Introduction to The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles was a third detective novel written by the most popular mystery and detective fiction writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It features the popular British detective, Sherlock Holmes as its protagonist, who first appeared in 1902. However, Sir Doyle started working on it as back as in 1901 in the month of August to publish it in serials for the popular magazine of that time, The Strand Magazine. The story of the novel revolves around the dexterity and precision of Sherlock Holmes in resolving the most intricate mysteries in the world of crimes. The novel has won the title of the best English novel several times. There have been around 20 film and television versions of this book.
Summary of The Hound of the Baskervilles
The story begins with Sherlock Holmes and Dr.Watson pondering over the identity of a cane’s owner that has been left in Sherlock’s office by a visitor. Holmes is sure the owner will return to take his object. It so happens that it belongs to Dr. James Mortimer who visits him to consult about his friend, Sir Charles Baskerville, who has mysteriously died on his manor in Devonshire. He narrates the incident in detail, mentioning the legend of a mysterious black hound associated with the family and the manor, and the way Sir Charles has died in the alley of the hedge.
He also describes the detail of the horrors seen on the face of Sir Charles and the footprints of the hound at some distance which rather pricks the curiosity of Sherlock Holmes. James Mortimer also tells them that the next of kin has arrived in London to take up the post at Baskerville Hall but has already been threatened through the theft of a shoe and an anonymous letter. Dr. Mortimer, then, discloses his mission of contacting Sherlock as he wants to save Sir Henry, the heir of the mansion, to save him from the likely death and hand over the manor to him.
Holmes agrees to take up the proposition of the legend and the mystery behind the death of Sir Charles and he consents to his request to meet Sir Henry after his arrival. Holmes takes note of things and both of them discover Sir Henry being trailed by a mysterious bearded man in London. Holmes asks Dr. Watson, to monitor the activities of Sir Henry in Devonshire along with Dr. Mortimer as he is unable to join them. After completing his monitoring, Dr. Watson reports about the mysterious movements of some people around his hotel. Sensing a threat to his life, Holmes directs Dr. Watson to stay around him. After taking the consent of Sir Henry about visiting his manor before taking the formal charge, Holmes again advises Watson to stay with him to protect him from likely risks to his life.
When Sir Henry and Dr. Watson, in the company of Dr. Mortimer, arrives at the estate, Baskerville Hall, they meet the butler and his mysterious wife as suspects, taking note of animal sounds and the Grimpen Mire, and also hear the news of the escape of Selden, a notorious criminal of the area, after he escapes from the Dartmoor Prison. It happens that during the night they hear the groaning of a woman but during the day, they meet the locals and try to find out the movements of the mysterious persons around the estate. Soon the Stapletons, the brother, and his so-called sister meet them.
The sister, Beryl warns Sir Henry about the threat to his life. Dr. Watson also hears howls and sounds and finds the moor highly threatening despite the calm and peaceful life of the Stapletons. Despite Dr. Watson’s suspicion about Barrymore, the butler, and warning from Beryl, the sister of Jack Stapleton, Sir Henry meets her and tries to woo her. On the other hand, Mortimer is hellbent on proving to Sir Henry that the threat to his life is imminent, proving it through the grumpy old man, his eloped daughter, and the Stapletons.
In the midst of this drama, Holmes, too, is hiding on the moor, taking his time to investigate the mystery. He discloses this mystery to Dr. Watson to make a final decision about the arrest of the culprit. He also states that the Stapletons are not brother and sister, but husband and wife, having a real hound and have taken Laura in the loop to kill Sir Charles to make his death seem like a result of the legend haunting the family mansion in the past. Holmes also discovered Jack to be the relative of the Baskervilles who is trying to lay a claim on the manor later after the death or escape of Sir Henry.
After taking stock of things, the trio makes a plan to arrest Jack and assault his home. They send Sir Henry before assaulting to arrest him but the immediate fog disrupts their plan after which Jack flees the house. Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard also reaches after which they kill the attacking hound, while Jack gets killed while crossing the mire.
Major Themes in The Hound of the Baskervilles
- Supernatural Elements: Although the novel starts with Holmes and Dr. Watson, a real pragmatist, who investigate cases and bring forth the truth, it seems that the whole atmosphere is shrouded in mystery from the point of Dr. Mortimer’s narrative of the hound until the disclosure of that hound by the end. These supernatural elements enter the novel when Sir Henry Baskerville loses his shoes, not once, but twice. These elements emerge again when Dr. Watson visits the manor and comes into contact with Beryl, the Stapleton lady, and Jack, her brother, and then visits the moor, sees the fog, and hears the howl. Yet it never transpires to Dr. Mortimer that it is not real but a created howl that has some other purpose behind it. Only Holmes exposes this fraud and lays bare the whole drama played on the moor by the Stapletons.
- Power of Reason: The novel shows the power of reason through Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and their client, Sir Henry Baskerville. Despite the terrifying legend that his friend, Dr. James Mortimer associates with the manor that his client, Sir Henry, inherits, he stays resolute. Sherlock Holmes does not believe in what narrative Mortimer spreads and also asks Dr. Watson to be careful about it. From the very first point, Holmes uses his reason to draw the conclusion that something is doubtful in this entire drama and he reaches it quicker than others. It is the power of reason that he reaches the real criminal and catches him on time.
- Power of Gender: Despite restricting women to homes during the Victorian era, the role of women in the novel, The Hounds of Baskerville, shows that women can exercise power over men. Although patriarchy in the shape of Stapleton is moving all of them around, yet the whole network has been laid down by women. Beryl Stapleton does not disclose at any point that Stapleton is not her brother but her husband. Similarly, Stapleton has seduced Laura Lyons, seeing her weakness and fragility in the tough circumstances, while Mrs. Barrymore keeps a highly clandestine activity without disclosing it, and only she discloses the real situation when they catch her red-handed.
- Superiority of Urban Culture: Although the novel presents the linear story of Baskerville and the haunted manor, the world of the aristocracy and the world of the moor have been set apart on account of the mystery prevalent in Devonshire. The world of the moor is untamed, uncouth, and beautiful but the world of London is crowded, precise, and clear. Holmes immediately senses the danger in London that he thinks will travel with Sir Henry Baskerville to his manor. Therefore, he waits and hides on the moor to see what is lying ahead, showing the superiority of the London upbringing and London aristocracy he is part of.
- Facts and Assumptions: The novel shows assumptions and facts. The readers assume from the very first that there is some mystery behind the death of Hugo Baskerville but the fact is that it is just a legend. Similarly, when the death of Sir Charles Baskerville occurs, everybody assumes it is the result of the same legend but the fact is entirely different. Similarly, Holmes does not interpret the coming of fog, the sound of the hound, and the moor’s haunted tops as facts. He rather investigates and lays bare the facts based on the popular assumptions.
- Holmesian Method: The novel is perfectly instrumental in developing the Holmesian method of investigation that is to put different questions about every step and then find the answer to those questions one by one. Holmes is saying the same thing to Dr. Watson when Dr. Mortimer comes to meet them and he applies it in this novel to unearth the real cause behind the death of Sir Charles and the threat to Sir Henry, his heir. Therefore, he stays in the background and lets Dr. Watson takes the lead until he appears in the final scene and discloses how he has applied the same method and reached the conclusion within a week.
- Moral Order: The novel also shows the theme of the moral order prevalent during the Victorian era when the professional police were non-existent. Sherlock Holmes has taken it upon himself to do the work of a detective and establish the method of investigation to catch the criminals. He adopts the same method to establish the moral order by disclosing the reality of the Stapleton and his conspiracy of killing Sir Henry.
- Genius: The novel shows the genius of Sherlock Holmes and his method of investigation. Although Dr. Watson shows him that he thinks in a different way, it proves that Holmes has an untraditional way of thinking, the reason that he reaches Devonshire even before them and investigates the issue until he reaches the truth of Stapleton and his involvement in the crime.
Major Characters The Hound of the Baskervilles
- Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock Holmes is the protagonist of the novel as well as the series of other such novels and stories. Similar to other novels, he appears fixed with his impressions, analytical, and observant. In this story, he immediately senses that Dr. Mortimer’s narrative has some flaws. Therefore, he assigns Dr. Watson the duty to protect Sir Henry until he has enough time to visit Devonshire and take precautionary measures, and disclose the truth about the moor, Stapleton, Barrymore as well as Laura later by the end. True to his character, he appears fully prepared by the end and reveals the mystery about the raid with Inspector Lestrade on the house of the Stapleton, exposing his real intentions and conspiracy against Sir Henry and the Baskerville Hall.
- Dr. John H. Watson: Dr. Watson is a loyal friend of Sherlock Holmes, and he is also the main narrator for the entire series. He helps him in almost every other case and learns the art of observation and investigation from Sherlock. He also heartfully trusts, Sherlock, so much so that when he asks him to take Sir Henry with him to the Baskerville Hall and protect him at all costs, he does not shy away. He takes charge of the task, lives with Sir Henry, and meets all other characters that he thinks could lead to the solution of the sound of howl, the hound, and the reality behind this legend. He stays until Holmes himself appears on the scene and takes charge of the situation to disclose the mystery and ends it. Often, he presents himself as lesser knowledgable than Sherlock and learns to bear his deceptions and arrogance.
- Dr. Mortimer: Dr. James Mortimer is the third important character. He appears in the story and moves with Dr. Watson and Sir Henry to the Baskerville Hall and leaves them there. From the start of the story, it seems that he is a suspicious character, but it transpires later that he has only conveyed what he has known due to his role in handing over the will of Sir Charles to Sir Henry.
- Jack Stapleton: Stapleton is another important character, who, though, appears late in the story, but becomes highly significant on account of the suspicious role he plays and then is caught for his murder conspiracy. It only transpires by the end of the story that he was the man behind the spread of the legend as well as behind the death of Sir Charles. Holmes also discloses that Miss Beryl, his sister is actually his wife and not his sister. He dies when fleeing from the raid of Holmes and Inspector Lestrade.
- Miss Stapleton: The real name of Miss Stapleton is Miss Beryl, who appears as the sister of Jack Stapleton but later proves that she is his wife whom he is manipulating to lure Sir Henry, the last Baskerville, and bring him to the point where he should either flee or die. She is caught in the final raid and discloses her reality to Holmes who has already pointed it out to Dr. Watson.
- Barrymores: The first suspect of the spread of the legend and the mystery of the moor is the butler, Barrymore, who has been serving the family from Sir Charles’s time. He and his wife live on the manor and do other smaller things required by the Baskerville’s head. Mrs. Barrymore is stated to have used Barrymore to signal her brother, Selden, the criminal, and take food to him on the moor.
- Laura Lyons: Laura is the eloped daughter of Old Frankland and would-be wife of Stapleton with whom he has conspired to kill Sir Charles and again devised to make Sir Henry flee. She is working at Coombe Tracey as a typist. She is caught in the middle by Dr. Watson but only Holmes is able to make her confess the whole thing and narrate her complete manipulation and blackmailing by Jack Stapleton.
- Lestrade: Lestrade represents the rule of law and its application. He appears with Holmes by the end to raid the house of Stapleton. He is also a major character who appears in almost all the stories of Sherlock Holmes, showing Holmes respecting him as the instrument to implement his legal authority.
- Sir Henry: Sir Henry Baskerville is significant in that he appears quite early in the story but mostly stays out of the main action, though, he is the center of the attention of all this flurry of activities of Holmes and Dr. Watson. He falls in love with Miss Stapleton and keeps Watson out of the loop but later finds it intriguing when he comes to know her conjugal status.
- Frankland: Frankland is an indigenous resident of the moor and knows everything about it but his specialty is in starting legal battles on frivolous issues.
Writing Style of The Hound of the Baskervilles
The novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, is told from the first-person point of view, Dr. Watson, the associate of Sherlock Holmes. The narrative technique describes the character of Sherlock Holmes, including his ways and methods of investigation. Although most of the language is direct and to the point, the description uses figurative language when it comes to places, persons, and events. The sentences are neither very long nor very short but suitable for the situation and context. Most of the events and their descriptions evoke suspense and puzzle the readers. It has used formal as well as informal diction and relied heavily on the use of metaphors, similes, and irony.
Analysis of the Literary Devices in The Hound of the Baskervilles
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises the chase of Stapleton by Holmes and Dr. Watson. The falling action occurs when Holmes notices Stapleton in the painting at the Baskerville Hall and the rising action occurs when Holmes discloses everything about Stapleton to Dr. Watson and asks him to be ready for the action.
- Antagonist: Jack Stapleton is the antagonist of the novel as he appears to have tried his best to obstruct all avenues for Holmes to know him and for Sir Henry to settle down at his manor. He has also caused the death of Sir Charles.
- Conflict: The novel shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between Holmes and Stapleton about the life and death of Sir Henry. The internal conflict, however, is going on in the mind of Dr. Watson about different scenarios he comes across when on the Baskerville Hall.
- Characters: The novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, shows both static as well as dynamic characters. Holmes, the hero of the novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, is a dynamic character as he shows a considerable transformation in his behavior and conduct by the end of the novel. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Sir Henry, Dr. Watson, Stapleton, including the Barrymores.
- Climax: The climax in the novel occurs when Dr. Watson discovers Holmes on the moor after he chases a hound.
- Foreshadowing: The novel shows many instances of foreshadows as given in the examples below,
i. Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table. (Chapter-1)
ii. “It chanced that some little time later Hugo left his guests to carry food and drink–with other worse things, perchance–to his captive, and so found the cage empty and the bird escaped. (Chapter-4)
The mention of Holmes, the captive, and the cage shows that the story is about a crime.
- Hyperbole: The novel shows various examples of hyperboles such as,
i. Baskerville shuddered as he looked up the long, dark drive to where the house glimmered like a ghost at the farther end. (Chapter-6)
ii. A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. (Chapter-14)
Both of these examples exaggerate things like the house could not be a ghost and the hound could not be such a terrifying creature.
- Imagery: The Hound of the Baskervilles shows the use of imagery as given in the below example,
i. The journey was a swift and pleasant one, and I spent it in making the more intimate acquaintance of my two companions and in playing with Dr. Mortimer’s spaniel. In a very few hours the brown earth had become ruddy, the brick had changed to granite, and red cows grazed in well-hedged fields where the lush grasses and more luxuriant vegetation spoke of a richer, if a damper, climate. Young Baskerville stared eagerly out of the window, and cried aloud with delight as he recognized the familiar features of the Devon scenery. (Chapter-6)
ii. The fresh beauty of the following morning did something to efface from our minds the grim and gray impression which had been left upon both of us by our first experience of Baskerville Hall. (Chapter-7)
These two examples show images of nature, color, sounds, and sight.
- Metaphor: The Hound of the Baskervilles shows good use of various metaphors as given in the following examples,
i. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. (Chapter-I)
ii. Holmes leaned forward in his excitement and his eyes had the hard, dry glitter which shot from them when he was keenly interested. (Chapter-3)
iii. We have him, Watson, we have him, and I dare swear that before to-morrow night he will be fluttering in our net as helpless as one of his own butterflies. (Chapter-13)
These examples show that several things are compared directly in the novel as the first shows the comparison of the person with the light, the eyes of Holmes with shots, and Stapleton with a bird.
- Mood: The novel shows various moods; it starts with a happy and thrilling mood but turns to very somber, tragic, and suspenseful by the end.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, are superstition, red herring, and the hound.
- Narrator: The novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, is narrated by Dr. Watson in the first person point of view.
- Personification: The novel shows examples of personifications such as,
i. The London express came roaring into the station, and a small, wiry bulldog of a man had sprung from a first-class carriage. (Chapter-13)
ii. Partly also from his professional caution, which urged him never to take any chances. (Chapter-14)
iii. My nerves thrilled with anticipation when at last the cold wind upon our faces and the dark, void spaces on either side of the narrow road told me that we were back upon the moor once again. (Chapter-14)
These examples show as if the London express, caution, and nerves have life and emotions of their own.
- Protagonist: Sherlock Holmes is the protagonist of the novel, The Hound of Baskerville. The novel starts with his entry in the novel with Dr. Watson and ends when he finally raids the Stapleton and finds out that he is drowned in the mire on the moor.
- Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows excellent use of rhetorical questions at several places as given in the following examples,
i. “The devil’s agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not? There are two questions waiting for us at the outset. The one is whether any crime has been committed at all; the second is, what is the crime and how was it committed? (Chapter-3)
ii. Yet he had taken the obvious risk of discovery in declaring that it was not so. Why had he done this? And why did she weep so bitterly? (Chapter-7)
This example shows the use of rhetorical questions posed but different characters not to elicit answers but to stress upon the underlined idea.
- Setting: The setting of the novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, is Devonshire and London, England.
- Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes as given in the below examples,
i. Over the green squares of the fields and the low curve of a wood there rose in the distance a gray, melancholy hill, with a strange jagged summit, dim and vague in the distance, like some fantastic landscape in a dream. (Chapter-8)
ii. And a new sound mingled with it, a deep, muttered rumble, musical and yet menacing, rising and falling like the low, constant murmur of the sea. (Chapter-12)
iii. The moon shone on it, and it looked like a great shimmering ice-field, with the heads of the distant tors as rocks borne upon its surface. (Chapter-15)
These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things. The first example compares the landscape with that of a dream, the second sound with the murmur of the sea, and the third the moon with an ice field.