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Sherlocked: The Case for Irene Adler

This week is Sherlock week at TLT.  In fact, today is considered Sherlock’s birthday.  So happy birthday Sherlock!  All this week we will be posting about the BBC show Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes the literary character, and mysteries in general.

When you talk about Sherlock, whether in the stories, the TV series, or the movies, there are always four main people that come to my mind.

Sherlock Holmes: BBC

Doctor Watson: BBC

Moriarty: BBC

and Irene Adler: BBC


I’ve read some of the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the first one I ever read was A Scandal in Bohemia, where readers are introduced to Irene completely.

To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer — excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.

 In the books, she’s placed higher than the King in Sherlock’s mind, and it shows in that he keeps her photo (also shown in the Basil Rathbone series and in the more recent Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr.) as a memento. She’s the only woman who’s beaten him- and one of five total. Impressive, brainy, and beautiful, she’s seen as a fitting equal in his eyes and could have been possibly the one.

She does NOT use her sex (gender or sexy times) in order to get anywhere- she is an equal for anyone and everyone around her.

Where did that get lost? Why is it in modern times writers are obsessed with sexualizing her? Why can’t she be brilliant and wonderful and beautiful without having to seduce to get things, or rely on trickery when she is just as brilliant a mastermind as Sherlock?

Take the 2009 movie release of Sherlock Holmes. In the steampunky version with Downey Jr., Adler is played by Rachel McAdams. She a professional thief and has a long string of various divorces behind her (hinting at her activities in the bedroom and using her mind and her body to get things she needed). There is also a rather notorious scene where she’s in her hotel room changing into a nightgown in order to supposedly seduce Sherlock, and instead poisons him until morning, leaving him with the key under the pillow on his lap. She’s not in control, someone else is pulling the strings, and she is merely a puppet- using whatever she can (including her sex and her feelings) to get things accomplished.
 
Sherlock Holmes, Warner Bros
In CBS’s Elementary, it gets really fun because Adler is combined into…. well….  if you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to spoil it as it’s really interesting. Go find it and binge. Or if you want to, read here.
 
CBS Elementary
 Still, there’s still not as much over the top sex and sexuality in either of those as there is with the dominatrix Adler in BBC’s Sherlock, who’s actually brilliantly played by Lara Pulver. 
 
Irene Adler: BBC
And she does play the role brilliantly, and is a wonderful foil for the social failure of Benedict’s Sherlock. Please go find the episode she’s in, because it’s an excellent set of twists and turns. However, with Adler being set as a dominatrix, she’s automatically set as an outcast sex worker (lower because she takes the “weird/kinky types” according to society), and she is either barely clothed or naked for a good portion of the episode. And again, she is not the one in control- someone else is.
 
She is able to bring out, like John, a human side of Sherlock that the audience had yet to see, which is true to the Adler of Doyle’s stories. I just wish that it didn’t have to be all tangled up in the sex. There has to be a way to show a modern-day Irene Adler without the hidden (and not so hidden) sex in it, because while smart is sexy,
sex is not the new smart.