Plot Summary of A Scandal in Bohemia

Updated on February 24, 2018
Colin Quartermain profile image

Colin has been reading as long as he can remember, and the works of Conan Doyle were some of the early works that kept him reading.

The First of the Short Stories

A Scandal in Bohemia is one of the most famous Sherlock Holmes stories, and tells of the consulting detective’s interaction with royalty, and his dealing with a possible case of blackmail.

Publication of A Scandal in Bohemia

In the canon of Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia is the third published story featuring the consulting detective; A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four having previously been published. Importantly though, A Scandal in Bohemia is the first of the 56 short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the first to be written for the Strand Magazine.

Initial publication would occur in the Strand Magazine in July 1891, and the following year, A Scandal in Bohemia would be the first story in the compilation work, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

A Short Review of A Scandal in Bohemia

A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four had brought some critical and popular success for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but it was the short stories that saw the general public clamouring for further Sherlock Holmes stories.

The short story is obviously shorter than the preceding two novels, but the length of A Scandal in Bohemia doesn’t equate to a lack of detail. Facts about Holmes and Watson had been established in the earlier stories, and so did not need to be reiterated, and there is no need for a long flashback to explain complex details about the case.

In addition to the storyline Conan Doyle manages to establish the importance of Sherlock Holmes, as it was now obvious that it wasn’t just the police who consulted him, but royal families also sought his advice. A Scandal in Bohemia also shows Holmes ability to disguise himself; and to break the law when his client’s problem requires it.

A Scandal in Bohemia is famous for featuring one of Holmes’ most famous adversaries, the criminal that is Irene Adler; although in the original canon, this is the only story in which she appears. The character of Irene Adler though of course is central to Sherlock Holmes, the 2009 Guy Ritchie film.

As with many of the Sherlock Holmes stories, A Scandal in Bohemia has been adapted for stage and screen, with one of the most faithful adaptations occurring in 1984, the first appearance of Jeremy Brett as Holmes, in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The storyline of A Scandal in Bohemia is also reprised for the opening part of A Scandal in Belgravia, the first episode in the second series of Sherlock.

The Client Enters

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, page 7 Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) PD-life-70
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, page 7 Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) PD-life-70 | Source

Spoiler Alert - Plot Summary for A Scandal in Bohemia

The short story commences with Dr Watson visiting his old friend Sherlock Holmes in their old rooms at 221B Baker Street. Since the Sign of Four, Watson has moved out of their shared rooms, having married Mary Morstan, the client of the previous adventure.

Watson though finds that Holmes has kept himself occupied with a series of cases, and a letter from another prospective client promises another case is soon to be on hand; and Watson is soon drawn into the case.

When the client arrives, he introduces himself as the Count von Kramm, but despite the wearing of a mask, Holmes easily identifies von Kramm as actually being the King of Bohemia; and after being sworn to secrecy, Holmes and Watson listens to the king’s problem.

The king is engaged to be married, but previously the king had had a relationship with an American opera singer called Irene Adler. The possibility of the relationship being revealed, and the ensuing scandal, is threatening the forthcoming marriage. Adler it seems has threatened to send a photograph of her and the king together to the press.

Previous attempts to retrieve the photo, including burglary, have failed to locate the photo, and so as a last resort the king wishes to hire Holmes to retrieve it. The king pays Holmes a retainer of £1000, a huge sum of about twenty times the average annual wage.

Holmes sets to work immediately and having visited the home of Irene Adler, in disguise, that the singer is now in a relationship with a gentleman by the name of Godfrey Norton. It is a serious relationship, and Holmes sees the pair being married in the Church of Saint Monica; indeed Holmes has to act as witness for the marriage.

A Photo Recovered

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, page 27 Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) PD-life-70
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, page 27 Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908) PD-life-70 | Source

The fact that Adler is now married doesn’t cause the problem of the incriminating photograph to disappear, and so Holmes concocts a plan to gain access to Adler’s home and to find the photograph’s location.

With Watson a willing accomplice, Holmes disguises himself as a clergyman, and visits Irene Adler’s home once again. A fact fight is organised, and Holmes makes it seem that he has been injured whilst protecting the American singer. Of course, the injured clergyman is taken into the home to recover, and then through an open window, Watson tosses a smoke bomb. Cries of “fire” are then raised.

Events subsequently are told to Watson by Holmes as the pair travel back to Baker Street. At the possibility of a fire raging through her house, Irene Adler had moved to the photographs hiding place. So Holmes now knew that the photo was behind a sliding panel, but at the time he could not gain possession of it.

At Baker Street, Holmes is wished “goodnight” by youth, and at the time Holmes thinks he recognises the voice, but cannot place it.

The next day, Holmes, Watson and the King of Bohemia make their way to the home of Irene Adler, but find that the lady has already departed, along with her new husband, to somewhere overseas.

The hiding place is opened but the photo of the king and Irene Adler are not there; in its place is another photo, just of Adler herself, and also a letter for Sherlock Holmes.

Irene Adler explains how it was she in disguise who had wished Holmes goodnight the previous evening. Adler had realised that she had unwittingly revealed the hiding place of the photo the previous day, and so had followed the clergyman to find out the consequences. Adler also explains that she has kept the photo so that she should be protected from the king’s agents, and no longer has any plans to use it as blackmail.

Despite Holmes having failed to recover the incriminating photo, the King of Bohemia is extremely pleased with the detective’s efforts, and believes himself free from future trouble. It is also apparent that that the king still finds Adler intriguing, and only wishes that she was of his class.

Holmes refuses any further payment for the job, and simply asks the king for the photo that Irene Adler left behind. From that moment on Irene Adler is “the woman”, one of the few who were a match for the intellect of Sherlock Holmes.

A Scandal in Bohemia

  • Date of Events - March 1888
  • Client - Grand Duke Wilhelm von Ormstein
  • Locations - London
  • Villain - Irene Adler

Questions & Answers

  • When does the action of the story "A Scandal in Bohemia" take place?

    The Scandal in Bohemia is set in March 1888, for Watson visits 221B Baker Street on 20th March 1888, where he is present when Holmes is presented with a new case.

  • Why does Dr. Watson visit Sherlock Holmes in "A Scandal in Bohemia"?

    Having married Mary, Watson was no longer a resident of 221B Baker Street, but having been to see one of his patients, Watson found his return journey traversing Baker Street, and decided it was an opportune time to visit with his old friend.


Submit a Comment
  • satomko profile image

    Seth Tomko 

    4 years ago from Macon, GA

    Good work, just like all your Sherlock Holmes articles. "Scandal in Bohemia" remains one for my favorites Sherlock stories.

  • Colin Quartermain profile imageAUTHOR

    Colin Quartermain 

    5 years ago

    Many thanks for reading and commenting, Conan Doyle made Holmes an evergreen character

  • torrilynn profile image


    5 years ago

    great read


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