15 Faces of Sherlock Holmes' Irene Adler (And Why She Did Nothing Wrong)

From one-off petty blackmailer to Sherlock Holmes’ arch-enemy.
15 Faces of Sherlock Holmes' Irene Adler (And Why She Did Nothing Wrong)

Irene Adler is one of Sherlock Holmes most enduring (and only) female, beloved characters. There’s basically the nanny/landlord/maid and her. Or in some adaptations Watson. Always good to get a girl Watson in there. 

Despite being in exactly one story and referenced in what could scarcely even be called several others, Irene Adler has endured – The Woman, the one woman to beat Sherlock Holmes, basically the only woman the borderline chauvinist Holmes respected in the entire series (save for his nanny/maid/landlady, and maybe the Queen). She’s been beloved and loved back since the very first adaptations of Sherlock Holmes

An opera singer who is engaged to marry a nice man is at the center of a potential scandal, as she has photographic evidence of a dalliance a royal took with her years back. He gets Holmes to investigate, and after a brief fake-out and a false fire, he finds where she stores the pictures — but before he can do more, she figures out his game and flees, even taking the photos, almost as if the humiliation is the point, tricking him in his favorite game – disguises. This makes Sherlock Holmes respect this one woman of all women, and gained her fame and acclaim forever more

Here’s how Irene Adler has never done anything wrong, any version of her… and boy howdy are there a lot of them.

Irene Adler

Irene Adler CRACKED.COM A Scandal in Bohemia Irene Adler The original story is about a woman hiding a secret painting of her and her former lover, a king, with him desiring it back in order to prevent any future controversy about his dalliances with the lower class.

The Lover

Irene Adler CRACKED.COM BBC's Sherlock, Granada's Sherlock Holmes Irene The Lover Irene Adler has been turned into Sherlock Holmes' lover many times over, including in Sherlock where she regularly beats Sherlock (physically) before running away - a sharp change from her portrayal in the original story, in which she's gone before Sherlock even notices.

The Criminal

CRACKED.COM Irene Adler Sherlock Holmes Irene The Criminal Despite being originally engaged in what amounts to (at most) petty blackmail, Irene is commonly depicted as a world-class criminal - engaging in espionage, terrorism, and blackmail on a grand scale (when not working for Sherlock's main villain).

The Accomplice

Irene Adler CRACKED.COM BBC's Sherlock, Granada's Sherlock Holmes Irene The Accomplice Despite her being a one-off character, Irene has become one of Sherlock Holmes' most enduring characters - the one woman Holmes ever truly respected.

The Adversary

Irene Adler CRACKED.COM Elementary, Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars Irene The Adversary She was a woman with a painting, and he was a man pretending to be a priest to break into her house. From that, a rivalry to match Q and Picard's was born.

The Sherlock

Irene Adler CRACKED.COM Sherlock Holmes, BBC's Sherlock, Elementary Irene The Sherlock Though she outsmarted Holmes in the one short story she's in, Irene is not a brilliant mastermind - just a shrewd judge of character, and quite able to lean into her perceived weakness as a woman.

The Detective

Irene Adler CRACKED.COM BBC's Sherlock Irene The Detective Though primarily shown to be smart for running away from town after finding out Sherlock Holmes is on the case, she's often shown to be as competent a detective as Sherlock Holmes.

The Mother

Irene Adler CRACKED.COM Nero Wolfe series Irene The Mother Irene and Holmes show no true romantic attraction, only a deep mutual respect. This hasn't stopped authors from depicting her as Sherlock's hidden lover, and even mother of Nero Wolfe, hero of his own series.

The Moriarty

GRACKED.COM Irene Adler Elementary Irene Media Storia Scandlul Lio W The Moriarty Though as The Woman she's been Sherlock Holmes' one large failure, in this adaptation she turns into Jamie Moriarty, his biggest enemy, who ruins his life piece by piece.

The Dominatrix

Irene Adler CRACKED.COM BBC's Sherlock Irene The Dominatrix Being a woman + being cool as hell = you become a dominatrix in this adaptation, because women = sexy sells!

The Opera Singer

Irene Adler CRACKED.COM Hallmark's The Royal Scandal Irene The Opera Singer Irene is famously an opera singer, but some adaptations take that to be all she is - her starletry dialed up to eleven.

Fake Identity

Irene Adler CRACKED.COM Elementary Irene Adler In Elementary, Irene Adler is a fake persona created by Moriarty to seduce Holmes, in order to study him and make sure he can't find her. In A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes pretends to be a beaten priest to ingratiate himself to Irene, to discover what she holds most secret to her.

Beating the Crap out of Sherlock

Irene Adler CRACKED.COM Elementary Irene The Woman Who Beat Holmes Sherlock was attempting to take away her one defense against ultra-rich, very powerful people who wanted to hurt her. So she beat the crap out of him with a riding crop.

The Fake-Out

Irene Adler CRACKED.COM Elementary Irene and the Fake-Out. Irene Adler, А.К.А. Jamie Moriarty, fakes her death to get away from Holmes - which is the exact thing Holmes does in the original stories before finally returning, in order to draw out Moriarity's second in command, Sebastian Moran.
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