How might you analyze Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Stapleton in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles?
Writing a character analysis on Sherlock Holmes, as well as on his trusted friend and colleague Dr. John Watson, is relatively easy. Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous characters in English literature, the brilliant protagonist in a long series of novels and short stories authored by the fictional detective’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes was allegedly modeled after one or more experts in medical forensics known to Doyle, and the detective’s gift at connecting minor details with broader investigations is his most enduring trait. The name “Sherlock Holmes” is, in fact, synonymous with deductive reasoning. Perhaps no better source on Sherlock Holmes can be found than on the official website dedicated to Doyle, in which the detective is described as follows:
“Holmes has essentially an obsessive personality. He works compulsively on all his cases and his deductive powers are phenomenal. He can get engulfed in periods of depression between cases and is known to take cocaine when he cannot stand the lack of activity. He has an in depth knowledge of music and plays on a Stradivarius that he bought for a song in Tottenham. He is also known to run chemistry experiments in his spare time to the dismay of both Dr. Watson and his landlady Mrs. Hudson. He's not known to have had an intimate or amorous relation with a woman.“
Dr. Watson, as noted, is Holmes’ most trusted confidant and the detective’s partner in investigating criminal cases. Watson also serves, at times, as Holmes’ comic foil, lending a degree of levity to proceedings otherwise demanding strict attention to detail. He shares a home with Holmes, which facilitated their union. Watson is also the narrator of the Sherlock Holmes stories, so the text of Doyle’s novels are replete with the doctor’s observations, both complimentary towards the obviously brilliant detective and critical of Holmes’ main vice: drugs. Holmes, as the above quote suggests, is a user of cocaine. Addict is probably an appropriate label, and Watson’s disdain for his friend and partner’s addiction is clear in the opening passages of the second of the Sherlock Holmes novels, The Sign of the Four:
“Three times a day for many months I had witnessed this performance, but custom had not reconciled my mind to it. On the contrary, from day to day I had become more irritable at the sight, and my conscience swelled nightly within me at the thought that I had lacked the courage to protest.”
As with Holmes, an “official” description of Watson can be found at the official Arthur Conan Doyle website, a link to which is provided below.
Specific, now, to the issue of The Hound of the Baskervilles, this novel once again finds Holmes and Watson, although the latter plays a particularly prominent role while the former lies low, involved in investigating the mysterious deaths of members of the Baskerville family. The titular “hound,” needless to say, is a prime suspect, but whether the deaths were in fact caused by a large dog, or whether the dog was an instrument in an individual or group’s schemes to commit murder, provides the basis of the story. One of the main characters in The Hound of the Baskervilles is Jack Stapleton who, it will turn out [SPOILER ALERT] is the guilty party. Well before his guilt is established by Holmes, however, Stapleton is introduced as an eccentric naturalist and almost certainly harmless. Early in the story, Stapleton is described, with reference to Sir Charles Baskerville, as “a mutual friend who was much concerned at his [Baskerville’s) state of health.” As noted, however, Stapleton’s ruse involves ingratiating himself into the Baskerville family. Indeed, Stapleton’s charade goes so far as to present his wife as his younger sister for the purpose of enhancing the deception. The wife/sister, however, will prove considerably more respectable than her husband.
Any character analysis of Stapleton can easily draw from the many references to this particular character provided throughout the novel. Chapter 7, titled “The Stapletons of Merripit House,” is a useful starting point. Heretofore, references to Stapleton were made largely in passing by Watson in his letters to Holmes. With this chapter, however, the Stapletons become prominent players in the mystery. The following is the passage in this chapter of The Hound of the Baskervilles in which Stapleton is formally introduced both to the visiting Dr. Watson and to the reader:
“‘Here on the moor we are homely folk and do not wait for formal introductions. You may possibly have heard my name from our mutual friend, Mortimer. I am Stapleton, of Merripit House.’
‘Your net and box would have told me as much,’ said I, ‘for I knew that Mr. Stapleton was a naturalist’.”
Stapleton’s façade of the harmless naturalist will, of course, be stripped away as Holmes and Watson close-in on the murderer’s identity. This character’s skill at presenting a thoroughly convincing front behind which exists a dark homicidal figure should constitute the heart of any analysis regarding Stapleton.
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