Thursday, October 1, 2009

Rosie's Riveters: Rachel & Irene Adler

Rosie's Riveters is a weekly posting written by Booklust readers about riveting females in literature. Many readers have strong reactions to the women in the books they read- either very positive or very negative. These are the characters we find riveting, for good reasons or bad ones, and they form the population of Rosie's Riveters. Through this weekly post, we can discuss females we love to hate, or love to love. And maybe, just maybe- we can determine why we react so strongly to them.

If you are interested in participating, please comment on this post or e-mail me and I'll add you to the line-up! You can also just fill out the template and send it along and I'll save it until it's time to post.

This week's post is by Rachel, whom many already know as the blogger at A Fair Substitute for Heaven. I am not sure when I started reading Rachel's blog- probably soon after I realized everyone else I knew was reading it ;-) She writes very witty reviews, many of
which focus on young adult fiction. And she also has a fun new series called "Why did we publish this?" which laments the waste of paper and ink for undeserving stories.

Who is your Riveter?

Irene Adler.

What book does she feature in?

A Scandal in Bohemia : the very first short story about Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Do you love her or hate her?

I love her. She is possibly the only person to outwit Sherlock Holmes. She does so perfectly. And she is one of the few women he respects. She is also conniving, beautiful, talented, whip-smart, and knows what she wants. Moreover, she will do anything for love.
The story opens with Watson’s referral to her: “ To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the Woman. In his mind she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.” Pretty great stuff--- considering Sherlock Holmes and women have ….erm….a less than palpable chemistry.

Describe her personality- how would you describe her to a friend?

Smart, strong-willed, commanding. Probably with a great presence. She is a noted coloratura who has performed extensively around the world. She would probably command your attention. Fashionable. A strong equalist ( as the term feminist is way before her time). A woman trapped in a man’s world who needs to assert power to be kept from exploitation. She tricks men in the same way, conventionally, men would trick women. She outsmarts the opposite sex at their own game and leaves a lot of dropped jaws in the process.

Can you compare her to a celebrity?

In the upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie she is portrayed by Rachel McAdams: who seems very weak to me. You need someone very strong and commanding. Thus, in my mind, she presents herself more like Kate Winslet. Strong and beautiful and intelligent.

What makes her riveting?

Well, she is “the Woman” to Sherlock Holmes ( as aforementioned) and those who know “the canon” know that Sherlock has little respect for women. Even those he likes ( like Watson’s wife Mary Morstan and a few notable clients) he only harbours a run-of-the-mill affection for. Irene does something to him and he never forgets her. In fact, he wears a memento of her outsmarting him on a chain. He is also reminded of this case over and over again and it levels his more egotistical side and proves even the Great Detective fallible.

What do you most admire/despise about her?

I like that she gives up everything (a relationship with the King of Bohemia and endless riches) for the love of a lawyer...not as respectable a profession then and certainly not where one could glean financial success to the same degree as nowadays. She is married at a small church with only a homeless chap ( Sherlock Holmes disguised) as a witness. She doesn’t care about power or wealth. Ultimately, she settles for love. But, she does not regale her strength and cunning for this. She also has a great heart. Holmes fakes injury while disguised as a priest and Irene rushes to his rescue: albeit she has figured out his true identity, but I think he is very charitable.

She also needs to prove herself right: so much so she risks the game and takes on a disguise just to walk by 221 B Baker Street and greet Sherlock Holmes with a terse “ Good Night, Mr. Holmes.” ---- one last dagger as a symbol of a foiled plan .

She can be a bit of a maneater, at least in my perception of her, and I think there is a fine balance between asserting strength and standing up as a woman and beguiling the opposite sex to manipulating them.

Would you recommend reading the book in which the Riveter features?

Oh Absolutely! Sherlock is in many ways a misogynist and I cannot say that the canon is bursting with strong and wonderful modern women. However, Irene Adler usurps them all. She figures in the very first ever short story and her presence ripples through the rest on occasion. I think Conan Doyle tips his cap at women and respects them immensely.

Any parting remarks?

Irene Adler has become a bit of a legend--- in fan fiction and in Sherlock Holmes “pastiches” --- the most notable as written by Carol Nelson Douglas and starting with “Good Night, Mr. Holmes”

If you read A Scandal in Bohemia and have an insatiable appetite for Adler, then there are other places to look.

Have a look at the new trailer for the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes with Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler:

It is more fun to notice how they play the chemistry between Irene and Holmes if you read the story first!


  1. Irene Adler ROCKS, which is why I am not looking forward to her portrayal in the Sherlock Holmes movie. Holmes continues to refer to Irene Adler throughout the rest of his stories and it is always with shades of bitterness, admiration, and disbelief.

    Great post :)

  2. She sounds cool, but I doubt I will like her in this movie..something was off.

  3. I haven't yet read anything by Conan Doyle, but I have the entire Sherlock Holmes collection on my shelf, so there's really no excuse! I think I am going to take a look at them soon, and I will definitely be looking for Irene Adler. Very erudite post!

  4. Oh great post! That story is such a great one and she is such a memorable character. Thanks!

  5. Yeah, I totally need to read some Sherlock Holmes stuff. Must remedy that soon.

  6. Sherlock Holmes is one of those book series I have wanted to read forever and still haven't...

  7. Excellent Riveter! I should reread Scandal.

    Movies. Can they ever get the casting right?


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