illustrated outline of a large, ferocious-looking dog with red eyes

The Hound of the Baskervilles

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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What is the setting of The Hound of the Baskervilles?

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The Hound of the Baskervilles is set in the late nineteenth century. The story takes place partly in London but, for the most part, in and around Baskerville Hall, an ancient house on Dartmoor. The bleak, wild setting of the moors does much to create the atmosphere of the book, as does the gloomy grandeur of Baskerville Hall itself. Conan Doyle describes the house as dark and covered in ivy. There are two towers, "ancient, crenelated, and pierced with many loopholes," high chimneys and mullioned windows.

Sir Henry Baskerville observes: “It’s no wonder my uncle felt as if trouble were coming on him in such a place as this ... It’s enough to scare any man." The moors that surround the house are similarly described as dark, brooding and melancholy.

Sherlock Holmes had an unromantic view of the countryside at the best of times. In "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches," when Watson remarks on the beauty of the country through which they are travelling, Holmes replies that it fills him with horror, remarking:

The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the grim setting makes the atmosphere of hidden wickedness explicit long before Holmes uncovers the crime.

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The story is set at the turn of the twentieth century and begins and ends in London where Holmes and Watson normally live. For the most part, though, the narrative takes place in Sir Henry's ancestral home of Baskerville Hall in the bleak, lonely Devonshire moors and close to the grim Grimpen Mire. This time and place is perfect for fostering a sense of the supernatural which is such a powerful element of the story. In this time and place, old superstitious beliefs die hard, and the people who live in this lonely countryside are all too quick to believe in the existence of a fearsome spectral hound. These kind of surroundings are quite different from Holmes and Watson's more usual haunts in the heart of the huge, sprawling metropolis and centre of the modern world, London. This contrast lends a greater piquancy to the story. Watson admits he has to struggle not to give way to supernatural fears in this kind of unfamiliar and forbidding environment. 

True, the hound is exposed at the end as being a flesh-and-blood creature rather than a supernatural entity, but the supernatural aura of the story is not entirely dispelled, for all that. It is worth remembering that Doyle did write the story based on an actual legend of a hell-hound in those parts. He certainly succeeded in creating a darkly rich and atmospheric setting for his story which more than anything has helped make this the most memorable of the Sherlock Holmes novels. 

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Setting= the time AND place in which a story takes place. The place in The Hound of the Baskervilles is the English countryside (the moors) and the time is the 19th century (1800's)

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