Irene Adler and the Unattainable Male

That’s a THING, right?  The stereotypical “unattainable” male protagonist in film and television.  We see it in literary works all the time, but the broader discussion online seems to center around more recent developments in media-centric storytelling, rather than in the written tradition.  I think it could easily be argued that the more modern re-visitations of Sherlock Holmes ought to fit neatly into this category.

A great many of the arguments I have been hearing of late seem to center around Irene Adler.  In the three more prominent Holmes reboots, she is seen as; a sociopathic dominatrix (who needs to be rescued at the end), a pickpocket and con artist (who may or may not be dead, but whom also needed to be rescued) and a Plot Device (since she was murdered before the show opens and is, instead, used as a driving force rather than a character).

And, while I have seen a great many analyses of how the original Irene Adler was a much more powerful female than any of her modern variants, I find that nobody has brought up what I feel is one of the more interesting aspects of the entire story (especially considering the time-period it was written in/for).

There is, in “A Scandal in Bohemia” possibly one of the neatest bits of role-reversal ever.  The idea that Sherlock Holmes, the quintessential “unattainable male” has fallen into the exact same trap.  He has, in his own turn, fallen for the unattainable female.

Outside of the fact that she feels the need to evade her stalker, Miss Adler has very little interest in Holmes.  In fact, she is far more interested in her own situation than in directly interacting with Holmes on any real level.  Instead we are left with Watson’s observations that to Holmes, she is always “The Woman”, which, combined with the fact that she is mentioned in future stories, though always in passing, suggests that she has continued to retain his attention, something we don’t see from many other subjects save Moriarty.

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