Sherlock Holmes: the gentleman detective
Introducing Sherlock Holmes
The Speckled Band is one of a number of stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur trained as a doctor. To add to the income he earned from medicine, he started to write stories and published his first detective mystery featuring Sherlock Holmes in 1887.
The stories were very popular with the public, and Sherlock Holmes quickly became a well-known and much-loved fictional character, along with his friend and partner Dr Watson. Many other detective stories have subsequently followed this model of a detective who is the hero of the story with a loyal friend always by his side.
The Speckled Band is typical of Sherlock Holmes stories. What does it tell us about the character of Sherlock Holmes?
1. Holmes is clever and logical
All the stories involve a person coming to Holmes with a problem that they want solved. In this story, Helen Stoner thinks that her sister has been murdered and that her own life is now in danger. Holmes's skill is to discover seemingly trivial details and deduce from them the answer to the problem. 'To deduce' means to work out or infer from the available evidence. We call this his 'powers of deduction'.
2. An example of Holmes's powers of deduction
He deduces that Helen has driven in a dog-cart (a sort of open, horse-drawn carriage) to the station and arrived in London by train. He deduces this from the evidence of a ticket in her glove, and seven mud splashes on the left arm of her jacket caused by mud splattering up as she sat on the left-hand side of the driver. He will later deduce something more important : how the murder was committed.
Find other examples of his powers of deduction.
What does he deduce?
What is the evidence for his deduction?
3. Holmes is brave and unflappable
Sherlock Holmes rarely shows emotion. He is always in control of himself. Nothing surprises him. His sentences are carefully formed when he speaks. He controls his language in the same way he controls his emotions. His unflappable nature gives his clients great confidence in him.
His ability to control his emotions also helps him to be brave. He spends a night in the bedroom in the dark not knowing what deadly thing might come out and attack him. He is brave because he has confidence in his own abilities.
Find three examples of when Holmes is brave in other stories.
When have you shown bravery yourself?
4. The importance of Dr Watson
Watson plays little active part in the stories. He does not take the lead and does not come up with the solutions to the mysteries himself. Yet he is an indispensable part of them. Why?
Holmes has to work out a lot of the solutions in his head. He is using the power of thought. The character of Watson enables us to share those thoughts. Holmes shares his thoughts with Watson, and in the process the reader gets to know his thoughts too. Watson is in awe of Holmes and greatly admires him; this builds the heroic stature of Holmes in the eyes of the reader as well.
Look at some examples of conversation between Holmes and Watson. How does Watson help us to see what Holmes is thinking? How is his admiration shown?
These stories were written in the late Victorian era in England. It was a time when the British empire was expanding and the population felt happy and confident with their beloved Queen Victoria on the throne.
Sherlock Holmes epitomises that confidence. He is an English gentleman who can solve any problem and defeat any enemy. He is restrained, intelligent and always in control. No wonder the Victorian reading public liked him : he is just how they wanted a Victorian gentleman to be.