Style and Technique

The style of the story is one that was to become customary in the Holmes adventures: Watson narrates the tale from his viewpoint as an on-the-spot observer. He provides Holmes (and Doyle) with the means to build suspense because, although Watson is present to see all of Holmes’s actions, he does not understand their significance. Thus, the unlocking of the mystery is postponed until the end.

The technique of building suspense by holding off the explanation is usually employed several times in a typical Sherlock Holmes story, and this one is no exception: First, there is the small demonstration of Holmes’s ability when Wilson first enters the Baker Street flat and Holmes deduces many facts about him from his appearance. The postponement is only momentary in this prelude, so to call it, because Holmes explains the inferences he draws from watch chains and calluses and the like. Nevertheless, the technique has been used to show Holmes’s powers, and his revelation at the end of the story of a greater chain of inferences has been prepared for by the less important scene at the beginning.

“The Red-Headed League” was a story of which Doyle himself was proud: At the conclusion of a contest held by Strand magazine, asking readers to pick their favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle contributed a list of his own, on which “The Red-Headed League” ranked second only to “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”; Doyle rated it so high, he said, because of the originality of the plot. It is hard to argue with that view. The trick to remove Wilson from the scene of the crime and Holmes’s equal cleverness in preventing the crime continue to make the story memorable.

Historical Context

Turn-of-the-Century Readers
The detective stories Doyle published in the Strand magazine during the 1890s, including "The...

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"The Red-Headed League," like Doyle's other detective stories, presents a detailed portrait of turn-of-the-century London and gives readers...

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Literary Style

Point of View
"The Red-Headed League" is narrated from the first-person perspective of Dr. Watson, who participates in all...

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Literary Qualities

"The Red-Headed League" is narrated from the first-person perspective of Dr. Watson, who participates in all aspects of Sherlock Holmes'...

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Compare and Contrast

1890s: A middle-class gentleman could support his family, including several servants, on an annual income of 500 pounds. The maximum...

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Topics for Discussion

1. Investigate psychological theories current in the late nineteenth century, and examine the ways that Doyle makes use of these theories...

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Research the principles of logic known as induction and deduction. Distinguish between them, and identify the elements of each...

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Topics for Further Study

Investigate psychological theories current in the late nineteenth century, and examine ways that Doyle makes use of these theories within his...

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Related Titles / Adaptations

"The Red-Headed League" first appeared in a popular British magazine, the Strand, in August of 1891. It was republished in 1892, along...

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Media Adaptations

A silent, black and white version of "The Red-Headed League" was filmed in 1921 for a series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This...

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What Do I Read Next?

"The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Purloined Letter," and "The Mystery of Marie Roget" are Edgar Allan Poe's pioneering detective stories....

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For Further Reference

Booth, Martin. The Doctor and the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: St. Martin's/Minotaur, 2000. 384 p. A...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Eliot, T. S., "Books of the Quarter: The Complete Sherlock Holmes Short Stories," in The Criterion, Vol....

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