Publication Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)

Committee Member

Klein, Ursula

Committee Member

Broncano, Manuel

Committee Member

Moran, Angela


“The Woman,” as Irene Adler has come to be known in the Sherlock Holmes universe, only appears in one story, yet this story has been adapted over the past years into numerous films, television shows, and even fan fiction. The purpose of this thesis is to prove that even though the portrayals of Adler mentioned in this thesis have taken place in the last thirty years, the original story, written in 1891, is a more progressive and feminist interpretation of Adler. From the television shows Sherlock and Elementary to the film Sherlock Holmes, each portrayal depicts several notable qualities Adler possesses, such as her independence, adaptability, and intelligence; but there is a common issue each portrayal has in trying to mesh these qualities with seduction and manipulation. It is possible that even though Adler is now gaining widespread attention in film and television, viewers are being misled by misconstrued interpretations of her and her claim to fame as the woman who outsmarted Holmes. This thesis focuses on the original “Bohemia” story, as well as the three media portrayals of Adler in detail. The culture of Victorian Europe, specifically London is especially important in understanding the climate in which Adler was operating, because everything from the ways Victorian women dressed to the social class of women will offer a clearer perspective as to why Adler wanted the photograph of her and the King just as much as he did. Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex will also offer an explanation of the division of gender roles and Adler’s defiance of Victorian female expectations. Finally, the relationship between Adler and Holmes is the most important aspect of this research. The original “Bohemia” does not denote that there is a romantic relationship between the two, yet all modern portrayals have implicit scenes that suggest otherwise. The separation of romance and business is what makes Adler a successful character, and it is how she ought to be portrayed in order to preserve the fact that even in 1891, strong feminist characters existed.