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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What is the rising action in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band"?

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The rising action of a story is the part that comes just after the introduction/exposition and which builds to the climax. In this story, the exposition is contained in Helen Stoner’s narrative which relates the grim events surrounding her sister’s death and the background to the case. The rising action begins just after this, when Helen’s stepfather, the fearsome Dr Roylott unexpectedly appears in Holmes’ room, having tracked Helen there. When Roylott confronts Holmes he instigates the showdown between them. Although we have already gained a lurid impression of Roylott from Helen’s narrative, this sudden fierce appearance by him in person establishes him beyond all doubt as a villain.

It is just after this that Holmes, upon making inquiries, discovers a motive linking Roylott to the murder of Julia: he wants her money. The pace quickens as Holmes and Watson then set out to look over the house where Julia died, and where Holmes’s suspicions about Roylott are confirmed, as he notes the unusual set-up of Julia’s bedroom which effectively functions as a trap. Therefore Holmes and Watson decide to sit up in her room that night, secretly, to see what Roylott will do next. This is the end of the rising action. It is followed by the climax where Roylott is killed by his own deadly pet snake, which he used to kill Julia as she slept.

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What is interesting about many of the stories of Sherlock Holmes is the way in which he spends a very long time interrogating the person who has come to see him at the beginning of the story before any action takes place. In a sense, then, the rising action of this short story occurs after Holmes has spoken to Helen Stoner, and includes a number of events. Firstly, the sudden appearance of Dr. Grimesby Roylott after the exit of Helen Stoner clearly signifies the beginning of the rising action. Note the way he is described:

So tall was he that his hat actually brushed the cross bar of the doorway, and his breadth seemed ot span it across from side to side. A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and marked with every evil passion, was turned from one to teh other of us, while his deep-set, bile-shot eyes, and his high, thin, fleshless nose, gave him somewhat the resemblance to a fierce old bird of prey.

Clearly this is key in setting up the conflict between Holmes and Roylott, and then leads on to the visit that Holmes makes to Stoke Moran and his investigation of the rooms, and then his plan to swap rooms with Helen Stoner for that night. This of course leads to the climax of Roylott's attempt to kill Helen (as he thinks), and the way that Holmes sends the snake back to kill its master.

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