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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes


by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Theme of Foreignness and 'The Other'

Conan Doyle is writing his Holmes novels and stories at a time when money is pouring into the U.K. from its colonial territories. But with rising capital comes huge anxiety over the social effects of greed, theft, and instability. The Blue Carbuncle and the Beryl Coronet are probably the most obvious examples of riches coming in from outside and then tempting good (or not so good) men and women to commit evil.

But money isn't the only thing that's going into and out of England at an amazing rate: there are also huge movements of people, both to the colonies and back again. And when they come back, they're not always the better for having been away. Consider Dr. Roylott's extreme violence upon his return from India, where he already showed himself capable of murder. And how about the torment Charles McCarthy brings to John Turner, as a remnant of his wild past in Australia? Even the cruel Hosmer Angel/Mr. Windibank trick played on Mary Sutherland depends on her stepfather's business trips to France. Increased contact with the foreign can be a good thing, as with Holmes's encounter with Irene Adler, straight from Warsaw. But it also can provide increased opportunity for evil to take advantage of vulnerable people.

Questions About Foreignness and 'The Other'

  1. How do the British colonies appear in relation to England, and to London in particular, in these stories? Do they seem easily reachable? Distant? Attractive? Threatening?
  2. How do these stories deal with racial and ethnic difference? We have Holmes's strong loathing of the Ku Klux Klan. On the other hand, representations of gypsies in "The Speckled Band" and of Asians in "The Man With the Twisted Lip" can be disturbing. In what ways do racial difference seem to matter in these stories? What kinds of spaces do racially-marked people occupy in Sherlock Holmes's mysteries?
  3. We have raised the question of England's relationship to its then-current colonies. But how does Conan Doyle represent the United States (a former colony) in relation to the United Kingdom? What impression do you get of Americans and of American society from Conan Doyle?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In Sherlock Holmes stories, the British colonies seem like centers of lawlessness waiting to introduce their legacies of crime into England itself.

Conan Doyle makes an analogy between people of color and dangerous places, as in his racist descriptions of the opium dens of "The Man With the Twisted Lip."

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