Sherlock’s romantic interest in Irene Adler has made the man of pure logic more desirable for fans, but it doesn’t fit with his canon characters.
In Sherlock, the titular character implies romantic feelings for Irene Adler, and her returned affection makes him more of a heartthrob– but this doesn’t fit with Sherlock Holmes’ canon. This is also seen in Robert Downy Jr’s version of the detective in the Sherlock Holmes movies. The sexual tension between both interpretations of Holmes and Adler was tangible and is part of what made these adaptations so enjoyable. Still, the Sherlock of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels never showed any interest in romance.
Irene Adler was first introduced in Sir Doyle’s works in the short story A Scandal in Bohemia, which Sherlock retold in the episode “A Scandal in Belgravia.” In this tale, Sherlock is hired by a King to retrieve a picture of himself with a former paramour from that very paramour. This is, of course, the Irene Adler of the books, who has no interest in turning the photo over. She outsmarts Sherlock and disappears forever – proving herself to be the only adversary who could escape the famed detective. From then on, Sherlock respectfully called her “the woman,” but she never returned.
Sherlock’s Romantic Interest In Irene Made Him A Heart Throb
It’s easy to see why audiences would want to turn Sherlock and Irene into a long-term romance, which is why both the BBC Sherlock and the Warner Bros Sherlock Holmes took this approach. Regardless, John Watson made it clear with his narration in Sir Doyle’s books that the great detective never had any interest in women. His regard for Irene was nothing more than respect. In fact, she got married before she moved away– and it didn’t bother Sherlock in the least.
In canon, Sherlock Holmes is distant from human connection and is entirely ruled by logic. This has made him more or less impossible to have a real relationship with. In Sherlock, the character is just as abrasive and claims vehemently to have no understanding of love. However, the tangible pull audiences see between him and Irene shows there is more to Sherlock than meets the eye. The sexy cat-and-mouse game between Irene and Sherlock draws audiences in and makes them desire Sherlock just as much as “the woman” does. After all, there is nothing more attractive than a character who rejects love but finds it anyway.
Could A Less Affectionate Sherlock Still Be Successful?
Previous adaptations of Sherlock Holmes put little energy into the character’s sex appeal, but the success of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock has changed audiences’ expectations of the character. The most recent addition to the Holmes family is Henry Cavill in Enola Holmes. While this Sherlock didn’t have any overt romances, his affection for his younger sister produced the same effect. Ultimately, it seems that a begrudgingly dynamic character is precisely what audiences are attracted to.
Still, the foundation for Sherlock Holmes will always be the novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Therefore, the most lasting version of the character’s canon will always be the one who has no interest in affection. With so many portrayals of the character that create a quirky jerk who must be reluctantly taught to love, it could be that the trope will begin to fall flat. The future may reveal a new version of Sherlock based on the books, who really feels the way he says he does, and who will view Irene Adler as a respectable adversary and nothing more.