December 17th, 2011

Victorian Women

Posted by sasha in

I really believe that Irene Adler, though the “villain” of the story, is the main character of, “A Scandal in Bohemia.” An interesting aspect of the story is Holmes’ relationship with women. He’s known to have no interest in women whatsoever, but he is nevertheless chivalrous, like a true Victorian gentleman.
What makes Irene Adler’s defeat of Sherlock Holmes that much more impressive is the fact that she bested him and proved to be his equal during a time that today we think of as repressive towards women.
Women were controlled by their husbands, lived completely in the domestic sphere, and rarely had the opportunity to attend university. Irene Adler’s quickie marriage, and her well-known travels make her a rare woman in the era. Added to the fact that she is American, adds to her intrigue to the British audiences that read Holmes stories. Though Adler has the qualities of an independent member of society, Holmes treats her as a delicate woman, and she in turn has the etiquette and manners required of a Victorian woman, so her character is not too much of a stretch. However, the very idea of Adler blackmailing a king is impressive, Victorian woman or modern woman.

“A Scandal in Bohemia” is set in 1888. To compare, here are some interesting dates.
1857: violence recognized as grounds for divorce
1870: women could keep money they earned
1878: entitlement to spousal and child support recognized

Let’s consider the article cited on the page, “Annotated Bibliography,” “A Scandal In Bohemia” And Sherlock Holmes’s Ultimate Mystery Solved.” This scholarly article by Pascale Krumm delves into Holmes’ relationship with Adler. An important comment in the article read:

“However, Irene Adler is referred to as the “late Irene Adler.” She is no longer a threat to Holmes or to England. “But, while for a brief time the world is turned upside down by Woman, the ultimate Male world order is finally restored.” (200)

This is the moral of the story. Wild Irene Adler is eventually reigned in. She is a respectable woman, singing in the opera, and returning home at a decent time, but in her spare time she is a traveller and king-blackmailer. This double life could not continue, and of course she needs to be married, and in the Victorian interpretation of marriage, controlled. She bested Holmes, but then is bested herself. But arguably, by choice. She is married on her own terms. So then, Irene Adler is still independent. She’s the heroine of the story, and I really wonder what the Victorian audiences thought of her…


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