Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Let's talk about Irene Adler.

Let's talk about Irene Adler.

If any character in the Sherlockian Canon has been completely screwed with in the years since her creation, it's Irene. Yes, yes, Nigel Bruce Watson, blah, blah, blah, but you know what? People have always complained about him not being up to Watsonian snuff. Watson has always had champions pushing forward to go, "That's not the true Watson!"

But Irene?

Secret Montenegro rendezvous with Sherlock just so he can father Nero Wolfe?

Working for Professor Moriarty until he decides to kill her?

Shoved into a re-envisioning of Gillette's play just to make Sherlock having a love interest slightly more Canonical?

Or just turned into female Sherlock Holmes with a female Watson. Surely that's not so offensive, right?

But is it Irene?

An American singer who worked her way up to prima donna of the Imperial Opera of Warsaw, the sort of career path one doesn't just flim-flam one's way into. Being an American, she didn't have the proper respect for social distance with Bohemian royalty and wound up in one of those entertainer/prince relationships that doesn't ever seem to end well. And it didn't.

The King of Bohemia slanders her with the word "adventuress," which at the time meant "gold-digger" not "Laura Croft, tomb raider," and even "gold-digger" probably has a nicer connotation to it than what the king was trying to say. Sherlockians, notably female Sherlockians, have taken that word, as folk do with offensive terms, made it their own . . . yet it is not Irene Adler either.

John Watson, claiming that Sherlock Holmes singled her out as "the woman," has set imaginations aflame, but what does even that really mean? And expression of irritation at being bested? Admiration for a quick and clever mind? Being the best looking woman in her neighborhood, according to the locals? There's just not much there either.

Irene Adler, sadly, has always been shaped by male perspectives. The king's words. Watson's words. Holmes's words. Her resume in Holmes's index and her own words never get quite the focus given those three men, especially by the men who led this hobby for decades. Just getting past the creaky old Holmes/Adler ship and its barnacled hull is not enough. Figuring out who Irene was to Irene is the real place our attentions should surely lie.

And then we might even be able to start discussing Godfrey Norton, because that guy . . . well, that guy must have really had it together to be the man for Irene Adler.

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