Compiled by Prof. Prabhat Kumar.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
FULL TITLE • The Hound of the Baskervilles
AUTHOR • Arthur Conan Doyle
TYPE OF WORK • Novel
GENRE • Mystery
LANGUAGE • English
TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN • Returning from the Boer War in South Africa, Doyle wrote and published Hound of the Baskervilles in England in 1901.
DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION • 1901, serialized in The Strand; 1902, published by Newnes
PUBLISHER • George Newnes, Ltd.
NARRATOR • Dr. Watson
CLIMAX • Holmes' secret plan comes to fruition when a guileless Sir Henry heads home across the moor, only to be attacked by the hound. Hindered by a thick fog and sheer fright, Holmes and Watson nonetheless shoot the beast and solve the mystery.
PROTAGONIST • Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes
ANTAGONIST • Jack Stapleton
SETTING (TIME) • 1889. Holmes notes that the date 1884, engraved on Dr. Mortimer's walking stick, is five years old.
SETTING (PLACE) • The novel starts and ends in London, in Holmes' office at 221b Baker Street. Most of the rest of the novel takes place in Devonshire, at the imposing Baskerville Hall, the lonely moorlands, and the rundown Merripit House where Stapleton lives.
POINT OF VIEW • The mystery is told entirely from Watson's point of view, although the author regularly switches from straight narrative to diary to letters home.
FALLING ACTION • Holmes explains the intricacies of the case; Sir Henry and Mortimer head off on vacation to heal Henry's nerves
TENSE • Modulates from past (as in Watson's narration of London events) to recent past (as in Watson's diary and letters)
FORESHADOWING • The deaths of some wild horses prefigure Stapleton's own death by drowning in the Grimpen mire. There is a sense in which all the clues serve as foreshadowing for later discoveries.
TONE • At different times, the novel's tone is earnest, reverent (of Holmes), uncertain, and ominous.
THEMES • Good and evil; natural and supernatural; truth and fantasy; classism, hierarchy, and entitlement
MOTIFS • Superstition and folk tales; disguised identities; the red herring
SYMBOLS • The moor (the mire); the hound
Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh on May 22, 1859, the third of ten children. Early on, he evinced a talent for storytelling, wowing teachers and friends in Jesuit school with his yarns. His first publication came in 1879 with "The Mystery of Sasassa Valley" in the Chambers's Journal.
At the same time, Doyle pursued a career in medicine at Edinburgh University, going on to become a surgeon of some renown at Southsea, Portsmouth. While a medical student, he worked with Dr. Bell, who was exceptionally observant. Doyle thought he would write stories, said Doyle, "in which the hero would treat crime as Dr Bell treated disease and where science would take the place of chance."
In a series of stories—starting with A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four—Doyle produced the memorable character, Sherlock Holmes, a detective who relied on facts and
Compiled by Prof. Prabhat Kumar.
evidence rather than chance. In 1891, six "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" showed up in Strand magazine, with six more appearing the next year. By 1893, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, as the collected stories were now called, was a huge hit. The public mourned Holmes' death in "The Final Problem." Doyle changed his decision to pursue more serious literary endeavors in 1901, when finances and public pressure yielded The Hound of the Baskervilles. The same year that The Hound of the Baskervilles was published, Doyle produced a piece of propaganda on the Boer War, and the author was knighted for his efforts.
Doyle continued putting out Sherlock Holmes stories, including the collected Return of Sherlock Holmes. Later in life, when his son was killed in the first World War, Doyle devoted himself to his chosen faith, spiritualism. The notion of life after death and the idea of psychic abilities inform the character of Doyle's famous detective. Sherlock Holmes is a man who can see beyond appearances and link ostensibly unrelated facts into a coherent whole.
The Sherlock Holmes stories also owe a debt to Edgar Allan Poe, who is often credited with having created the modern detective tale. The Gold Bug (1843), The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), The Mystery of Marie Rogêt (1842–1843), and The Purloined Letter (1844) are all, in a sense, precursors to Conan Doyle's detective stories.
The Hound of the Baskervilles opens with a mini mystery—Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson speculate on the identity of the owner of a cane that has been left in their office by an unknown visitor. Wowing Watson with his fabulous powers of observation, Holmes predicts the appearance of James Mortimer, owner of the found object and a convenient entrée into the baffling curse of the Baskervilles.
Entering the office and unveiling an 18th century manuscript, Mortimer recounts the myth of the lecherous Hugo Baskerville. Hugo captured and imprisoned a young country lass at his estate in Devonshire, only to fall victim to a marauding hound of hell as he pursued her along the lonesome moors late one night. Ever since, Mortimer reports, the Baskerville line has been plagued by a mysterious and supernatural black hound. The recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville has rekindled suspicions and fears. The next of kin, the duo finds out, has arrived in London to take up his post at Baskerville Hall, but he has already been intimidated by an anonymous note of warning and, strangely enough, the theft of a shoe.
Agreeing to take the case, Holmes and Watson quickly discover that Sir Henry Baskerville is being trailed in London by a mysterious bearded stranger, and they speculate as to whether the ghost be friend or foe. Holmes, however, announces that he is too busy in London to accompany Mortimer and Sir Henry to Devonshire to get to the bottom of the case, and he sends Dr. Watson to be his eyes and ears, insisting that he report back regularly.
Once in Devonshire, Watson discovers a state of emergency, with armed guards on the watch for an escaped convict roaming the moors. He meets potential suspects in Mr. Barrymore and Mrs. Barrymore, the domestic help, and Mr. Jack Stapleton and his sister Beryl, Baskerville neighbors.
A series of mysteries arrive in rapid succession: Barrymore is caught skulking around the mansion at night; Watson spies a lonely figure keeping watch over the moors; and the doctor hears what sounds like a dog's howling. Beryl Stapleton provides an enigmatic warning and Watson learns of a secret encounter between Sir Charles and a local woman named Laura Lyons on the night of his death.
Doing his best to unravel these threads of the mystery, Watson discovers that Barrymore's nightly jaunts are just his attempt to aid the escaped con, who turns out to be Mrs. Barrymore's brother. The doctor interviews Laura Lyons to assess her involvement, and discovers that the lonely figure surveying the moors is none other than Sherlock Holmes himself. It takes Holmes—hidden so as not to tip off the villain as to his involvement—to piece together the mystery.
Mr. Stapleton, Holmes has discovered, is actually in line to inherit the Baskerville fortune, and as such is the prime suspect. Laura Lyons was only a pawn in Stapleton's game, a Baskerville beneficiary whom Stapleton convinced to request and then miss a late night appointment with Sir Charles. Having lured Charles onto the moors, Stapleton released his ferocious pet pooch, which frightened the superstitious nobleman and caused a heart attack.
In a dramatic final scene, Holmes and Watson use the younger Baskerville as bait to catch Stapleton red-handed. After a late supper at the Stapletons', Sir Henry heads home across the moors, only to be waylaid by the enormous Stapleton pet. Despite a dense fog, Holmes and Watson are able to subdue the beast, and Stapleton, in his panicked flight from the scene, drowns in a marshland on the moors. Beryl Stapleton, who turns out to be Jack's harried wife and not his sister, is discovered tied up in his house, having refused to participate in his dastardly scheme.
Back in London, Holmes ties up the loose ends, announcing that the stolen shoe was used to give the hound Henry's scent, and that mysterious warning note came from Beryl Stapleton, whose philandering husband had denied their marriage so as to seduce and use Laura Lyons. Watson files the case closed.
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Natural and supernatural; truth and fantasy
As soon as Dr. Mortimer arrives to unveil the mysterious curse of the Baskervilles, Hound wrestles with questions of natural and supernatural occurrences. The doctor himself decides that the marauding hound in question is a supernatural beast, and all he wants to ask Sherlock Holmes is what to do with the next of kin.
From Holmes' point of view, every set of clues points toward a logical, real- world solution. Considering the supernatural explanation, Holmes decides to consider all other options before falling back on that one. Sherlock Holmes personifies the intellectual's faith in logic, and on examining facts to find the answers.
In this sense, the story takes on the Gothic tradition, a brand of storytelling that highlights the bizarre and unexplained. Doyles' mysterious hound, an ancient family curse, even the ominous Baskerville Hall all set up a Gothic- style mystery that, in the end, will fall victim to Holmes' powerful logic.
Doyle's own faith in spiritualism, a doctrine of life after death and psychic powers, might at first seem to contradict a Sherlockian belief in logical solutions and real world answers. Holmes is probably based more on Doyle's scientific training than his belief system. But the struggle for understanding, the search for a coherent conception of the world we live in, links the spiritualist Doyle with his fictional counterpart. Throughout the novel, Holmes is able to come up with far-flung if ultimately true accounts of the world around him, much as his author strove for understanding in fiction and in fact.
Classism and hierarchy
Hound's focus on the natural and supernatural spills over into other thematic territory—the rigid classism of Doyle's milieu. Well-to-do intellectual that he was, Doyle translated many of the assumptions of turn-of- the-century English society into his fiction. The natural and supernatural is one example.
Throughout the story, the superstitions of the shapeless mass of common folk- everyone attributes an unbending faith in the curse to the commoners-are denigrated and, often, dismissed. If Mortimer and Sir Henry have their doubts, it is the gullible common folk who take the curse seriously. In the end, when Watson's reportage and Holmes' insight have shed light on the situation, the curse and the commoners who believed it end up looking silly.
At the same time, Sir Henry's servants evince a kind of docility, and their brother the convict is reduced from dangerous murderer to pathetic rodent under Watson's gaze. Hound's
classism is also enmeshed in questions of entitlement: who has the right to Baskerville Hall, to Holmes' attention, to our attention.
Superstition and folk tales
The story opens with the folk tale of the Baskerville curse, presented on eighteenth century parchment. The reproduction of the curse, both in the novel and in Mortimer's reading, serves to start the story off with a bang-a shadowy folk tale, nothing if not mysterious. At the same time, it offers a nice contrast to Watson's straight-forward reporting, a style insisted upon by the master and one which will ultimately dispel any foolish belief in curses and hounds of hell.
A classic of the mystery/detective genre, the red herring throws us off the right trail. Much like the folk tale, it offers a too-easy answer to the question at hand, tempting us to take the bait and making fools of us if we do. In Hound, the largest red herring is the convict. After all, who better to pin a murder on than a convicted murderer. Barrymore's late-night mischief turns out to be innocent, and the convicted murderer turns out to not be involved in the mysterious deaths.
Sherlock Holmes - The novel's protagonist. Holmes is the famed 221b Baker Street detective with a keen eye, hawked nose, and the trademark hat and pipe. Holmes is observation and intuition personified, and though he takes a bit of a back seat to Watson in this story, we always feel his presence. It takes his legendary powers to decipher the mystifying threads of the case.
Dr. Watson - The novel's other protagonist and narrator. Dr. Watson is the stout sidekick to Holmes and longtime chronicler of the detective's adventures. In Hound, Watson tries his hand at Holmes' game, expressing his eagerness to please and impress the master by solving such a baffling case. As sidekick and apprentice to Holmes, Watson acts as a foil for Holmes' genius and as a stand-in for us, the awestruck audience.
Sir Henry Baskerville - The late Sir Charles's nephew and closet living relative. Sir Henry is hale and hearty, described as "a small, alert, dark-eyed man about thirty years of age, very sturdily built." By the end of the story, Henry is as worn out and shell-shocked as his late uncle was before his death.
Sir Charles Baskerville - The head of the Baskerville estate. Sir Charles was a superstitious man, and terrified of the Baskerville curse and his waning health at the time of his death. Sir Charles was also a well-known philanthropist, and his plans to invest in the regions surrounding his estate make it essential that Sir Henry move to Baskerville Hall to continue his uncle's good works.
Sir Hugo Baskerville - A debaucherous and shadowy Baskerville ancestor, Sir Hugo is the picture of aristocratic excess, drinking and pursuing pleasures of the flesh until it killed him.
Mortimer - Family friend and doctor to the Baskervilles. Mortimer is a tall, thin man who dresses sloppily but is an all-around nice guy and the executor of Charles's estate. Mortimer is also a phrenology enthusiast, and he wishes and hopes to some day have the opportunity to study Holmes' head.
Mr. Jack Stapleton - A thin and bookish-looking entomologist and one-time schoolmaster, Stapleton chases butterflies and reveals his short temper only at key moments.
A calm façade masks the scheming, manipulative villain that Holmes and Watson come to respect and fear.
Miss Stapleton - Allegedly Stapleton's sister, this dusky Latin beauty turns out to be his wife. Eager to prevent another death but terrified of her husband, she provides enigmatic warnings to Sir Henry and Watson.
Mr. John Barrymore and Mrs. Eliza Barrymore - The longtime domestic help of the Baskerville clan. Earnest and eager to please, the portly Mrs. Barrymore and her gaunt husband figure as a kind of red herring for the detectives, in league with their convict brother but ultimately no more suspicious than Sir Henry.
Laura Lyons - A local young woman. Laura Lyons is the beautiful brunette daughter of "Frankland the crank," the local litigator who disowned her when she married against his will. Subsequently abandoned by her husband, the credulous Laura turns to Mr. Stapleton and Charles for help.
The convict - A murderous villain, whose crimes defy description. The convict is nonetheless humanized by his association with the Barrymores. He has a rodent-like, haggardly appearance. His only wish is to flee his persecutors in Devonshire and escape to South America.
Mr. Frankland - Laura's father. Frankland is a man who likes to sue, a sort of comic relief with a chip on his shoulder about every infringement on what he sees as his rights. Villainized due to his one-time harsh treatment of Laura, Frankland is for the most part a laughable jester in the context of this story.
Analysis of Major Characters
Sherlock Holmes is the ever-observant, world-renowned detective of 221b Baker Street. For all his assumed genius and intuition he is virtually omniscient in these stories, and Holmes becomes more accessible in the context of his constant posturing and pretension.
Holmes lets down his guard and admits of a fragile ego. When challenged at the beginning of the book—Mortimer calls him the second best crime solver in Europe and Holmes lets down his guard and asks who could possibly be the first. By and large, however, Holmes' ego is kept in check by a constant dose of adulation from Watson. Holmes regularly announces some absurd and unsubstantiated conclusion only to mock Watson by revealing the most obvious of clues. In the end, Holmes toys with his associates (and particularly Watson) at least as much as he flouts his enemies, equivocating, misleading, and making fools out of them only to up his own crime-solving cachet.
The good doctor plays the sidekick to Holmes' self-obsessed hero figure. Watson is a lowly apprentice and live-in friend, who spends most of the book trying to solve a difficult case in his master's stead. Always on hand to stroke Holmes' ego, Watson is nonetheless intent on proving his own mettle by applying Holmes' techniques.
Watson's never-ending adulation, which is presumably meant to mirror our own understanding of the legendary detective, comes through most forcefully at the end of the novel, when Holmes arrives at Devonshire. Holmes announces that he meant for Watson to think he was in London, and a pouty Watson reacts: "Then you use me, and yet you do not trust me!" Codependent throughout, Holmes and Watson fill each other's needs. Watson provides Holmes with an ego boost, and Holmes needs Watson's eyes and ears to inconspicuously gather clues. Watson is awestruck by Holmes' power of observation, and Watson feels more powerful by association.
Mr. Jack Stapleton
Intended to incarnate ill will and malice, Stapleton is conflated at various points with the lecherous libertine Hugo, whom he resembles. Stapleton is a black-hearted, violent villain hidden beneath a benign, bookish surface.
If Hugo operates as a kind of Doppelganger for his entomologist heir, then the convict offers an interesting parallel as well. Serving mainly as a red herring in the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville, the convict also operates as a foil for the real culprit, Stapleton. Personifying "peculiar ferocity," "wonton brutality," and even dubious sanity, the convict is shown to be a pathetic, animalistic figure on whom the detectives ultimately take pity. Not so with Stapleton, a man with a "murderous heart," and a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Stapleton is a worthy adversary because of his birthright. If the convict is a simple murderer, he is also simply born, related by blood to the Baskerville's domestic help. Thus, the convict is part of a lower class than Holmes, and therefore is not a worthy adversary. Stapleton, however, is an intellectual, and when his evil side comes out, his hidden nobility comes out as well. Once Holmes is handling an educated and noble rival, he begins to take things much more seriously. In this sense, Stapleton's character adds to the strong classist themes imbedded in this book.