Friday, March 30, 2012

Irene Adler - A Scandal in Bohemia (Day Three & Beyond).

Briony Lodge.
'Briony Lodge' is a disarmingly charming name for the fictional residence of Irene Adler, as quintessentially English as 'Ivy  Dene' or 'The Myrtles'.

Stereotypically suburban, it serves to mask an extraordinary mistress behind a facade of ordinariness. Apparently so vulnerable a child might with ease effect entry, the Lodge proves impregnable.

The photograph above will be readily recognised by viewers of the Jeremy Brett series on ITV. It is of course a dramatic set purporting to represent the Adler more a reality than the literary 'house' of Doyle's invention. Locations in fiction (whether printed, staged or filmed) are always metaphoric not literal. They just seem real - but that is the intention.

In essence, Briony Lodge is created thus to reflect the nature of its mistress. Holmes misreads both: on the morning he expects to surprise Irene Norton, 'The door of Briony Lodge was open' - only because she wishes it so.

 Watson (and later commentators) stress her open-heartedness and gentle,  graceful mien; The success of Holmes's subterfuge depended on these virtues and, to her credit, she does not disappoint.

The dawning of suspicion, however, arouses instant, vigorous and consummately executed response. She metamorphoses into a very different proposition from the dupe Holmes thought he left in Briony Lodge. 

Musically speaking, she ups tempo in spirited con brio - and, yes, the suggestion is there in 'Briony' - all verve, vigour, get-up-and-go. In a flash she is upstairs, costumed, hot on the detective's heels. Later, we are to understand, she walks (alone, late at night,in disguise) to The Temple, writes at midnight to Holmes, packs her life and catches the 5.15 for pastures new.

There is little left to relate (the events of mere minutes from 8am) but much to contemplate. Of intriguing but secondary importance are the reactions of Bohemia and Holmes.

 The former transparently (adolescently) simply cannot credit that Irene has severed all ties: 'but she could not love him', the King exclaims, lapsing into ' a moody silence' as he wistfully regrets she was not 'of my own station'.

Just as spontaneous and telling is Watson's (rare) description of an astounded friend: '"What!" Sherlock Holmes staggered back, white with chagrin and surprise.'

The outsmarted (and smarting) Holmes has more to come to terms with than Bohemia and to his credit he does achieve a kind of perspective on the impact of Irene Adler. Watson's final words on the issue are too well known to need quotation. I would only observe that the photograph Holmes retains is a permanent cautionary reminder never to underestimate one's opponent.

Much more questionable is the effect on her princely lover. In contrast with Holmes he has learned nothing from the encounter. Claiming rather too readily that he knows her to be 'quick and resolute'; that he believes 'her word is inviolate'; that 'the photograph is now as safe as if it were in the fire', Bohemia moves a little too swiftly to the act of rewarding Holmes. This leaves a nagging sense that some time in the future he is just as likely to be revisited by the insecurities that brought him to London.

For me, she is not out of danger should the photograph exist in Bohemia's mind. Which is why, much as I like Gayle Hunnicutt's Adler, I take issue with a screenplay that has Norton cast the photograph into the sea, preferring Doyle's own version which leaves room to imagine further attempts to pin down Irene for good.

INTERMISSION! At roughly midway in this post you are invited to relax (courtesy of Youtube & Film Annex) with video reminders of two representations of Irene Adler more faithful to the original story than those of Lara Pulver and Rachel McAdams. 

1. A Gayle Hunnicutt compilation:

2. Irene's Theme from the Livanov Russian version:

3. A Scandal in Bohemia as performed in the Livanov Russian version, called The Treasures of Agra. (the first 25 minutes contain all the events of SCAND...wait for the ad to play through!):

I find much to savour in both these performances. Of the two I place Hunnicutt's first - for that rare ethereal quality possessed by a true diva.

Russia's Adler resembles Patricia Hodge in The Second Stain: beautiful in an aristocratic way but lost on the operatic stage. 

Russia's SCAND  makes a novel departure, having Irene deliver her letter  (in disguise) as she says 'Good night' in Baker St.  This is primarily an economic device to fit the whole story into 25 minutes: The Treasures of Agra incorporates more than one case.

In its defence, this scene gives us more of Adler as actress. However, it detracts from the potency of the 'planted' letter and affronts this reader's imagination.

Doyle's letter is as perfume lingering in the air. The scent, the spoor, the tang of Irene Adler yet pervades Briony Lodge invoking a dominant presence... there...but the lady herself long gone.

. Deceitful disguise effectively muffles the authentic voice with which Irene graces her 'formidable opponent' in writing to Holmes. Her letter is vivacious, even chatty (implying a regret that they met in the least sociable circumstances) A winning sense of the fun of it all is stronger than any expression of triumph. (Hamlet's letter from England has an identical function - to illustrate a sea-change in the writer and ensure potency of presence in absentia). 

Mrs. Norton is crystal clear that the papers and photograph will be retained as security against 'any steps which he might take in the future'. A reasonable fear, given the King we have come to know.

A good point to glance at those other (future) references to the woman.

A Case of Identity sees Holmes taking snuff from yet another little souvenir from Bohemia...and referring prosaically to 'the case of the Irene Adler papers' .Holmes would seem to have filed her away.

The Five Orange Pips probably refers to Irene: 'I have been beaten...once by a woman.' A fact of life that Holmes has come to terms with.

The Blue Carbuncle serves to remind us no legal crime was committed , alluding to 'my attempt to recover the Irene Adler papers'. She is history buried in that formal phrase.

We know from Watson's vantage point in 1891 that Irene Norton is dead by the date of writing. How is a mystery; how Watson knows is a mystery; her brief marital life is a blank. Air rushes into a vacuum, and Doyle left two irresistible 'empty spaces' (I am thinking of Peter Brook's seminal book on theatre). The years between The Final Problem and The Empty House have proved as fertile a ground for sub-Doyle creations as Irene Adler's fallow years.

Given the liberties frequently taken in print, on stage and on screen these many years, I trust the reader will forgive if I move now to some purely subjective images that exist only on the stage of my imagination.

There are four, the most important ( and detailed) of which I feel warrants a post of its own - My Ideal Irene Adler, the performance I dream of witnessing on stage or screen. 

1. The Fate of Bohemia and Irene Norton.

For me, Doyle takes secret delight in Holmes's reference to 'the late King of Bohemia', while possibly exaggerating his part to increase Von Bork's discomfort: 'It was I who brought about the separation...'

On one level, Bohemia represents to the Doyle of 1917 the old guard withered away by the icy blast of change. I am just glad to hear he has breathed his last for I have (with no shred of evidence but a belief in his capacity for crime)  entertained the notion he achieved on the continent what was evaded in London - the silencing of a threat and attraction that gnawed at his soul. 

Paradoxically, it delights me to contemplate this:

2. Briony Lodge - 8am - Day Three.

(N.B Consider the implications if:-)

Bearing in mind that Watson had to look full three times before he saw his closest friend beneath 'the groom', I revel in the credible notion that the vision that greets our trio of men as they enter Serpentine Avenue is not what it seems.

'The door of Briony Lodge was open, and an elderly woman stood upon the steps.'

*Once the men have departed, Irene Norton turns, re-enters her house, climbs the stairs, doffs her disguise and rejoins her husband in the honeymoon bed.

"Now, we can relax! This is the last place they will ever think to look for us again." *

Another acting triumph! Irene blends seamlessly into the carefully arranged scene...and is abetted by a Holmes so intent on checking for the photograph that he brushes past the door-keeper without really observing her.

So I fondly imagine...I dream too of Briony Lodge.

'An Afternoon Song" by Louise Abbema, 1885.

3. Briony Lodge.

There is a romantic corner of my heart where the Mistress of Briony Lodge has created a haven of art, culture and laughter in London's suburbia. Here there is always music. It is civilised. And there is respect...where respect has been earned: by man or woman. Entry is strictly by invitation only on the enlightened, discriminating terms of a sensitive, vivacious, highly intelligent and talented woman. A woman who has seen the world, been at its mercy and learned how to defend the battlements of a Victorian Camelot.

At  root, Briony Lodge is for me the feminine counterpart to Holmes's rooms in Baker St with which it has much in common...and the polar opposite to Mycroft's Diogenes Club.

I should like to visit such a 'lodge'.

An Irene that matches this blithely subjective view is the subject of my next, and last, Adler post.

To go straight to My Ideal Irene Adler click HERE

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