Four Common Misconceptions about Irene Adler:
1) Sexuality was never a huge part of her character
This is demonstrably untrue. In the original story of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Irene Adler was a retired opera singer who, some years previously, had an affair with the future King of Bohemia, Sherlock Holmes’ client, seducing him even though they were of far different societal stations. The client describes her as an “adventuress,” which, in Victorian England, was basically a nice way of saying “gold digger.” While she is described as “liv[ing] quietly” now in London, she was likely involved in a few scandals in her youth.
Additionally, whenever she’s described, her looks are never omitted. She’s beautiful, which is part of what makes her so dangerous. After investigating her living arrangements, Sherlock Holmes says to Watson, “Oh, she has turned all the men’s heads down in that part. She is the daintiest thing under a bonnet on this planet.” Watson himself describes her as “superb” and “beautiful” and for this reason feels somewhat guilty about helping Sherlock to essentially commit preventative burglary. This is a woman who is well aware of her own natural graces and the effects that they have on others.
As an aside, there’s nothing wrong with a sex-positive character who knows how to use natural gifts to her advantage in a society where female social mobility was nearly nonexistent. Nothing about her is cheapened. In fact, in this respect, she provides a very interesting contrast to Sherlock Holmes himself, who is perhaps the least sexual character in all of literature.
[three more under the cut]