Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Doyle’s works provide a touchstone for the reader seeking a guide to the formula for good detective fiction. Many classic elements of style and technique are used with great success in the Holmes stories.
Characteristic of this story and of other Holmes adventures is the use of the first-person narrator who is not the detective. Watson, less observant than Holmes, presents the clues for the reader’s benefit; part of the thrill of reading is in solving the crime, using information provided by Watson without benefit of the doctor’s analysis. The first-person narrator also allows Doyle to mask information from the reader because Watson is limited in knowing what Holmes discovers when he is away, or of knowing what Holmes is thinking.
This tale also contains another familiar device of the detective story: the presence of “red herrings,” false clues drawn across the trail to distract the unwary reader from evidence that is germane to solving the crime. The baboon, cheetah, and band of Gypsies are all false clues. In this story, though, the false clues serve a dual purpose: They also throw Holmes off the trail momentarily, adding to the suspense and, ultimately, to the realism of the adventure.
Extensive dialogue is the primary method for presenting background information and for revealing the detective’s method of operation, providing readers with details essential to solving the crime and explaining how evidence should be...
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"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" exemplifies Conan Doyle's formula for the Sherlock Holmes stories. Miss Stoner tells her tale to Holmes and Watson; Holmes questions her; he and Watson examine the scene of the crime and he devises a plan of action; the murderer is caught in the act; and Holmes explains how he deduced the solution to the mystery. More than in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the pleasure in the short story stems from following Holmes from clue to clue. Conan Doyle is scrupulously fair in presenting most of the details that Watson observes while he records Holmes's activities. Holmes sees more than Watson, but the basic clues are before the reader prior to the revelation of the mystery's solution. Readers may try to outthink Holmes, and Holmes's explanation may evoke the pleasure of recognition as he sorts out the clues. In addition, the story is a good adventure, populated by gypsies, exotic wild animals roaming freely, and a monstrous villain, with most of the action taking place in a dark old house.
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Ideas for Group Discussions
The Sherlock Holmes stories continue to be among the most widely read fiction of our time. Fans of the Holmes stories are among the most devoted followers ever for a literary figure. Their clubs seem to be everywhere, they publish newsletters, and they even hold conventions. It may be asking too much of one story to reveal the fundamental reasons for creating legions of fanatical followers, but "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" is highly suggestive. It presents a threatening, mysterious world that is brought to rights by a determined, logical investigator. One of the enduring myths of the modern age is that science can answer all questions; "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" and the other Holmes stories offer readers vicarious satisfaction of that myth. Our world really is dark and mysterious for most of us; injustice seems to run loose without fear; yet, Holmes shows how a scientific and disciplined mind can illuminate the darkness and drive away injustice. A discussion might well begin with the issue of justice through courageous application of a rational mind and then work its way deeper in the world in which Holmes operates.
Another, somewhat lighter, approach to generating a discussion might begin with Conan Doyle's insistence throughout his career that the Holmes stories were insignificant entertainments. Why would he say so? Did he accidentally make a series of stories that have a universal appeal, transcending eras and national boundaries?...
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"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" focuses on the helplessness of children and women in a society that gives all legal power to adult males. The Stoner twins' inherited fortunes are controlled by their cruel stepfather, Dr. Grimesby Roylott, and the twins may secure their inheritances for themselves only by marrying. When the marriage of one is soon to occur, she dies horribly, crying to her sister, "Oh, my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!" Two years later, Helen is to be married; she is frightened for her life and asks Sherlock Holmes to help her. This reads like a fairy tale, with Holmes as the gallant knight answering the call of a maiden in distress, but at bottom it is a tale of a powerless woman.
The short story also presents a social theme similar to that in The Hound of the Baskerville (1901). In the novel, the compassionate Sir Charles Baskerville brings order and prosperity to his community by assuming his proper role as baronet of Baskerville Hall. An outsider, Stapleton, creates disorder by trying to acquire the position belonging to Sir Charles — a position to which Stapleton has no right. In "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," Grimesby Roylott assumes his rightful role in the manor house at Stoke Moran but dashes the hopes of the local citizens by ignoring his duties as community leader. He is cruel and brutal, leaving bruises on Helen and terrifying his neighbors. A destructive man, he surrounds himself with disorder...
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Conan Doyle was well read in the field of mysteries and drew on many sources for his own well-wrought stories. The most important precedents for the Holmes adventures were the tales i of "ratiocination" of Edgar Allan Poe and the novels of Wilkie Collins. Poe's tales feature the great detective Auguste Dupin, a Frenchman who uses his intellect to solve bewildering crimes. As in the Holmes stories, someone brings Dupin a mystery; then Dupin sifts through the clues and devises a plan to unmask the villain. Conan Doyle's stories follow this pattern, even making Holmes analytical and arrogant like Dupin.
In his two best novels, The Woman in White (1859) and The Moonstone (1868), Collins tells the stories through the letters and diaries of the characters. This technique creates a tone of immediacy, as if the reader were seeing the narrative unfold moment by moment. In addition, the mystery is enhanced because the reader can know no more than the characters. Yet, all the clues are presented: The reader may sift through them and try to be a step ahead of the characters. In the Holmes adventures, Watson provides a firsthand account of events, almost as if he were writing a diary. In addition, Collins mixed the Gothic atmosphere of the supernatural into his fiction, thus making everyday scenes and events seem full of suspense and threatening doom. "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" also uses this technique, making even quiet evenings in the country seem ominous...
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Although The Hound of the Baskervilles is the most popular of the Holmes adventures, the series consists primarily of short stories, with only four novels. The short stories are consistently entertaining and each Holmes enthusiast has his own favorite. The one that is most often included in anthologies and textbooks is "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," because it was Conan Doyle's favorite Holmes story, and teachers think it is a good example of Conan Doyle's style and skill in plotting. Nearly every story is told in the first person by Watson (a few of the later ones are in the third person), and Watson tends to take an active role in helping Holmes. In most of the stories, the plot is set in motion much as it is in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," with a potential client bringing an unusual mystery to Holmes, although Holmes sometimes stumbles on to a mystery, and his restless spirit sometimes presses him to seek out an interesting mystery. Throughout the stories, Holmes is a dedicated rationalist who refuses to accept supernatural explanations for events; he is also rude, remains reclusive, and while protective of women, remains somewhat bemused by them. On the other hand, he matures as the stories progress. At first addicted to cocaine, with the help of Watson he eventually rids himself of the drug. In one of the first stories, "A Scandal in Bohemia" (1891) Holmes falls in love with his adversary Irene Adler, who outwits him, and he seems to remain...
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