A Scandal In Bohemia by Arthur Conan Doyle, 1891
The magic trick:
The perfect opening sentence, filled with romance, respect and regret
I’m happy to report that we are starting a week of Sherlock Holmes stories here on the magic tricks website. These are among my favorite stories of all time, and they hold up today as an adult even better than when I was enjoying them in elementary school.
We start with the first Sherlock short story to appear in print. And our focus is on the very first paragraph. In fact, how about just the first sentence?
“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.”
It’s perfect. It sets up the story. It piques the reader’s interest. It imbues everything that follows with a strange combination of romance, respect and regret. So there you go.
Welcome to Sherlock Week. One perfect sentence and thus began a remarkable year-long run of brilliant story after brilliant story published monthly in The Strand magazine. And that’s quite a trick on Doyle’s part.
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 teasoner 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.
What do you think about this story? As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.
About 25 years ago, when I was really active in tournament chess, I had one rival who once, before a game, told me that he would always refer to me as “the opponent.” Being less literary then than I am now, he had to explain that it was a Sherlock Holmes reference (and one I should take as a compliment, I guessed). He was an eccentric guy himself, and I also remember that he was the one who introduced me to the stories of Flannery O’Connor. I wonder whatever became of him… Thanks for stirring up this memory. 🙂
Wow, “The Opponent”??? You must’ve been quite the chess player!