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Last Updated on September 11, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 677

Introduction

A Study in Scarlet was written in 1886 and published in 1887 in the magazine Beeton’s Christmas Annual, and is one of the four original full-length novels that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about his genius detective. It is set in late Victorian London and marks the first appearance in literature of the great consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. 

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Plot Summary

In A Study in Scarlet, Doyle introduces the characters of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson and places them in the crime-solving partnership that lasts for numerous future adventures together. Watson, a physician and British military veteran who is at loose ends after returning from Afghanistan, meets Holmes, an eccentric, well-educated man who solves crimes using unorthodox methods, especially logical deduction.

Watson aids Holmes on a murder case with which Scotland Yard has requested assistance. The body of the victim, Enoch Drebber, has been found in a deserted house. There, Holmes and Watson meet the police detectives Gregson and Lestrade, and Watson observes Holmes’s methods of examining the body and crime scene. Two important clues found are a woman’s wedding ring and the word “Rache” written in blood on the wall—a word Holmes recognizes as German for “revenge.” He makes numerous conclusions about the murderer’s height, age, shoe size, fingernails, and means of transportation to assist the detectives; he finally reveals that the man was poisoned. When Watson expresses his amazement at and suspicion of Holmes’s conclusions, Holmes explains his process of deduction through observations he has made, such as the footprints in the soil outside the house and the height of the writing on the wall. 

An old woman claims the ring, but she disappears when Holmes attempts to follow her, and Holmes deduces that she was an accomplice of the murderer. Gregson suspects Joseph Stangerson, Drebber’s assistant, to be the murderer, but Stangerson is then found dead in his hotel room. Holmes employs a ruse to lure his suspect—whom he soon reveals to be Jefferson Hope—to him while Watson and the police detectives are present, and they detain him. Hope reveals that has an aortic aneurysm that he knows will be fatal. In the week before he dies, Hope tells Holmes, Watson, and the detectives the long and complicated story of his adventures with Drebber and Stangerson before their deaths, which took place in Utah during the Mormon westward migration.

Lucy and John Ferrier, her father, were the only survivors of a pioneer group traveling in the Salt Lake Valley. They were discovered and rescued by a group of Mormons, who gave them a place in their town in exchange for their conversion to Mormonism. Years later, Jefferson Hope, a traveler with a silver prospecting group, passed through their town and fell in love with Lucy. He visited often and vowed to return to marry Lucy after a few months’ stay in Salt Lake City for work. 

Both Drebber and Stangerson were polygamous Mormons competing to take Lucy as an additional wife; the Mormon elders gave her an ultimatum to choose one of the two men. Lucy’s father opposed her marrying a Mormon and sent an urgent message to Hope, who returned to help Lucy and her father escape so she could avoid the marriage. After the two escaped into the mountains with Hope, a party including Drebber and Stangerson located Lucy and her father while Hope was looking for food; they kidnapped Lucy, and Stangerson murdered her father. The Mormon authorities forced her to marry Drebber, but she died within a month, and Hope took her wedding ring. Drebber and Stangerson fled to Russia, where Hope pursued them. He finally tracked them down in London and poisoned them by giving them the option to choose between two pills, only one of which was poisoned. Drebber complied, choosing the poison, but Stangerson refused to choose, and Hope instead killed him with a knife.

His story complete, and his revenge carried out, Hope soon dies—without ever explaining the identity of the old woman who claimed the ring.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1317

To many, the Afghan wars bring fame and promotion, but to John H. Watson, M.D., they bring only misfortune. He is wounded by a Jezail bullet, succumbs to enteritis during his convalescence, and after months of suffering is sent home with a pension of eleven shillings and sixpence a day. At first, Watson lives in a hotel, but his pension scarcely covers his bills. By chance, he meets an old friend, Stamford, to whom he confides his difficulties. Stamford tells him of an amateur scientist, Sherlock Holmes, who has rooms at 221B Baker Street and is looking for someone to share them. Stamford warns him that Holmes pursues unorthodox studies—one day, Stamford finds him beating a cadaver to see if bruises can be produced after death—and that he has a queer habit of making deductions from trifling details. Watson grows curious about Holmes and arranges to have Stamford introduce them. Soon after that first meeting, Watson goes to share Holmes’s rooms on Baker Street.

Watson never goes out and consequently spends much time studying his new friend. He finds Holmes an amazingly contradictory man, one who knows nothing at all of literature, philosophy, or astronomy but has a profound knowledge of chemistry, anatomy, and sensational crime stories. He also plays the violin. From time to time, Holmes has visitors, but Watson never knows why they come.

One day at breakfast, Watson learns a good deal more about his friend. Holmes shows him a letter from Tobias Gregson, a Scotland Yard investigator, who asks him for help in a case of murder. A gentleman identified by his visiting cards as Enoch J. Drebber, “Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.,” was found murdered in a deserted house in Lauriston Gardens. Holmes then explains that he is a consulting detective and that Scotland Yard asks for his help whenever an unusual case comes up that is outside police jurisdiction or too difficult.

Holmes and Watson take a cab to Lauriston Gardens to look into the affair. Holmes spends a long time outside in the road and in the yard. Watson is impatient at the delay, but Holmes examines everything carefully. Inside the house, Gregson and another detective from Scotland Yard, Lestrade, greet them and point out the body of Drebber, which is surrounded by spatters of blood. Holmes goes over the body painstakingly.

As the orderlies carry out the corpse, a woman’s wedding ring falls to the floor. The Scotland Yard men are sure a woman is involved, and Lestrade is triumphant when he finds the word “Rache” printed in letters of blood on the wall. As Holmes leaves the room, he announces his findings to the detectives. The murderer is more than six feet in height and florid. He wears square-toed boots, smokes a Trichinopoly cigar, has long nails on his right hand, and drove up to the house in a four-wheeler drawn by a horse with a new shoe on his off forefoot. Further, the murder was done by poison, and “Rache” is not an abbreviation for Rachel but rather the German word meaning revenge.

Holmes read the story from the cigar ashes, the tracks, the height of the writing, and the scratches made during the writing on the wall. From the fact that the blood on the floor came from a nosebleed, for example, he deduced that the murderer has ruddy coloring. After uncovering these initial clues, however, Holmes is baffled for a time. When he advertises the wedding ring as lost, an old woman comes to claim it, who eludes him when he tries to follow her. At that point, he realizes that he is dealing with a clever opponent.

The murdered man’s trail leads to his secretary, Stangerson. Gregson is sure that if he finds Stangerson, he will have the murderer. When, however, Stangerson is found dead in his hotel room, stabbed through the heart, the case begins to seem impenetrable. Gregson and Lestrade come to Holmes one night, and the three detectives and Watson go over the difficulties. Holmes is tying up a trunk preparatory to sending it away. He calls a cab to deliver it. When the bell rings, he asks the driver to come up to help with the ropes. As the man bends down, Holmes deftly slips handcuffs over his wrists. The driver is a large, vigorous man who fights as if possessed, but the four men subdue him. With a theatrical flourish, Holmes introduces him as Jefferson Hope, the murderer of Drebber and Stangerson.

Hope calms down and tells the men he has nothing to fear. He asks Watson to feel his pulse, and Watson, who immediately detects an aneurism, agrees that Hope has not long to live. Indeed, Hope never comes to trial, for he dies in less than a week, but before that he recounts his strange story.

On the great alkali plain in Utah, a man named John Ferrier and his little daughter Lucy were the only survivors of a wagon train. The two were providentially picked up by Mormons, who, under the leadership of Brigham Young, were on their way to a new settlement in the wilderness. Ferrier agreed to adopt the Mormon faith in return for being rescued, and he prospered and became a rich man; Lucy grew up to be a beautiful woman. Although he was a Mormon, Ferrier refused to take wives, and he made a vow that Lucy should never marry a Mormon. When a traveler named Jefferson Hope stopped at their house on his way to the silver mines, an attraction developed between him and Lucy. After Hope left, the Mormon elders decreed that before thirty days should elapse, Lucy must choose a husband. She was given the choice between two men, Drebber or Stangerson, who already had several wives. Ferrier sent word to Hope, who returned on the thirtieth day, and that night Hope, Ferrier, and Lucy stole out of the Mormon village and rode away toward the mountains.

Once he judged that they were far enough away, Hope left Ferrier and Lucy in camp while he went hunting. On his return, he found that Ferrier was murdered and that Lucy was gone. Hope hid near the Mormon village in the hope of rescuing Lucy, but he was thwarted by the strong, watchful Latter-day Saints. Lucy was married off to Drebber, but survived only one month. While the women watched at night over her coffin, Hope stormed in, kissed his dead love, and took the wedding ring from her finger. Then he vanished.

Shortly afterward, both Drebber and Stangerson renounced Mormonism and moved to Cleveland. They were wealthy, but they were also afraid, for they knew that Hope was pursuing them. They fled to Russia and Germany and finally ended up in London. Hope followed them from place to place. To survive in London, and in order to follow his prey conveniently, he took a job as cabdriver. When Drebber engaged him one night when he was drunk, Hope drove him to the deserted house in Lauriston Gardens. After showing Drebber the wedding ring, he took a small box from his pocket containing two pills, one harmless and one deadly. He forced Drebber to choose one and swallow it and put the other in his own mouth. Hope felt that Lucy’s spirit guided the choice when Drebber died. On impulse, Hope scribbled “Rache” on the wall with the blood that gushed from his nose in his excitement. Later, Hope found Stangerson in his hotel room and offered him the same fatal choice. Stangerson attacked him, and Hope killed him with a knife. He refused to give the name of the old woman who appeared to claim the ring. On the day he was to appear in court, Hope died from the bursting of his aneurism, but his work was done and Lucy was avenged.

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