“A Scandal in Bohemia” was first published in July of 1891 and takes place, according to Baring-Gould, between Friday, May 20 and Sunday, May 22 of 1887, despite the fact that Watson explicitly states it as being March 20 of 1888. What nerve, Baring-Gould! As his proof, and in spite of the fact that it is dusk when Watson and the disguised Holmes arrive at Briony Lodge at 6:50 pm which rings true to Watson’s March date, he claims that, were it March, this would mean that Irene and Norton were married during Lent, something that is frowned upon except in certain “emergencies, a subject upon which speculation is perilous” (BG, 363). Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. He also cites, surprise, surprise, the weather, stating that Watson must have gone on his walk on Thursday, May 19, 1887 because according to a weather report in the Times, that day the wind “had increased ‘to a gale in almost all parts of our island…The weather is fine in Sweden and Germany, but squally and unsettled elsewhere…Since yesterday morning, rain has fallen generally…Thunderstorms occurred…over the east of England. Temperature has fallen several degrees…’” (BG, 355) which would have resulted in Watson returning in the dreadful mess that Holmes notes.
This first short story contains Holmes’ memorable quote that he is “lost without his Boswell.” I think it’s interesting that Baring-Gould reads sarcasm here, saying that Holmes is “of course being sarcastic at Watson’s expense” citing Holmes’ complaint to Watson in “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches” that he has “degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales” (BG, 351) while Leslie, on the other hands, reads affection, choosing to contrast the two statements as unrelated (NA, 13). (Is that perhaps the longest sentence ever written? To also contain the most quotation marks?)
Someone is also a bit forgetful and refers to Mrs. Hudson as Mrs. Turner, leading to great speculation as to the identity of this story’s landlady. One theory, which Baring-Gould seems to subscribe to, is that this is a Mrs. Turner who happened to be filling in for an absent Mrs. Hudson and is in fact the Mrs. Turner who “met Jack the Ripper on the night of August 7, 1888 in front of George Yard Buildings, a group of squalid tenements just off High Street in Whitechapel” (BG, 361). My favorite belongs to Russell McLauchlin who posits that Mrs. Hudson was the landlady of Gloucester Place (only one street west of Baker Street) where Holmes and Watson actually resided and that the address on Baker Street, landladied by Mrs. Turner, was one of Holmes’ “accommodation addresses” (BG, 361).
Watson refers to Irene as the “late Irene Adler” which is often assumed to mean, not that she is dead at the time of Watson’s writing, but in the sense of Irene nee Adler. However, there is some speculation that Watson does actually mean dead and that the King of Bohemia had her murdered, using Holmes as an alibi (NA, 7). He goes on to support his idea by pointing out Holmes’ “apparent relish when he speaks of the late King of Bohemia” in “His Last Bow” (NA, 7). However, he does point out that at thirty-one, there is no real reason for Irene to have retired from the stage – instead, she should have been at the peak of her abilities – and suggests that this hints at a “long-standing complaint” that may have lead to an early, but natural, death (NA, 7).
Holmes’ complex infiltration of Irene’s household – making use of a crowd of people including a group of shabbily dressed men, two guardsmen, a nurse-girl, several well-dressed young men, a carriage and driver, and a lady passenger – leads Leslie to wonder at Holmes’ pool of accomplices (NA, 33). Baring-Gould returns to theories of Holmes’ past upon the stage, believing that “he may have recruited his troupe from persons known to him from his early days as an actor” (NA, 33). As much as I love actor!Holmes, I prefer Harald Curjel’s idea of a “‘grown-up wing’ of the Baker Street Irregulars, with Wiggins, the head of the Irregulars, acting as booking-agent” (NA, 33). I would totally join the grown-up Irregulars in a heartbeat!
Neither Baring-Gould nor Leslie make any mention of the supposed secret marriage theory (that Holmes and Irene were married instead of Irene and Norton) – and certainly nobody mentions Watson and Irene having any sort of relationship (because I was totally right – they never actually met; that Sherlockian was obviously on as much crack as Holmes was in The Sign of Four) – which surprised me because I know people like it (there’s a whole book about that). I guess neither Leslie nor Baring-Gould ship Holmes/Irene (well done, old chaps!).
There is, however, one theory so silly that I can’t not share it with you. Kenneth Lanza, in “Scandal in Bensonhurst,” makes “the whimsical suggestion that Irene had three sons: William Kramden (baptized Wilhelm von Kramm), the issue of the king of Bohemia; Edward Norton, the son of Godfrey Norton [Can you see where he's going?]; and Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes’ son. Lanza goes on to speculate that the two eldest sons, “Willie” and Edward, each produced one son – Ralph Kramden and Edward Norton, Junior, half-cousins and stars of the television series The Honeymooners” (NA, 40). Honestly, my love for the Holmes fandom knows no bounds.
And now, a few miscellaneous thoughts [These are my thoughts. There aren't many of them this week, I'm afraid...]:
- Holmes Continental Gazetteer, which he picks up to debrief Watson about Bohemia’s particulars, leads him astray again. According to Leslie, “German Bohemians were actually then a minority; the balance of the population was Slavonic, speaking Czech.” (NA, 12) [Moriarty's erroneous gazetteer strikes again! So far, he's three for three!]
- There is a theory that Irene’s Norton is actually none other than Colonel Moran, though Baring-Gould does not give any of Page Heldenbrand’s supporting evidence. [Irene is thus cast in a rather sinister light, imagining her married to Moriarty's right-hand man!]
- In response to Watson’s assertion that his marriage has led to his “complete happiness,” Leslie points out that his “conduct in this case, in which he spends two nights at Baker Street with no mention of communication with his wife is hardly consistent with his declaration of marital bliss” (NA, 7). [Oh, Watson regrets The Homewrecker already!]
I think I forgot to mention last week that “A Scandal in Bohemia” means that we’re in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but if you hadn’t figured it out yet, we are. So pick up your copy of The Adventures again next week to discuss “The Red-Headed League.” (I have to say that the Holmes fandom easily has claim to the most confusing abbreviation system I’ve ever seen – it really is a puzzle to work some of them out! This was SCAN – we’ve already made our way through STUD [appropriately enough] and SIGN. Up next is REDH.)
*Most of my notes, I think, come from the New Annotated simply because I find its format easier to work through and it is, therefore, the version that I’m reading first (I’m only reading the notes in the Baring-Gould). Much of the information is doubled up, but there is some that is unique to either volume, so if you see NA, that’s the Baring-Gould edition and BG is the New Annotated. No, I’m totally kidding – it’s the other way (the logical way) round.