Cordially Invited to the Wedding of Irene Adler and Godfrey Norton
It seems I am destined to return again to a favorite character I have already provided treatment for. Perhaps I will yet again as new ideas and theories occur to me. Ah yes:
“Let me see!” said Holmes. “Hum! Born in New Jersey in the year 1858. Contralto–hum! La Scala, hum! Prima donna Imperial Opera of Warsaw–yes! Retired from operatic stage–ha! Living in London–quite so! Your Majesty, as I understand, became entangled with this young person, wrote her some compromising letters, and is now desirous of getting those letters back.”
Before anything, I would like to remind the readers that Irene Adler is a consummate actress and opera singer, a headstrong adventuress with “a soul of steel. She has the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men.” She has done deeds that have led to Holmes’ admiration at being beaten by a woman just a few years younger than himself (her birth is given as 1858, his inferred from “His Last Bow” as 1854). While chatting one day, I got the notion from another that perhaps there is proof, given the legalities of the day, that Irene’s marriage actually is invalid, something in the jumbled and hurried proceedings that actually show it to be the sham I like to think it is and have written about before. The sum of my previous statements as to the marriage is thus:
- The wedding is obvious for being secret, proclaimed for Holmes to hear it
- The legal proceedings are jumbled which would be uncharacteristic when the groom is a lawyer
- A public wedding would serve Irene’s social nature and clear things up with the King in a heartbeat
- Irene does not “officially” recognize Holmes until after the wedding, so there is no actual reason to rush the proceedings until after they have already happened, yet they completely are; she’s been clued in.
My own conclusions are that the marriage is a sham done for the purpose of convincing Holmes for just long enough to convince the King of Bohemia. By the time Holmes realizes the truth, it will be too late – and too pointless – to tell the King otherwise and everyone will leave happy. This is but one of many points I raised in Irene Adler’s favor, and to Doyle’s for writing such a subtly deep story, the depth of which I think is under appreciated.
I must admit that I am also spurned on by handfuls of published fanfic that assume the marriage to have been honest and valid, and the Jeremy Brett episode does a right sappy job of the love between Adler and Norton, even showing the boat ride as she tosses the photograph into the sea. The interpretation that perhaps comes the closest is in the more recent Robert Downey, Jr. film in which Holes questions Irene about her husband and Irene dismisses him as “boring, and jealous, and he snored” marking it as a whim, fleeting affair, or perhaps even less than that in hindsight. Most seem to take it on face value, though.
I am writing in light of my previous thesis, but I will start, like I did before, on the assumption of some truth. In this case, the assumption that the wedding is to be real and not a sham. By doing so, I hope to prove by null hypothesis that the wedding is invalid, or at least so highly dubious, in a historical setting to lend historical conceptions of what should be going on to my previous thesis.
So, let us assume that the marriage between Irene Adler and Godfrey Norton is real and legitimate. If we look at the time frame involved and the appropriate marriage laws, then we can see some of the much larger plot going on under the surface of the story. First, let us examine the time frame:
When the King of Bohemia relates that he is to be married, Holmes replies with a curt “So I have heard.” The marriage is, if not common, at least public knowledge by the time of the story. When the King of Bohemia relates Irene’s plan to send the photograph to the family of his fiancée, he assures Holmes that it cannot have been sent yet “Because she has said that she would send it on the day when the betrothal was publicly proclaimed. That will be next Monday.” Holmes further replies “Oh, then we have three days yet.”
As folks already know of the King’s engagement, this would imply a banns, or a listing for registry or license, which would put the date of the marriage between 15 days and three weeks hence. The King is in no rush and would likely have a formal banns, which would be announced and posted for three consecutive Sundays in Catholic doctrine. (While Bohemia was known historically for religious tolerance, the real King of Bohemia, Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, was decidedly Catholic. It is likely that the fictional King would be assumed to be the same. It is to be noted that in 1885 Franz Josef met an actress, Katharina Schratt, whom he took as a mistress for the remainder of his life. The story of the fictional King would have a ring of truth to it in the ears of an aware reader. Though important, I am digressing.) Releasing the photograph on that day would be a sure way to provide as much public attention as possible and financial losses for the wedding planned less than a month’s time hence, but still enough time to call it off on the part of the bride’s family; it is a cunning and well thought out day.
Second, this time frame establishes is a scant few days in which we are supposed to believe (until Irene’s letter to Holmes) that the pressure on Irene is turned up, she knows that Holmes is on the case, and to decide on the rushed wedding with Norton. This would imply that a marriage license, which could be obtained with more haste than a formal banns, would be in the works, but there is an alternate, given by both the King and Irene as they indicate that quite a long amount of time has past.
Etiquette would vote for a short duration of time between the private announcements (that have naturally gone public) and the official announcements, but planning a state affair takes up considerable more time; likely this would be enough time for both Adler and the King to hatch plans of how to secure the photograph. Royalty first: the King relates several attempts to obtain the photograph, which would have required time to plan and execute: “Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked her house. Once we diverted her luggage when she travelled. Twice she has been waylaid. There has been no result.” In Holmes’ notes, we have confirmation that Irene was living in London, though not for how long. Finally, in Irene’s own letter, she states that “I had been warned against you months ago. I had been told that if the King employed an agent it would certainly be you. And your address had been given me.” Overlooking the big question of who actually warned Irene (though Holmes is suitably well known to deduce the King would employ him) is the fact that Irene has been planning against Holmes for months. Such a length of time would allow for the formal planning of a marriage, or, perhaps, time for a wild and brief love affair to ensue. Or, at least time to fake one; she is planning against Holmes, which means she has months to learn his ways, how he operates, and lay an entire scheduled and orderly life for him and the King to uncover, and such a life would naturally need to include the good Mr. Norton who calls on a daily basis. This is, of course, if we take the letter on face value. If we take it as potentially false, then this is what she wants the King of Bohemia to believe. Those “months” still provide a realistic time frame to his unenlightened ears, though she may have planned things for either far longer or far less. “Months” then become a measuring stick we can use regardless of the veracity of the statement; she has been likely living in London for months, singing in London for months, coming home at 7 for dinner for months, and seeing Mr. Norton, her lawyer and preposed paramour, for a good deal of it. Not to mention sneaking out in men’s clothing and spying on Holmes for God knows how long of it. The Woman has had time to prepare thoroughly.
So, there are some options if the wedding is true: 1, the romance had only recently culminated and only now, with the heat on, did they decide on marriage, leading to the use of a license; 2, the romance had already culminated and they had been planning on it, leading to a formal banns, or 3, the romance had already culminated but because of the King they wanted to keep it secret, leading to the use of a license. (Naturally, there is a fourth option that the romance is false, but we are ignoring that for now as part of the null hypothesis.)
The problem with number two, the banns option, is that it would be very easy for the King to learn about it. Even if we take the King and his hired men as dolts, Holmes and Watson would learn of it easily, and certainly the local grooms he questioned would know of Ms. Adler’s upcoming name change. Holmes and Watson do not learn of any banns or announcement in their investigation, so this option can be ruled out. This leaves us with the legalities surrounding a marriage license in 1888 London.
According to Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753, it was affirmed that a marriage would only be valid if there was either a posting of the banns (Anglican Church follows the Catholic here) or the obtaining of a license. With the Marriage Act of 1837, a few changes were made, notably that marriages no longer needed to be performed in a consecrated building; civil marriages could be performed by a registrar by license or certificate. With a certificate, 21 days elapse before the certificate can be given to the applicants, but it is valid for a good three months. These are, however, displayed on public notice boards during that time frame. It is possible that Holmes missed it, but it seems unlikely that given the cheekiness of her letter, Irene Adler failed to mention such a choice parting shot. “By the way, boys, I had this thing posted all along. We are so in love that the King doesn’t need to worry one iota,” or something like that. She copped to stalking Holmes in men’s clothing and saying goodnight to him but she didn’t cop to planning a wedding. This severely reduces the likelihood of a certificate and leaves us with the option of a Registrar’s License by process of elimination. Under the license, only one weekday must pass before the license can be issued and it is not valid for a Church of England marriage.
First, the church: the marriage takes place at the loudly proclaimed “Church of St. Monica in the Edgeware Road.” This is a fictional church/location. There is a St. Monica’s in London, but it on Palmer’s Green, and it is Catholic. There are other churches on Edgware too, notably St. John’s and St Mary on Paddington Green, which are both of the Church of England, and the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. This begs the question: is Doyle referring to one of these real churches? Is he hinting at the religion therein? Holmes does not comment on the religion of the institute, but I feel the reader would want to assume that it was Anglican, first as the dominant religion, and then especially given the two large Anglican churches near Edgware Road, plus coupled with the generic term of “clergyman” used. This word leaves things very ambiguous because, if it were an Anglican Church, then the license would not be valid and the marriage would indeed be a sham after all! For it to be a true marriage, we would have to stretch and say that this St. Monica’s, like the other one in London, is actually Catholic, which might surprise the readers of The Strand.
If it is not Anglican and likely Catholic, therefore, assuming this is still a valid marriage, then let us look at that two minor hurdles: one, notice; two that one weekday must pass before the license is given. Notice is easy given both the time frame (notice would be short) and that notice could be listed in a notice book instead of a public posting as for certificates or banns, which is much more private- you would really need to be looking. But now the time frame. Remember when we talked about the days of the week? Well, the meeting with the King is on a Friday night so that there are three days till next Monday. That means that the investigation into Irene Adler is on a Saturday. This is supposedly when Irene is tipped off to the investigation, she confers with Norton, makes the final arrangements, and before long, Holmes is whisked into their wedding. Even if the registrar’s office were open on the weekend, there is no weekday to pass between the application and the giving of the license.
Now, the folks at familysearch.org relate that often historically, licenses are found to be given out on the same day as the marriage itself, which is a possibility if we hold that the office is open on a Saturday. The other option would be that the license was obtained the day before, which would indicate an even greater awareness on the part of Irene as she would have had to have known that 1, the King had arrived, and 2, received confirmation that he was going to see Holmes that day, and 3, conferred with Norton about it later in the evening. If she was indeed staking out the place, she could well be in the know, but this is further indication of her preparations prior to Holmes’ taking of the case. So, for this to stay valid, St. Monica’s is Catholic, Norton is Catholic as he obtained the liscense, the license was obtained the day before, Adler is stalking Holmes, and the wedding is timed precisely for the detective to see it.
Of course, with that license, there is really no need to get married in a church at all, but they still rush to do it as though it were a necessity. If Adler and Norton had the license, they could have done the deed much more quietly at the registrar’s office. familysearch.org also relates having found many a record of clerks standing in for witnesses – enough to warn users that “Clerk” may not be a last name, hello – so presumably at the registrar’s office the wedding of Irene and Godfrey would not be of want of witnesses. No, having the marriage take place in a church denotes a degree of sentimentality, a desire for tradition, and perhaps publicity. And it’s a last minute rush of sentiment at that. As a lawyer, Norton ought to know that the fine print just allows him to take his bride to be to the registrar’s when he picks up the license and to do the deed there, so we must infer that the sentiment is surely not of his doing, or that it overwhelms his knowledge of law, as we see it do later (keep reading). This is far fetched, so it must be sentiment on the part of Irene. This does not seem characteristic of a woman who is described like steel, but it does seem characteristic of how men viewed women in the Victorian era. I posit that it is therefore no sentiment on the part of Irene either, but further indication that the wedding is entirely staged.
But now we come to the wedding itself. There is a big to-do over the necessity of a witness in the marriage: “It seems that there had been some informality about their license, that the clergyman absolutely refused to marry them without a witness of some sort” and Holmes is just the convenient man they need. Truth be told, the only mention of legally requiring witnesses is for a marriage bond, which pledges a fine should there be proven an issue that should prevent the couple in question from getting married. The custom for this, however, was to have two witnesses, and that is the legal ruling for marriages today. At some point it becomes formal law, but I could not dig up when precisely this occurs. In either case, the need for witnesses would have already occurred in the Registrar’s office when the license or bond – the permission to wed – was obtained – and even if it did require a witness at the altar, or the clergyman was really that stubborn,it would have required two. Holmes alone would not suffice!
It could be argued that the clergyman was settling on Holmes, barring two witnesses, but the need for witnesses is such common convention even before it was legally required, that again, it is surprising for a lawyer or a bride or a clergyman to forget it in the list of “Things We Need to Make a Wedding Happen.” Must they all be overwhelmed by sentiment to not have two brain cells to rub together? There is something fishy going on here for sure.
Next at the wedding there is the pressing urgency of time. Norton shouts at Holmes to get him to participate saying, “Come, man, come, only three minutes, or it won’t be legal!” This implies that there is a certain time limit on the hours at which to get married during a day, which is entirely true, though I get the feeling that not everyone can remember when they are (namely Sherlock). This custom persists today as marriages and civil partnerships can only be registered between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM (though there’s a push to amend this; see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18662920) It’s not just when it’s registered, it’s when it actually happens. We would assume, therefore, that Irene and Godfrey’s wedding takes place within minutes of 6:00 PM, but this is not the case! After the wedding, Irene gave a parting word that Holmes could hear: ‘I shall drive out in the park at five as usual,’ she said as she left him. I heard no more.”This clues us in that the actual time of day is prior to 5:00 PM, with enough time for her to get home again and go back out, so presumably much earlier. Judging from Holmes’ limited actions outside Irene’s house, we can safely say that the wedding is not in the late afternoon whatsoever. Thus, the rush in the church is utterly and entirely false. And if the rush is false, then it serves to discredit the legitimacy of the marriage and support the machinations of Irene Adler.
To sum: there are ways in which the marriage could be valid, but they must assume that the church – and Norton as he got the license – are not of the dominant Anglican religion, that the registrar was open on a Saturday, and that only one witness would be termed legal if so required. To get around the first is impossible, it must be accepted though it is never mentioned either way, but the latter two of these is only possible if we concede to Irene’s long stakeout of Holmes and foreknowledge just a day or two prior to set the wedding in motion. If we still insist on the wedding being valid, we have the false pretense of a rushed timeframe looking us square in the face to remind us that whether or not the marriage is legit, at minimum it is being contrived to a certain degree to manipulate Sherlock Holmes.
When we accept this, it raises the entire affair back into question, and there is enough in terms of historical expectations, the likelihood of religion, legality, and sheer timing to make the entire affair more likely to be completely false than thinly true. Holding the marriage as valid simply requires too many exceptions that are not a part of the story. The simpler, logical explanation is that the wedding between Irene Adler and Godfrey Norton is entirely false, a display put on to lead on Sherlock Holmes in “the most preposterous position in which I ever found myself in my life.”
I don’t think that happened by chance. Do you?