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Free Online Study Guide for The Hound of the Baskervilles

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THEMES


Solving a murder and preventing another is the major theme, which can then be expanded into the themes of crime, protection, and detection. In the novel, crime is executed by evil (or, as it is believed, supernatural) forces, especially in the form of Stapleton. Driven by a desire for money and power, he is willing to dehumanize those around him to the same state as his specimens. Selden is another, smaller example of crime. He has committed murder as well but for various reasons he does not seem as bad, thus alluding that there are different layers of crime.

Holmes’s main role in the story is protect good from evil; that is why he has been hired in the first place, to ensure Sir Henry’s safety from the Baskerville curse. He is also concerned with Watson, inquiring several times to make sure that his revolver is close at hand. One of the most dramatic moments for the theme of protection comes when Watson and Holmes hear the hound pursuing Selden and then, seeing the distorted body, mistake it for Sir Henry. Holmes is understandably distraught at the thought of his client dead, knowing that with that the case will be considered a failure even if they catch Stapleton.

By Holmes’s occupation and the nature of the book, it is clear that detection will be an important theme. It also includes the juxtaposition and overlapping of crime and science, and, to a lesser degree, family lines. The former can be seen primarily in the characters of Holmes, a detective who must be aware of the world as much as any scientist, and Stapleton, a naturalist who committed murder. Family lines play a role because it is the realization of the connection between Stapleton and Sir Henry through bloodlines that provides the last of the information needed to figure out the case (motive).


MOOD


The phrase “gloom and doom” can be aptly applied to the mood of the novel. The Hall seems a depressing place from the start and the moor in general offers little to combat those feelings with the marshy land, rain, and fog. There is also the threat of the hound, whose occasional cries and sightings instill an unnerving fear in those around.


In the beginning of the book, there is also a sense that Holmes might not be able to solve the case. When his attempts at getting further information are foiled and he himself admits that it is a worthy opponent, the mystery seems overwhelming. However, as Holmes gets a stronger and stronger hold on the case, the main state of emotion is that of hurriedness, the need to solve the case before Stapleton acts again.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - BIOGRAPHY


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle on May 22, 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Though Conan was originally a middle name, he later began using it as part of his last name. He was educated at Stonyhurst, a Jesuit preparatory school, but he soon afterwards became an agnostic. He then attended Edinburgh University, studying medicine, and it was there that he met the man he would base the Sherlock Holmes character on-a professor named Joseph Bell.

His medicine work took him to the West African coast as a ship’s doctor, before returning to set up a practice. He spent his time waiting for patients in writing stories. His first major work was A Study in Scarlet (1887), which included his character Sherlock Holmes. Then, while he was working as an oculist (an eye doctor), he killed off the character in “The Final Problem” (1893), in order to have more time to work on his other writings, including historical novels. The death did not last though, thanks to public protesting that included cancellations of subscriptions to The Strand (a magazine that carried many of the stories) and mourning garments.

In 1901, The Hound of the Baskervilles ran in The Strand as a serial, but it preceded the detective’s supposed death. The Adventure of the Empty House covered his reappearance. There were several other stories covering landmark events in Holmes’s career: The ‘Gloria Scott, in which he solves his first mystery; The Sign of Four, which discusses his drug problem; and The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, where he commits a felony. Altogether, Holmes appears in 56 short stories and four novels by Doyle, a good number of which do not deal with murder, and several which do not even involve a crime.

Conan Doyle received his knighthood in 1902 after writing a pamphlet defending British conduct in the Boer War, in which he himself been a volunteer physician. He furthered his political activism by running twice for Parliament (though he never won election), and his involvement in reform in the Congo. He also investigated two cases, helping to get both men released, and contributed to the establishment of the Court of Criminal Appeal.

In his personal life, Conan Doyle believed in Spiritualism and mediums, which lead to a major dispute with his friend at the time, Harry Houdini, who argued that it was a matter of trickery. Conan Doyle had two wives, remarrying after his first wife died, and five children. He died on July 7, 1930, and is buried in Hampshire, England.


LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION


The major historical force behind Conan Doyle’s beliefs and the novel is the Spiritualism movement. Throughout the case, everyone, except for Holmes, comes to think, at least for some time, that the hound is supernatural. The closest Holmes himself comes is when he says at the start of the case that while he has previously dealt with evil, taking it on like this, might prove to be more than he can handle. It is not a supernatural force in the end though, interesting since the scientific Conan Doyle (like Dr. Mortimer) believed in Spiritualism.

Several other historical aspects of the novel include the emphasis on lineage, the emphasis on money and power, the contrast between rural and urban life, and the increasingly important role of science. While many of these were not new features of life at the time, the Industrial Revolution had done much to bring them out, especially the feelings of dehumanization associated with the pursuit of money.

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