Born in 1858 and raised in New Jersey, Irene Adler pursued a career as a contralto opera singer, performing at La Scala in Italy. At some point in her travels in Europe she developed a reputation as an "adventuress", implicitly a courtesan. She travelled to Poland where she was the prima donna at the Imperial Opera in Warsaw for a term. While in Warsaw she met and became involved in an affair with the then-Crown Prince of Bohemia, Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismund von Ormstein. The Crown Prince eventually returned to Prague, and Adler retired to London.
Irene Adler was originally created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for his Sherlock Holmes stories. She made her first appearance in "A Scandal in Bohemia". She made her first appearance in comics in Super Detective Library #74.
In her original appearance, Adler and Holmes expressed no obvious romantic attraction to each other. Subsequent authors have tended to cast her in the role of romantic interest.
Major Story Arcs
A Scandal in Bohemia
Adler, now living in London, is in possession of a photograph of herself and the King of Bohemia that, if they should come to light, would ruin his planned marriage to a young princess. She threatens to release this photograph to the papers, which brings her to the attention of Sherlock Holmes, who the King hires to retrieve the photograph. She, meanwhile, quietly marries a gentleman friend, Godfrey Norton, unwittingly roping a disguised Holmes in to act as witness to their marriage. After the wedding she returns home. When she arrives, a fight breaks out among several jobless men, who vie to help the lady from her carriage. Holmes, disguised as a clergyman, protects her from the fray and appears to have been struck. She invites him into her home to recover, upon which he signals John Watson to throw a smoke bomb into her home, tricking her into believing that there is a fire in her home. When the cry of fire goes up, she instinctively goes to protect the photograph, allowing Holmes to discover its location. Realizing she has given herself away, she disguises herself as a youth and follows Holmes, bidding him goodnight after hearing him recount the details of his discovery to Watson. She and her new husband hastily depart England. She leaves Holmes a note congratulating him on his ploy and assuring him that the photograph will serve as protection only.
Powers and Abilities
Adler is of above average intelligence, and notably cunning, as she was able to outwit Sherlock Holmes. She is competent in the art of disguise.
Sherlock Holmes in New York
Adler appears as a music hall singer whose son has been kidnapped by Professor Moriarty. She enlists the help of Holmes and Watson to rescue him. The boy is implied to be Holmes' son. She is portrayed by Charlotte Rampling.
Adler appears as an accomplished thief, employee of Moriarty and adversary of Holmes. She exhibits romantic feelings for Holmes, who appears to reciprocate. She is portrayed by Rachel McAdams.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Adler appears again as an employee of Moriarty's. She is murdered by Moriarty, who believes that her feelings for Holmes have compromised her work. Rachel McAdams reprises her role.
Sherlock Holmes Canon
Adler was originally created for the Sherlock Holmes canon. She appears in one story in the series. She is mentioned in a further four stories.
Adler has been suggested to be the mother of the titular detective, with Holmes as the father. This suggestion has gone canonically unsupported, but maintains a fair following.
Adler is the mother of the titular character, with Holmes as the father. Lupa is implied to later become Nero Wolfe.
Irene Adler Series
Adler appears as the main character in this series by Carole Nelson Douglas. She has become a Pinkerton detective after her encounter with Holmes. She solves crimes with the help of her husband, Norton, and her biographer, Nell Huxleigh. She appears in eight books in the series.
The Canary Trainer
Adler appears as a major character in this book by Nicholas Meyer, which is a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes and The Phantom of the Opera. During the period in which Holmes had been presumed dead, Irene is working as the new prima donna at the Paris Opéra. Realizing that Holmes is alive, she blackmails him into helping her young protegé, Christine Daaé, who is under threat from the mysterious Ghost that haunts the opera house.
The Adventures of the Second Mrs Watson
Adler appears in the short story "The Adventure of the Retiring Detective" by Michael Mallory.
Shadows Over Baker Street
Adler appears in "Tiger! Tiger!" by Elizabeth Bear, a short story pastiche of Sherlock Holmes and HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.
The Language of Bees
Adler, now deceased, is the mother of Damian Adler, the estranged son of Sherlock Holmes.
A Scandal in Bohemia
Adler appears in the 1990 BBC Radio broadcast of "A Scandal in Bohemia". She is portrayed by Sarah Badel.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Adler appears in the first episode in this television series, "A Scandal in Bohemia." She is portrayed by Gayle Hunnicutt.
Masks of Death
Adler appears in this made-for-television movie as a guest at a country house when a mysterious disappearance occurs. Initially a suspect, she later joins with Holmes and Watson to solve the case. She is portrayed by Anna Baxter.
Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady
Adler appears in this made-for-television movie as an actress and leading lady who meets Holmes and Watson again and helps them prevent the assassination of Franz Joseph I of Austria. She is portrayed by Morgan Fairchild.
Adler appears in the episode "A Dogged Exposé," based loosely on "A Scandal in Bohemia". She is portrayed by Sally Nystuen Vahle.
The Royal Scandal
Adler appears as a Polish opera singer in this amalgamation of "A Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Bruce-Partington Plans". She is portrayed by Liliana Komorowska.
Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars
Adler appears in this television drama as the main antagonist. Unusually for a derivative work, she is not portrayed as a love interest. She is portrayed by Anna Chancellor.
Adler appears as a high-class dominatrix who possesses a number of embarrassing photos of a female royal in the episode "A Scandal in Belgravia". Later, with the help of Jim Moriarty, she attempts to hold the British government to ransom with a great deal of sensitive information that she has obtained through various liaisons. She is portrayed by Lara Pulver.
Adler appears as an adversary and later love interest to Holmes in this loose musical adaptation of "A Scandal in Bohemia". The role was originated by Inga Swenson