has proved very economical !