The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Contrasting Regions: London and the Countryside Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"Let me see," said Holmes, standing at the corner and glancing along the line. "I should like just to remember the order of the houses here. It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London. There is Mortimer's, the tobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg branch of the City and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane's carriage-building depot" (League.148).
This is a fictional city square that Holmes is investigating in "The Red-Headed League." Yet, Conan Doyle bothers to fill his description of the scene with loads of realistic sounding detail. And there are lots of other locations mentioned, in this story and in others throughout the collection, that are real. Why mix in fictional details with real ones? Why did Doyle fake this London square in particular? And what kind of effects might Conan Doyle be trying to produce for the reader by describing the layout of London streets, train stations, and neighborhoods so precisely?
It was in the latter days of September, and the equinoctial gales had set in with exceptional violence. All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life and to recognise the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilisation, like untamed beasts in a cage (Orange.3).
Here we're seeing a more general opposition between "great, hand-made London" and nature. So London is like the ultimate thing that mankind can come up with, the ultimate in "civilisation." Where is the countryside in all of this? Does this mean that, implicitly, rural areas have to be less civilized and more "elemental" than London? How might that affect the types of crimes committed in the countryside?
But there was no great difficulty in the first stage of my adventure. Upper Swandam Lane is a vile alley lurking behind the high wharves which line the north side of the river to the east of London Bridge. Between a slop-shop and a gin-shop, approached by a steep flight of steps leading down to a black gap like the mouth of a cave, I found the den of which I was in search. Ordering my cab to wait, I passed down the steps, worn hollow in the centre by the ceaseless tread of drunken feet, and by the light of a flickering oil-lamp above the door I found the latch and made my way into a long, low room, thick and heavy with the brown opium smoke and terraced with wooden berths, like the forecastle of an emigrant ship" (Identity.14).
This passage demonstrates one of the downsides of London: tons of vices. The steps are "worn hollow […] by the ceaseless tread of drunken feet," or, in other words, this is a gathering place for lushes. And the design of the opium den ("like the forecastle of an emigrant ship") implies scary foreignness intruding on British soil.