illustration of Sherlock Holmes in profile looking across a cityscape with a magnifying glass in the distance and a speckled band visible through the glass

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Define alliteration and its role in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band."

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Authors use alliteration (the repetition of initial word sounds) for literary interest and emphasis, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is no exception in his story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” Let's look at some examples of alliteration in this famous Sherlock Holmes story.

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Sherlock Holmes is sitting at Watson's bedside, fully clothed and ready to start another case. Watson is surprised because Holmes “was a later riser, as a rule.” It is “only a quarter-past seven,” and Watson blinks in “some surprise” and a “little resentment” because he is “regular” in his habits and doesn't care to get up so early. Notice the repetition of ther and s sounds in these lines, which adds literary creativity to this commonplace scene.

Doyle plays with alliteration a bit in Holmes's response to Watson's desire to know what is wrong. A client has arrived, and she is “in a considerable state of excitement” and “insists upon seeing” Holmes. There is an alliteration of the s sound again here, which actually expands through the use of s in several other words even though it is not in the initial position.

The client's “features and figure” are of a lady about thirty years old, but she is clearly terrified by something, and it is making her hair gray. Holmes tells her that she “must not fear,” “bending forward and patting her forearm” as he speaks. We can see the f alliteration strongly here.

You can find other examples throughout the story, including “major of marines,” “pray be precise,” “slowly sank,” “west wing,” “good ground,” “decided draught,” and “lovely Surrey lanes.” These are all subtle occasions of alliteration, yet they are enough to provide a touch of linguistic interest and elegance to the story.

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