To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman.
-- "A Scandal in Bohemia”
Surely this is one of the greatest opening lines in all of fiction, on a par with “Call me Ishmael” and “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.”
Several times when I was a kid I picked up a collected edition of Sherlock Holmes, or a copy of The Adventures, and found myself staring with puzzlement at those words. Was this a romance or mystery?
Well, it is neither, although it has elements of both. It’s a Sherlock Holmes story – and what a great story it is! Already in that very first Holmes short adventure we get such standard elements as Holmes and Watson breaking the law, the lack of a whodunit element, Holmes in disguise, the distinguished client, and on and on.
We also get here the genesis of what I call the Adler Delusion – the ludicrous idea that Holmes had romantic feelings (or even more than feelings!) for his worthy opponent, Irene Adler. “It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler,” Dr. Watson assures us. Yet hundreds of works from Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street to pastiches of varying quality choose to ignore that very clear testimony to presume a romance for which there is no evidence. None. Nada. Zilch. Zero.
There is a romance in "A Scandal in Bohemia," but it is one that leads to a wedding in which Holmes is witness, not a participant.
What Sherlock Holmes had for Irene Adler was an immense and well-earned respect. Why is that so hard for some people to understand?