Places Discussed

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*Baker Street

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*Baker Street. London street at whose imaginary 221B address Holmes and Watson share lodgings. There, visitors are admitted by Mrs. Hudson, the landlady who lives on the ground floor and takes them upstairs to Holmes and Watson’s sitting room. The novel opens with the house being watched during the visit of Dr. Mortimer, a concerned neighbor of Sir Henry Baskerville.

Baskerville Hall

Baskerville Hall. Ancestral Devonshire home of the Baskerville family, located on the edge of Dartmoor, a wild, rugged area in the south of England. Baskerville Hall is fourteen miles from Princetown, which is best known for is proximity to the high-security prison of Dartmoor, from which the convicted murderer Selden escapes. The hall is approached through ornate wrought iron gates at the end of a tree-lined drive that opens out onto an area of turf. The central and original part of the house has two towers that indicate the house’s age, as they are crenellated and have loopholes. The inside of the house also indicates an age going back to Tudor times; it has a large, high-ceilinged central hall raftered with age-blackened oak. The room also has a large fireplace and oak paneling and is illuminated by high windows set with stained glass depicting family coats of arms. A gallery running around the hall is reached by a double stair. The narrow, dimly lit dining room that opens from the hall has a raised dais at one end, where members of the family dine; in earlier times, their dependents would have dined on the lower level. At one end of this room is a minstrels gallery. The walls here are adorned with family portraits, including one that provides Holmes with the clue to the identity of the villain.

Baskerville Hall has been recently expanded and has wings on each side of the original house constructed from granite blocks, with high chimneys and high, angled roofs. The bedrooms in one wing are reached from the gallery off the central hall. The room in which Watson stays overlooks the front lawn and has views of the moor beyond. The other wing is not occupied, except when Barrymore uses an empty room to send secret signals to Selden.

The grounds of Baskerville Hall contain a long yew alley, in which Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead. The thick yew hedges are twelve feet tall and eight feet apart. There is a central gravel path with grass on either side running from the house to a dilapidated summerhouse at the far end. About half way down the alley a four-foot-high, white-painted wicket gate gives access to the moor. It is kept padlocked.

*Dartmoor

*Dartmoor. Wild, sparsely inhabited part of southern England Devonshire region that is dotted with steep rocky peaks and valleys. Sheep and ponies roam freely, and the hillsides are covered with heather, bracken, and gorse. In autumn—the season in which the novel is set—the moors are bleak, and the weather can quickly change, covering the moors with thick fog. The novel describes the hillsides as covered with stones circles, the remains of numerous Neolithic hut circles. The novel’s stone circles are both more numerous and larger than the real Neolithic circles found in that region of England.

Grimpen

Grimpen. Hamlet on the edge of Dartmoor, four miles from Baskerville Hall that contains only two large buildings—a public inn and Dr. Mortimer’s house, which stands on the hillside above the rest. Also close by is Lafter Hall, the home of Mr. Franklin, whose rooftop telescope is instrumental in tracking the comings and goings of people on the moors.

Merripit House

Merripit House. Home of Stapleton and his sister. Located near Grimpen, it is reached along a narrow grass track from the road between Grimpen and Baskerville Hall. It was once a farm and is surrounded by an orchard of old, stunted trees. Outwardly, it appears to be as bleak as its surroundings, but inside it is elegantly furnished. Not far away is Grimpen Mire, a treacherous part of the moor, which looks green, but whose bright patches mask bog holes which can swallow a man. Mr. Stapleton discovers a path running through the moor that leads to Grimpen Mine, where the hound is hidden.

Setting

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The late Victorian setting of The Hound of the Baskervilles is an orderly one. In it, each person has a role to fill, and when every role is suitably filled, society prospers. But the social order is endangered by those bent on its destruction, and the villains come in many disguises.

The opening scenes place Sherlock Holmes in the comfortable surroundings of his home at 22IB Baker Street in London. But quickly the action shifts to the dreary "Grippen Mire," a vast moor or bog-marsh area of England. This bleak and deserted wasteland provides a startling contrast to Holmes's refined London world. Reason seems to break down, and the atmosphere becomes eerie when it appears that a supernatural creature is responsible for the terrifying happenings on the moors. Conan Doyle carefully recreates both the Baskerville family history and the outlying areas around Baskerville Hall. The myth of the hound itself is reproduced through Dr. Mortimer's efforts and acts as necessary background.

As the story progress, the Grimpen Mire comes to symbolize an ominous mire of evil, where, to his horror, Dr. Watson hears the panic-stricken cries of moor ponies, captured by the muck that lurks beneath the deceptive vegetation. One false step means death, both in the moor where what looks like solid ground may suddenly give way and in a society where a seeming friend could be a clever murderer, or even a demon with a frighteningly huge hound at his command. For Holmes, the setting becomes as much of a clue to the nature of the crime as other physical clues. The middle passages of The Hound of the Baskervilles are among the most suspenseful in literature in large part because of the unrelieved atmosphere of doom that surrounds the well-drawn, appealing characters of Watson, Sir Henry, and Holmes.

Literary Techniques

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Most of the techniques in The Hound of the Baskervilles are common to most of the Holmes mysteries. First, a client visits Holmes, and Holmes makes some clever deductions about him. Then the client introduces the problem that Holmes must solve. In this case, a country doctor, James Mortimer, tells Holmes of the strange death of Sir Charles Baskerville. An unusually observant man, Mortimer noted a giant paw print near the body and the cigar ash near the gate — both important clues and enough to arouse Mortimer's suspicions. In a typical case, Holmes would go to the scene of the crime, sift through clues, and decide on a course of action. These steps make for a suspenseful and fast-paced narrative. However, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes sends Dr. Watson to work on the case at Baskerville Hall, while he himself stays in London to work on another case.

This would seem to cut the heart out of the novel because its main character is absent for several chapters. Nonetheless, the device works. Dr. Watson, a levelheaded man, confronts a sinister scheme that seems to have turned the world upside-down. The atmosphere is Gothic, with the supernatural seeming to be the explanation for the terrifying happenings on the moors. The middle passages of The Hound of the Baskervilles are among the most suspenseful in literature in large part because of the relentless atmosphere of doom that surrounds well-drawn and appealing characters such as Watson and Sir Henry.

When Holmes reappears and solves the mystery, there is no sense of being cheated by Conan Doyle for two reasons: First, Holmes reveals that he did not actually deviate from his customary approach to solving a case. He in fact followed Watson and Sir Henry to Devonshire, and he sifted through clues as is his habit. He hid out on the moors because of his respect for the villain, who would undoubtedly be wary and especially cautious if he knew Holmes were nearby. Second, the villain is so clever that identifying him is not enough to stop him. Even after Holmes explains everything to Watson and identifies Stapleton as the murderer, he must out-think Stapleton and catch the villain in the act. The climax is an excellent payoff for the intricate mystery. The tension is extraordinary when the hound attacks: "Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame." A fiend from hell seems loosed upon Sir Henry.

Literary Qualities

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The techniques in The Hound of the Baskervilles are common to most Holmes mysteries. First, a client visits Holmes, and Holmes makes some clever deductions about him. Then the client introduces the problem that Holmes must solve. In this case, a country doctor, James Mortimer, tells Holmes of the strange death of Sir Charles Baskerville. An unusually observant man, Mortimer noted a giant paw print near the body and the cigar ash near the gate, both important clues and enough to arouse Mortimer's suspicions. In a typical case, Holmes would go to the scene of the crime, sift through clues, and decide on a course of action. These steps make for a suspenseful and fast-paced narrative.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, however, Holmes sends Dr. Watson to work on the case at Baskerville Hall, while he announces that he must stay in London to work on another case. This would seem to derail the novel because its main character is absent for several chapters. Nonetheless, the device works. Dr. Watson, a level-headed man, pursues his assignment and begins to uncover a sinister scheme. When Holmes reappears to solve the mystery, there is no sense of the reader being cheated for he has been working behind the scenes all along. Even after Holmes explains everything to Watson and identifies the murderer, he must still out-think the villain and catch him in the act.

Conan Doyle drew on many sources for his own well-wrought detective stories. The most important precedents for the Holmes adventures were Edgar Allan Poe's tales of "ratiocination" and the novels of Wilke Collins. Poe's tales feature the great French detective Auguste Dupin, 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 to the point of making Holmes analytical and arrogant like Dupin.

Collins's influence may especially be seen in The Hound of the Baskervilles. In his two most famous 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 his characters. Yet, all the clues needed to solve the mystery are presented; the reader may sift through them and try to be a step ahead of the characters.

Three chapters of The Hound of the Baskervilles are told through Watson's diaries and letters to Holmes, creating an effect similar to that in Collins's novels. In addition, Collins added the gothic atmosphere of the supernatural to his fiction, making even everyday scenes and events seem full of looming violence or evil. The Hound of the Baskervilles also uses this technique, making after dinner walks in the yard seem ominous and dangerous. Some critics have gone so far as to assert that Sergeant Cuff from Collins's The Moonstone is the model for Sherlock Holmes because both men look alike, are analytical, and retire to the country to raise roses. Whatever the sources of the Holmes adventures, their ingenious blend of crime and day-to-day life, and their clear narratives make them original and engrossing reading.

Social Concerns

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The late Victorian society of The Hound of the Baskervilles is an orderly one. In it, each person has a role to fulfill, and when he does, society prospers. For many years, the region around the Baskerville estate had been poor and backward, but when Sir Charles Baskerville returned to claim his estate, the region began to prosper. By returning and devoting his vast fortune — earned in business — to the betterment of the community. Sir Charles fills the long-empty role of leadership that is the duty of the Baskervilles. Into the happy and orderly society comes disorder in the forms of two utterly evil men. One, a convicted mass murderer escaped from prison, frightens local citizens and warps the normal social order. Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore, descendants of a long line of servants faithful to the Baskervilles, have their priorities twisted by the criminal Selden. He is Mrs. Barrymore's brother, and in aiding him, the Barrymores' normal first loyalty to the Baskervilles shifts to the service of evil. Even more unsettling is the terrible Hound of the Baskervilles, which is let loose on the moors by someone who intends to upset the natural order of Baskerville Hall by supplanting the heirs. The murder of Sir Charles disrupts society, making people suspicious and uncertain. Society becomes a "bog in which we are floundering." The Grimpen Mire symbolizes the ominous disorder around it; to his horror, Dr. Watson hears the cries of a moor pony, the second in two days to be captured by the muck that lurks under vegetation throughout the Mire. One false step means death, both in the Mire where what looks like solid ground may bring slow but certain death, and in a society where any seeming friend could be a clever murderer with a frighteningly huge hound at his command.

Additional Commentary

The Hound of the Baskervilles depicts the kinds of individual disorientation that are created by social disorder. For instance, love is perverted by evil in the novel. Selden, the notorious Notting Hill murderer, uses his sister's love to evade the law. Stapleton uses his own wife to lure Sir Henry Baskerville to his doom. He pretends love and offers marriage to Laura Lyons in order to persuade her to entice Sir Charles into a dark walkway where he meets the Hound itself. All who encounter these evil lovers are endangered because their relationships are as confused and misleading as the narrow paths of Grimpen Mire. Sir Henry in particular is tempted by the allure of another man's wife and is left with a disordered mind at the novel's end. But the steady, clear light of reason, as embodied by Sherlock Holmes, works throughout to pierce the chaotic darkness and unmask the sources of evil.

Literary Precedents

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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 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.

Collins's influence may especially be seen in The Hound of the Baskervilles. In his two best novels, The Woman in White (1859) and The Moonstone (1868), he 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. From chapters 8 to 10 of The Hound of the Baskervilles, more than twenty percent of the novel, the story is told by Watson's diaries and letters to Holmes, creating an effect similar to that created in Collins's novels. 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 Hound of the Baskervilles also uses this technique, making even after-dinner walks in the yard seem ominous and dangerous. Some critics have gone so far as to assert that Sergeant Cuff from Collins's The Moonstone is the model for Sherlock Holmes because both men look alike, are analytical, and retire to the country, Cuff to raise roses and Holmes to keep bees. Whatever the sources for the Holmes adventures, their ingenuity, blend of crime and day-to-day life, and their clear narratives make them original and engrossing reading.

For Further Reference

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Conan Doyle, Arthur. Memories and Adventures. Boston: Little, Brown, 1924. Autobiography.

Grella, George, and Philip B. Dematteis. "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle." In Dictionary of Literary Biography: Victorian Novelists After 1885, edited by Ira B. Nadel and William E. Fredeman. Detroit: Gale, 1983. Despite a condescending tone, this article is a fine summary of Conan Doyle's life and work.

Higham, Charles. The Adventures of Conan Doyle: The Life of the Creator of Sherlock Holmes. New York: Norton, 1976. Higham sets out the facts of Conan Doyle's life and career in this well-written biography.

Hutchinson, Mary Anne. "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle." In Research Guide to Biography and Criticism, Vol. 1, edited by Walton Beacham. Washington, DC: Beacham Publishing, 1985. Hutchinson summarizes the studies of Conan Doyle and evaluates the important biographies and critical books.

Penzler, Otto, "A Few (Million) Words About My Good Friend Holmes." In Murder Ink: The Mystery Reader's Companion, edited by Dilys Winn. New York: Workman, 1977. Penzler lists and annotates one hundred basic books about Holmes.

Shreffler, Philip A., ed. The Baker Street Reader: Cornerstone Writings about Sherlock Holmes. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984. A Gathering of serious and speculative criticism of the Holmes mysteries.

Steinbrunner, Chris, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976. Covers Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. The articles summarize Conan Doyle's career and the Holmes tradition.

Tracy, Jack. The Encyclopedia Sherlockiana: or, A Universal Dictionary of the State of Knowledge of Sherlock Holmes and His Biographer John H. Watson, M.D. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977. Of the various guides to the Holmes canon, this one is the most complete.

Bibliography

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Carr, John Dickson. The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Harper, 1949. Includes a chapter that examines the genesis of the idea for The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Ferguson, Paul F. “Narrative Vision in The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Clues 1, no. 2 (Fall/ Winter, 1980): 24-30. Explores the contrast between Watson’s “artistic imagination” and Holmes’s “scientific imagination.”

Hall, Trevor H. Sherlock Holmes and His Creator. London: Gerald Duckworth, 1978. Examines Holmes as he relates to Doyle’s life and era. The comments on The Hound of the Baskervilles are more descriptive and appreciative than critical.

Jaffe, Jacqueline A. Arthur Conan Doyle. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Examines Doyle as a literary figure, considering his oeuvre as a whole and exploring it from within the context of his biography. The comments on The Hound of the Baskervilles, as on the other Holmes stories, are the best available for a serious student of the subject.

Pearsall, Ronald. Conan Doyle: A Biographical Solution. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977. Provides a useful discussion of The Hound of the Baskervilles from the point of view of a Holmes enthusiast and student of the mystery story.

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