To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.
“Let me see!” said Holmes. “Hum! Born in New Jersey in the year 1858. Contralto — hum! La Scala, hum! Prima donna Imperial Opera of Warsaw — yes! Retired from operatic stage — ha! Living in London — quite so! Your Majesty, as I understand, became entangled with this young person, wrote her some compromising letters, and is now desirous of getting those letters back…If this young person should produce her letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is she to prove their authenticity?”
“We were both in the photograph.”
“You do not know her, but she has a soul of steel. She has the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men.”
“Our quest is practically finished. I shall call with the King to-morrow, and with you, if you care to come with us. We will be shown into the sitting-room to wait for the lady; but it is probable that when she comes she may find neither us nor the photograph. It might be a satisfaction to his Majesty to regain it with his own hands.”…
We had reached Baker Street and had stopped at the door. He was searching his pockets for the key when someone passing said:
“Good-night, Mister Sherlock Holmes.”…
“I’ve heard that voice before,” said Holmes, staring down the dimly lit street. “Now, I wonder who the deuce that could have been.”
“You really did it very well. You took me in completely…But, you know, I have trained as an actress myself…Well, I followed you to your door, and so made sure that I was really an object of interest to the celebrated Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Then I, rather imprudently, wished you good-night…As to the photograph, your client may rest in peace. I love and am loved by a better man than he.”
“What a woman — oh, what a woman!” cried the King of Bohemia, when we had all three read this epistle. “Did I not tell you how quick and resolute she was? Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity that she was not on my level?”
“From what I have seen of the lady she seems indeed to be on a very different level to your Majesty,” said Holmes coldly.
And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom of Bohemia, and how the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes were beaten by a woman’s wit. He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I have not heard him do it of late. And when he speaks of Irene Adler, or when he refers to her photograph, it is always under the honorable title of the woman.
–Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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Photos: Steven Rosen Photography
Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, hereditary King of Bohemia: Charles Rehill
Irene Adler appears in A Scandal in Bohemia, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes