"Well, Watson, what do you make of it?"
Holmes was sitting with his back to me, and I had given him no sign of my occupation.
"How did you know what I was doing? I believe you have eyes in the back of your head."
"I have, at least, a well-polished, silver-plated coffee-pot in front of me," said he. (1.2-5)
Holmes is awesome and Watson is confused. Or at least, that's what these first sentences from The Hound of the Baskervilles establish: Holmes can make use of any tool at hand—even something as ordinary as a silver coffee pot—to make observations about the people around him. Watson's role in these conversations is to be the one to ask Holmes, "How did you know?" Without Watson, there'd be no way for Holmes to show off his reasoning. And without Holmes, Watson would not have a fascinating subject to explore in all his stories. The two of them are perfect complements.
"No mention of that local hunt, Watson," said Holmes with a mischievous smile, "but a country doctor, as you very astutely observed. I think that I am fairly justified in my inferences. As to the adjectives, I said, if I remember right, amiable, unambitious, and absent-minded. It is my experience that it is only an amiable man in this world who receives testimonials, only an unambitious one who abandons a London career for the country, and only an absent-minded one who leaves his stick and not his visiting-card after waiting an hour in your room." (1.34)
Holmes isn't just good at figuring out what happened or who did what; he's also an excellent reader of character. Holmes often gives us direct assessments of the different characters in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and we can't think of a single instance where he gets it wrong. In fact, he's so spot-on that we discuss Holmes' explanations as one of the narrative tools that Conan Doyle uses to portray character in our section on "Character Clues."
"If he were in a hurry it opens up the interesting question why he should be in a hurry, since any letter posted up to early morning would reach Sir Henry before he would leave his hotel. Did the composer fear an interruption—and from whom?"
"We are coming now rather into the region of guesswork," said Dr. Mortimer.
"Say, rather, into the region where we balance probabilities and choose the most likely. It is the scientific use of the imagination, but we have always some material basis on which to start our speculation." (4.40-2)
The line that Holmes proposes here between imagination and science seems pretty thin, especially since Holmes' "genius" is all taking place against the backdrop of a fictional narrative. Do you believe that Holmes' deductions are scientific? Considering that material observation is considered the basis for the scientific method, Shmoop votes "yes" with reservations. Reservations because he's got a cheat sheet—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
"I was looking out for loiterers in the street, but I saw none. We are dealing with a clever man, Watson. This matter cuts very deep, and though I have not finally made up my mind whether it is a benevolent or a malevolent agency which is in touch with us, I am conscious always of power and design." (4.99)
The Hound of the Baskervilles is careful to emphasize not only Holmes' smarts but also Stapleton's. (At this point, of course, Holmes does not know that the spy watching Sir Henry is Stapleton the murderer.) After all, if the novel doesn't even pretend that there's a chance that Holmes might fail, why would we keep reading? There wouldn't be any suspense if Holmes' opponent was too easy to outsmart.
"I tell you, Watson, this time we have got a foeman who is worthy of our steel. I've been checkmated in London." (5.142)
Holmes' use of the word "checkmated" here catches our attention—it's a pretty general term for failure, of course, but the "checkmate" also applies specifically to final defeat in a game of chess. Indeed, often Holmes seems to think of his adventures out-thinking Stapleton as a game of strategy. Why do you think that Holmes is in this business of detection? Does he have a strong moral sense, or is it just the best way for him to test his wits? Can you imagine Holmes ever turning to crime? Why or why not?
"I wonder what your friend Holmes would do if he were here."
"I believe that he would do exactly what you now suggest," said I. "He would follow Barrymore and see what he did."
"Then we shall do it together." (9.6-8)
Sir Henry and Watson mention Holmes here as a model for what detectives should do, so they're trying to learn from Holmes' example. Also, has anyone noticed that it's been a while since Holmes actually appeared in this novel? This passage comes from Chapter 9, and Holmes left Watson at the train station in Chapter 6. It's been about three chapters since we've had any serious Holmes time, and we're starting to miss him. Maybe he comes up in conversation here just to reassure us that we are reading a Holmes story and that he will be reappearing with his usual intellectual fireworks.
And so it was arranged. Resisting Stapleton's offer of hospitality, Holmes and I set off to Baskerville Hall, leaving the naturalist to return alone. Looking back we saw the figure moving slowly away over the broad moor, and behind him that one black smudge on the silvered slope which showed where the man was lying who had come so horribly to his end. (12.136)
This passage comes after the sudden death of Selden out on the moors, when Holmes and Watson meet Stapleton as he's coming to see if the dead body belongs to Sir Henry Baskerville (as he hopes). Stapleton (of course) doesn't admit that he's shocked at the identity of the dead man, and Holmes and Watson do not give away that they know he is guilty of murder. At this point in the plot, when we know whodunit and we're waiting to see how Holmes will stop him, the novel really changes tone. It stops being a mystery and starts being match of wits between Holmes and Stapleton. (Stapleton is obviously going to lose this match, but we keep on reading to see exactly how.)
"But one last word, Watson. Say nothing of the hound to Sir Henry. Let him think that Selden's death was as Stapleton would have us believe. He will have a better nerve for the ordeal which he will have to undergo tomorrow, when he is engaged, if I remember your report aright, to dine with these people." (13.18)
Holmes knows how people tick, and he knows how to push them to get them to act. Still, with the exception of Watson, he doesn't seem to have many friends. He likes Sir Henry, but he's still perfectly willing to use him as bait to draw out Stapleton. Holmes' highly rational and utilitarian way of looking at people often makes him seem cold and remote. It's not a good way to win friends. Luckily, Watson is around to show us Holmes' warmer side.
"Mr. Holmes," she said, "this man had offered me marriage on condition that I could get a divorce from my husband. He has lied to me, the villain, in every conceivable way. Not one word of truth has he ever told me. And why—why? I imagined that all was for my own sake. But now I see that I was never anything but a tool in his hands. Why should I preserve faith with him who never kept any with me? Why should I try to shield him from the consequences of his own wicked acts?" (13.123)
It's hard even to think of the words "Holmes" and "romantic" in the same sentence. But he's perfectly able to use other people's romantic feelings to his advantage. Here, he recognizes Laura Lyons' weak point: her belief that Stapleton will marry her. And indeed, as soon as Holmes mentions that Beryl is Stapleton's wife and not his sister, Laura immediately turns on her faithless lover. Holmes may not be personally interested in love—too messy—but he totally understands the crazy things it makes people do. In fact, maybe it's because he understands love as a motive in human behavior that he doesn't seem to want anything to do with it. His friendship with Watson appears to provide all the emotional connection he needs.
As we watched it the fog-wreaths came crawling round both corners of the house and rolled slowly into one dense bank on which the upper floor and the roof floated like a strange ship upon a shadowy sea. Holmes struck his hand passionately upon the rock in front of us and stamped his feet in his impatience.
"If he isn't out in a quarter of an hour the path will be covered. In half an hour we won't be able to see our hands in front of us." (14.30-1)
Holmes is about as clever and cunning as they come, but there are still limits to what he can do. He can't personally stop the fog from rolling in over the moors, even though it may be enough to ruin his ambush of Stapleton. This detail reminds us that, even in a story that values cleverness and intellect, there are still things that you just can't plan for or control, even if you are Sherlock Holmes.
The only other kinsman whom we have been able to trace was Rodger Baskerville, the youngest of three brothers of whom poor Sir Charles was the elder. The second brother, who died young, is the father of this lad Henry. The third, Rodger, was the black sheep of the family. He came of the old masterful Baskerville strain and was the very image, they tell me, of the family picture of old Hugo. He made England too hot to hold him, fled to Central America, and died there in 1876 of yellow fever. Henry is the last of the Baskervilles. (3.72)
In spite of all of these glamorous details about ghost dogs from hell and old family curses, The Hound of the Baskervilles is about boring old property law. There's a lot of money involved in this inheritance, and it's bringing out some bad characters from the family tree. The gloomy setting and Gothic details dress up what's, in fact, a pretty straightforward murder motive.
Our clients were punctual to their appointment, for the clock had just struck ten when Dr. Mortimer was shown up, followed by the young baronet. The latter was a small, alert, dark-eyed man about thirty years of age, very sturdily built, with thick black eyebrows and a strong, pugnacious face. He wore a ruddy-tinted tweed suit and had the weather-beaten appearance of one who has spent most of his time in the open air, and yet there was something in his steady eye and the quiet assurance of his bearing which indicated the gentleman. (4.1)
There are also lots of social class judgments in this book. There are almost no working- or middle-class characters in Sir Henry's social circle. Sir Henry himself, in spite of his "weather-beaten appearance" (don't get us started on those Canadian winters) still has "the quiet assurance of his bearing which indicated the gentleman." Being a "gentleman" is in his blood, the same way that Stapleton's bad character is a matter of inheritance from his wicked ancestor Hugo Baskerville.
Sherlock Holmes had, in a very remarkable degree, the power of detaching his mind at will. For two hours the strange business in which we had been involved appeared to be forgotten, and he was entirely absorbed in the pictures of the modern Belgian masters. He would talk of nothing but art, of which he had the crudest ideas, from our leaving the gallery until we found ourselves at the Northumberland Hotel. (5.1)
All of Holmes' judgment seems to be dedicated to solving crime. Watson claims that he has "the crudest ideas" about art, which implies that Holmes isn't all that great in more aesthetic, less scientific areas of study. Why do you think there's this long-standing assumption that being good at art and being good at science are mutually exclusive—the left brain/right brain thing? Do you know people who are equally talented in both areas? What different kinds of skills do these two areas demand?
"It was imprudent, all the same," said Holmes, shaking his head and looking very grave. "I beg, Sir Henry, that you will not go about alone. Some great misfortune will befall you if you do." (6.16)
Interesting that Holmes uses the verb "will" and not "may" here, as in, Sir Henry, you will get into trouble on your own vs. you might get into trouble on your own. Holmes' certainty that something bad is coming for Sir Henry makes us all the more eager to know what's going to happen next. Anything that makes Holmes look "very grave" must be very serious and dangerous indeed.
"Yes, sir, my name was Selden, and he is my younger brother. We humoured him too much when he was a lad and gave him his own way in everything until he came to think that the world was made for his pleasure, and that he could do what he liked in it. Then as he grew older he met wicked companions, and the devil entered into him until he broke my mother's heart and dragged our name in the dirt. From crime to crime he sank lower and lower until it is only the mercy of God which has snatched him from the scaffold; but to me, sir, he was always the little curly-headed boy that I had nursed and played with as an elder sister would." (9.74)
Mrs. Barrymore's story is heart-breaking. She can't help loving her brother, even when he has gone "from crime to crime." Still, she has the moral judgment to recognize his evil ways.
There's also the implication that a person's experiences can influence his moral character. Mrs. Barrymore attributes her brother's problems to his being spoiled as a child. She also believes they were the result of having the wrong kind of friends. So here's another view of the nature/nurture puzzle. You can be born good and become evil.
Mrs. Barrymore's plotline reminds us that we can have compassion for wrongdoers. Also that your mother was right not to buy you a new MacBook Air when you already had a perfectly good laptop that you hardly ever used anyway, young lady.
I shrugged my shoulders. "If [Selden] were safely out of the country it would relieve the tax-payer of a burden."
"But how about the chance of his holding someone up before he goes?"
"He would not do anything so mad, sir. We have provided him with all that he can want. To commit a crime would be to show where he was hiding."
"That is true," said Sir Henry. "Well, Barrymore—"
"God bless you, sir, and thank you from my heart! It would have killed my poor wife had he been taken again."
"I guess we are aiding and abetting a felony, Watson? But, after what we have heard I don't feel as if I could give the man up, so there is an end of it. All right, Barrymore, you can go." (10.15-20)
Sir Henry and Watson decide to leave Selden alone until the Barrymores can get him on a ship out of the country. Do you agree with the choice that they make to "relieve the tax-payer of a burden" by letting Selden escape Britain? Would you make the same choice, if you were in their place? Why doesn't Sir Henry feel that he "could give the man up," in any case? We shudder to think what Judge Judy would have to say about this.
"This paste in the tin is no doubt the luminous mixture with which the creature was daubed. It was suggested, of course, by the story of the family hell-hound, and by the desire to frighten old Sir Charles to death. […] It was a cunning device, for, apart from the chance of driving your victim to his death, what peasant would venture to inquire too closely into such a creature should he get sight of it, as many have done, upon the moor? I said it in London, Watson, and I say it again now, that never yet have we helped to hunt down a more dangerous man than he who is lying yonder"—he swept his long arm towards the huge mottled expanse of green-splotched bog…
Here is Holmes' final assessment of Stapleton, that, "never yet have we helped to hunt down a more dangerous man." What do you think makes Stapleton appear so particularly dangerous to Holmes? What do you think of Stapleton's methods—do they strike you as being more daring or dangerous than other criminals in detective stories you've read? Did you ever truly believe that Holmes might fail in his fight against Stapleton?
It was the end of November, and Holmes and I sat, upon a raw and foggy night, on either side of a blazing fire in our sitting-room in Baker Street. Since the tragic upshot of our visit to Devonshire he had been engaged in two affairs of the utmost importance, in the first of which he had exposed the atrocious conduct of Colonel Upwood in connection with the famous card scandal of the Nonpareil Club, while in the second he had defended the unfortunate Mme. Montpensier from the charge of murder which hung over her in connection with the death of her step-daughter, Mlle. Carere, the young lady who, as it will be remembered, was found six months later alive and married in New York. (15.1)
Of course, these cases of Colonel Upwood and Mme. Montpensier do not actually exist anywhere in the Holmes canon. Watson is just giving us the impression that Holmes is always off tirelessly working on the side of justice, even when Watson isn't recording his adventures. What's more, these references to other cases make us feel as though Holmes is everywhere, part of the fabric of life in Victorian London.
Here he kept his wife imprisoned in her room while he, disguised in a beard, followed Dr. Mortimer to Baker Street and afterwards to the station and to the Northumberland Hotel. His wife had some inkling of his plans; but she had such a fear of her husband—a fear founded upon brutal ill-treatment—that she dare not write to warn the man whom she knew to be in danger. If the letter should fall into Stapleton's hands her own life would not be safe. Eventually, as we know, she adopted the expedient of cutting out the words which would form the message, and addressing the letter in a disguised hand. It reached the baronet, and gave him the first warning of his danger. (15.13)
This passage shows why we might have more sympathy for Beryl than we do for Laura: she's physically abused. She actually fears for her life if her efforts to save Sir Henry reached her husband's ears. On the other hand, Laura's abandonment by her husband and father make her seem pretty desperate, too.
"From his knowledge of our rooms and of my appearance, as well as from his general conduct, I am inclined to think that Stapleton's career of crime has been by no means limited to this single Baskerville affair. It is suggestive that during the last three years there have been four considerable burglaries in the west country, for none of which was any criminal ever arrested. The last of these, at Folkestone Court, in May, was remarkable for the cold-blooded pistolling of the page, who surprised the masked and solitary burglar. I cannot doubt that Stapleton recruited his waning resources in this fashion, and that for years he has been a desperate and dangerous man." (15.15)
In retrospect, we find out that Stapleton was an even bigger deal in the criminal world than we realized. Once again, Conan Doyle adds to Stapleton's criminal history to make Holmes and Watson look even more daring and impressive in bringing him down.
"I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth. Not that you are entirely wrong in this instance." (1.17)
The very first scene of the novel quickly establishes the dynamic of their friendship. Holmes is superior and a bit condescending to Watson. He clumsily tries to express his appreciation for his friend's ideas. He's clueless that telling Watson that he's helpful mainly as an inspiration to his own genius might be a tiny bit insulting. By now in the Holmes canon, we know that Watson handles this kind of treatment with grace. Their relationship is too strong to be threatened by it.
"This family paper was committed to my care by Sir Charles Baskerville, whose sudden and tragic death some three months ago created so much excitement in Devonshire. I may say that I was his personal friend as well as his medical attendant. He was a strong-minded man, sir, shrewd, practical, and as unimaginative as I am myself. Yet he took this document very seriously, and his mind was prepared for just such an end as did eventually overtake him." (2.7)
Dr. Mortimer is an awkward character in the novel. He mainly serves as a human Exposition Fairy who fills in Holmes and Watson on the background of Sir Charles Baskerville and the Hound and then more-or-less disappears. Dr. Mortimer's friendship with Sir Charles is a plot convenience to give us access to Sir Charles' thoughts on the Hound. It also lets us know a little about what kind of person Sir Charles was.
"At the present instant one of the most revered names in England is being besmirched by a blackmailer, and only I can stop a disastrous scandal. You will see how impossible it is for me to go to Dartmoor."
"Whom would you recommend, then?"
Holmes laid his hand upon my arm.
"If my friend would undertake it there is no man who is better worth having at your side when you are in a tight place. No one can say so more confidently than I." (5.76-9)
Holmes really seems to trust Watson absolutely. He wouldn't send just anybody in his place to protect Sir Henry and report on the happenings around Baskerville Hall. On the other hand, Holmes is taking Watson for granted. While Watson's flattered, he's still taken completely by surprise when Holmes offers to send him off to Devon without asking him first. We assume that Holmes can be a pain to deal with as a friend. What if Watson had World Cup tickets for that weekend?
"You think, then, that some dog pursued Sir Charles, and that he died of fright in consequence?"
"Have you any better explanation?"
"I have not come to any conclusion."
"Has Mr. Sherlock Holmes?"
The words took away my breath for an instant but a glance at [Stapleton's] placid face and steadfast eyes of my companion showed that no surprise was intended.
"It is useless for us to pretend that we do not know you, Dr. Watson," said he. "The records of your detective have reached us here, and you could not celebrate him without being known yourself." (7.36-40)
There's a cool blurring of lines between the real and fictional worlds here, since Stapleton has read Watson's stories about Holmes ("the records of your detective have reached us here") much as we have. Stapleton emphasizes the fact that Watson and Holmes are compadres: where Watson appears, Holmes must also be in the neighborhood. And where Watson is investigating, Holmes must be operating in the background. Their friendship is as famous as Woody and Buzz, Thelma and Louise, Dawson and...well, you get the idea.
I am no antiquarian, but I could imagine that [these prehistoric people] were some unwarlike and harried race who were forced to accept that which none other would occupy.
All this, however, is foreign to the mission on which you sent me and will probably be very uninteresting to your severely practical mind. I can still remember your complete indifference as to whether the sun moved round the earth or the earth round the sun. Let me, therefore, return to the facts concerning Sir Henry Baskerville. (8.2-3)
Watson enjoys admiring the barren landscape of the moors and the prehistoric huts and ruins that dot the area. But he knows Holmes would think that daydreaming about the lives of cavemen is a waste of time. Even though Holmes and Watson aren't literally talking to each other, we still get the flavor of their teasing relationship from Watson's letters from the country.
"And then again, sir, we were both of us very fond of Sir Charles, as we well might be considering all that he has done for us. To rake this up couldn't help our poor master, and it's well to go carefully when there's a lady in the case. Even the best of us—"
"You thought it might injure his reputation?"
"Well, sir, I thought no good could come of it. But now you have been kind to us, and I feel as if it would be treating you unfairly not to tell you all that I know about the matter." (10.43-5)
Conan Doyle writes at a time when it's still common for people to employ servants. This exchange with Barrymore shows readers the benefit of treating your servants kindly (beyond the fact that it's the right thing to do, of course). Barrymore's loyalty to Sir Charles makes him protect his reputation by not revealing his secret meeting with a woman the night he died. And now, Barrymore's gratitude toward Sir Henry makes him reveal the secret. Since the mysterious woman is key to the case against Stapleton, Barrymore's decision to open up to Sir Henry and Watson turns out to be very important.
For a moment or two I sat breathless, hardly able to believe my ears. Then my senses and my voice came back to me, while a crushing weight of responsibility seemed in an instant to be lifted from my soul. That cold, incisive, ironical voice could belong to but one man in all the world.
"Holmes!" I cried—"Holmes!"
"Come out," said he, "and please be careful with the revolver."
I stooped under the rude lintel, and there he sat upon a stone outside, his gray eyes dancing with amusement as they fell upon my astonished features. […]
"I never was more glad to see anyone in my life," said I as I wrung him by the hand. (12.1-5)
This reunion between Watson and Holmes is the real emotional climax of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The case is interesting, and we're glad that Stapleton doesn't get away with murder. But the friendship between Holmes and Watson is where all the positive feelingin the novel really comes from—it's nice to see the old team get back together.
"But why keep me in the dark?"
"For you to know could not have helped us and might possibly have led to my discovery. You would have wished to tell me something, or in your kindness you would have brought me out some comfort or other, and so an unnecessary risk would be run." (12.27-8)
Even with his best bud, Holmes can't turn off the part of him that plans and schemes, which leads him to manipulate Watson almost as much as he does the other characters in The Hound of the Baskervilles. This hurts Watson's feelings, but he eventually comes around to understanding and even agreeing with Holmes that the case comes first. Like we said, a challenging friendship.
But first I had the unpleasant duty of breaking the news to Barrymore and his wife. To him it may have been an unmitigated relief, but she wept bitterly in her apron. To all the world he was the man of violence, half animal and half demon; but to her he always remained the little wilful boy of her own girlhood, the child who had clung to her hand. Evil indeed is the man who has not one woman to mourn him. (13.21)
Mrs. Barrymore's grief over her baby brother's death, even though he was a murderer who ruined her family name, shows the connections that exist between people even under the most extreme circumstances. However, this little note at the end that, "Evil indeed is the man who has not one woman to mourn him" also appears to foreshadow Stapleton's death. By the end of the novel he's managed to alienate both his wife Beryl and his lover Laura Lyons. Even Selden has Mrs. Barrymore to mourn him. Stapleton has no one.
Of the origin of the Hound of the Baskervilles there have been many statements, yet as I come in a direct line from Hugo Baskerville, and as I had the story from my father, who also had it from his, I have set it down with all belief that it occurred even as is here set forth. And I would have you believe, my sons, that the same Justice which punishes sin may also most graciously forgive it, and that no ban is so heavy but that by prayer and repentance it may be removed. Learn then from this story not to fear the fruits of the past, but rather to be circumspect in the future, that those foul passions whereby our family has suffered so grievously may not again be loosed to our undoing. (2.16)
Doctor Mortimer takes this old account of the Hound as absolute truth. But the writer wants to use the story to teach a lesson to his sons not to give in to "those foul passions" that have caused the family so much trouble. It's a story with a moral, which makes its objective truth seem a little doubtful. A scare tactic, maybe. This manuscript also gives us our first glimpse of the suspicion and fear that pervades Dartmoor.
"I could not call you in, Mr. Holmes, without disclosing these facts to the world, and I have already given my reasons for not wishing to do so. Besides, besides—"
"Why do you hesitate?"
"There is a realm in which the most acute and most experienced of detectives is helpless."
"You mean that the thing is supernatural?"
"I did not positively say so."
"No, but you evidently think it." (3.52-7)
Out on the moors, it is possible to believe in anything, even demon dogs. Holmes, a city boy, will never admit that there's a "realm in which the most acute and most experienced of detectives is helpless." The two settings of the novel represent completely different world views: one that allows the supernatural and another that emphasizes rationality and science. Anyone who's ever turned on the night light (because of that monster under the bed) can relate to this.
"Put into plain words, the matter is this," said he. "In your opinion there is a diabolical agency which makes Dartmoor an unsafe abode for a Baskerville—that is your opinion?"
"At least I might go the length of saying that there is some evidence that this may be so."
"Exactly. But surely, if your supernatural theory be correct, it could work the young man evil in London as easily as in Devonshire. A devil with merely local powers like a parish vestry would be too inconceivable a thing." (3.75-7)
In this passage, Holmes teases Doctor Mortimer for thinking that, if Sir Henry is really being pursued by the devil, he'll be safer in London than in Devonshire. As Holmes says, "a devil with merely local powers" would be pretty lame. However, once Watson gets out to Baskerville Hall, the notion that Dartmoor and the Grimpen Mire might actually be places where evil thrives seems more possible to him. Maybe that's because Watson is more imaginative and superstitious than Holmes. Dartmoor is starting to seem a lot like Sleepy Hollow.
"Here are two moorland farmhouses, High Tor and Foulmire. Then fourteen miles away the great convict prison of Princetown. Between and around these scattered points extends the desolate, lifeless moor. This, then, is the stage upon which tragedy has been played, and upon which we may help to play it again."
"It must be a wild place."
"Yes, the setting is a worthy one. If the devil did desire to have a hand in the affairs of men—" (3.116-8)
"Foulmire" is a great name for a farmhouse—it's like calling your house Reeking Mud or Gross Bog. Holmes is setting the stage: even though we haven't actually arrived at Dartmoor yet, we know that it's a place with a "desolate, lifeless moor" and a "great convict prison." Not quite the spot for a relaxing vacay. But Holmes' detached tone shows he isn't particularly worried about it.
"On the whole," said Holmes, "I think that your decision is a wise one. I have ample evidence that you are being dogged in London, and amid the millions of this great city it is difficult to discover who these people are or what their object can be. If their intentions are evil they might do you a mischief, and we should be powerless to prevent it. You did not know, Dr. Mortimer, that you were followed this morning from my house?" (5.39)
Here's one benefit of living in the country, according to Holmes: since you know pretty much everyone in the area, you might know the person trying to kill you. In London, "amid the millions of this great city," it can be harder to identify threats. Don't you suburbanites feel better now?
At every turn Baskerville gave an exclamation of delight, looking eagerly about him and asking countless questions. To his eyes all seemed beautiful, but to me a tinge of melancholy lay upon the countryside, which bore so clearly the mark of the waning year. Yellow leaves carpeted the lanes and fluttered down upon us as we passed. The rattle of our wheels died away as we drove through drifts of rotting vegetation—sad gifts, as it seemed to me, for Nature to throw before the carriage of the returning heir of the Baskervilles. (6.28)
Getting Watson out of London and into a new environment gives him a chance for some impressive description as our narrator. He emphasizes that the setting of Dartmoor holds "a tinge of melancholy." There is something vaguely sad about this whole area. Sir Henry doesn't know it yet, but it's not gonna be a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
The young heir glanced round with a gloomy face.
"It's no wonder my uncle felt as if trouble were coming on him in such a place as this," said he.
"It's enough to scare any man. I'll have a row of electric lamps up here inside of six months, and you won't know it again, with a thousand candle-power Swan and Edison right here in front of the hall door." (6.41-3)
So much for Sir Henry's exclamation of delight. As soon as he gets to his new home, he's creeped out. His plan to light up Baskerville Hall lets us know that this whole area is basically stuck in the past. With his New World background and interest in newfangled technologies, Sir Henry represents a reforming spirit, wanting to bring Baskerville Hall into the brand-new 20th century.
Swan and Edison was the local electric company at the time. The general availability of electrical power was so new and exciting that we doubt that parents were yelling at their kids to turn off the lights, for Pete's sake.
The whole steep slope was covered with gray circular rings of stone, a score of them at least.
"What are they? Sheep-pens?"
"No, they are the homes of our worthy ancestors. Prehistoric man lived thickly on the moor, and as no one in particular has lived there since, we find all his little arrangements exactly as he left them..." (7.82-3)
The history of Dartmoor is literally written on the ground. With all these architectural ruins, we can never forget that The Hound of the Baskervilles strongly associates the moors with the past and prehistory of England. We can compare this with the London of the earlier chapters, where everything's shiny and new. Early 20th-century London was a place where new stuff was constantly being built: hotels, theaters, subways, and department stores (source).
To that Providence, my sons, I hereby commend you, and I counsel you by way of caution to forbear from crossing the moor in those dark hours when the powers of evil are exalted. (2.23)
"Well, good-bye," [Holmes] added as the train began to glide down the platform. "Bear in mind, Sir Henry, one of the phrases in that queer old legend which Dr. Mortimer has read to us, and avoid the moor in those hours of darkness when the powers of evil are exalted." (6.18)
"I say, Watson," said the baronet, "what would Holmes say to this? How about that hour of darkness in which the power of evil is exalted?"
As if in answer to his words there rose suddenly out of the vast gloom of the moor that strange cry which I had already heard upon the borders of the great Grimpen Mire. (9.94-5)
These three lines all echo each other: the first quote comes from Hugo Baskerville's manuscript, as he emphasizes that his sons should avoid crossing the moor "in those dark hours when the power of evil are exalted." The second includes a reference by Holmes to the manuscript and "the powers of evil," which he uses to warn Sir Henry. And then the third and final reference to the "powers of evil" that Sir Henry and Watson fear as they cross the moors.
This repetition across the text reminds us that Conan Doyle is a genius, who keeps an eye out for continuity throughout the novel. He keeps the creepiness going.
"My God, can there be some truth in all these stories? Is it possible that I am really in danger from so dark a cause? You don't believe it, do you, Watson?"
"And yet it was one thing to laugh about it in London, and it is another to stand out here in the darkness of the moor and to hear such a cry as that." (9.115-7)
Here's the clearest illustration in the novel on the contrast between London and Dartmoor. Sir Henry admits that the legend of the Hound is way harder to dismiss when standing "out here in the darkness of the moor." Dartmoor's dark, scary, supernatural atmosphere gives Stapleton's plans a better chance of success. It sure helped him kill off Sir Charles.
"Really, Watson, you excel yourself," said Holmes, pushing back his chair and lighting a cigarette. "I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt."
He had never said as much before, and I must admit that his words gave me keen pleasure, for I had often been piqued by his indifference to my admiration and to the attempts which I had made to give publicity to his methods. (1.13-4)
Poor Watson. He's happy for even that grudging respect from Holmes. He's happy when his friend gives him any kind of compliment at all—even a backhanded one. This scene immediately sets up the dynamic between Watson (the faithful and admiring writer who "[gives] publicity" to Holmes' cases) and Holmes (the rude genius who enjoys Watson's attention).
"Glad to meet you, sir. I have heard your name mentioned in connection with that of your friend. You interest me very much, Mr. Holmes. I had hardly expected so dolichocephalic a skull or such well-marked supra-orbital development. Would you have any objection to my running my finger along your parietal fissure? A cast of your skull, sir, until the original is available, would be an ornament to any anthropological museum. It is not my intention to be fulsome, but I confess that I covet your skull."
Sherlock Holmes waved our strange visitor into a chair. "You are an enthusiast in your line of thought, I perceive, sir, as I am in mine," said he. "I observe from your forefinger that you make your own cigarettes. Have no hesitation in lighting one." (1.56-7)
Dr. Mortimer is interested in the "science" of phrenology (which was popular in Victorian times but which was pretty much debunked). Phrenologists thought you could tell a lot about a person's character by looking at the bulges and bumps on their skulls, since skull shape would indicate which parts of their brains were most developed. The author is making a point that these two recognize each other as men of science. And as a man of science, he's worthy of Holmes' respect.
"It was all very confused. Sir Charles had evidently stood there for five or ten minutes."
"How do you know that?"
"Because the ash had twice dropped from his cigar."
"Excellent! This is a colleague, Watson, after our own heart. But the marks?"
"He had left his own marks all over that small patch of gravel. I could discern no others." (3.43-7)
This bit of sleuthing by Dr. Mortimer's really catches Holmes' attention. Watson probably wishes he could get that kind of unqualified admiration from Holmes. Once again, it's the scientific deductions that get respect. Watson's lifetime of loyalty and affection—well, that's just not as exciting.
"I presume, Doctor, that you could tell the skull of a negro from that of an Esquimau?"
"Because that is my special hobby. The differences are obvious. The supra-orbital crest, the facial angle, the maxillary curve, the—"
"But this is my special hobby, and the differences are equally obvious." (4.27-32)
Holmes continues to give Dr. Mortimer his props as a fellow scientist. He even downplays his own deductions about the newspaper as not all that "remarkable"—it just happens to be his specialty. He's just another specialist, like Dr. Mortimer. Do you think Holmes has that much humility? Could it be just a way to show respect for Dr. M.?
Baskerville sat for a long time, his eyes fixed upon it, and I read upon his eager face how much it meant to him, this first sight of that strange spot where the men of his blood had held sway so long and left their mark so deep. There he sat, with his tweed suit and his American accent, in the corner of a prosaic railway-carriage, and yet as I looked at his dark and expressive face I felt more than ever how true a descendant he was of that long line of high-blooded, fiery, and masterful men. There were pride, valour, and strength in his thick brows, his sensitive nostrils, and his large hazel eyes. (6.26)
Watson seems to have a man-crush on Sir Henry. Even in a plain old railway car, he immediately stands out. True, he seems like a looker—those "dark hazel eyes"!—but what really seems to impress Watson's is Sir Henry's lineage. His distinguished, "masterful" ancestry seems to command immediate respect, even before Watson knows anything else about Sir Henry. He just knows him to be a worthy guy because he's a descendant of worthy men. It's a good thing Watson feels this way. If he's such an exceptional person, then we'll be intrigued by his storyline and hope Stapleton fails in harming him.
I am certainly developing the wisdom of the serpent, for when Mortimer pressed his questions to an inconvenient extent I asked him casually to what type Frankland's skull belonged, and so heard nothing but craniology for the rest of our drive. I have not lived for years with Sherlock Holmes for nothing. (10.64)
Here, Watson pats himself on the back for figuring out how to distract Dr. Mortimer, One of the things we really like about The Hound of the Baskervilles is that Watson gets to show off his own smarts and knowledge of people without Holmes around to coach him. Having a friend like Holmes can sure wear down a person's self-respect. Watson may not have Holmes' genius, but he's plenty smart in this novel and we're glad he knows it.
"We're at close grips at last," said Holmes as we walked together across the moor. "What a nerve the fellow has! How he pulled himself together in the face of what must have been a paralyzing shock when he found that the wrong man had fallen a victim to his plot. I told you in London, Watson, and I tell you now again, that we have never had a foeman more worthy of our steel." (13.1)
Holmes' superpower is detection. Q: How can Conan Doyle keep up the suspense of these mysteries when it seems so clear that Holmes can and will always find all the pieces of the puzzle? A: Give him an equally clever (well, maybe not equally…) opponent. Holmes respects Stapleton's nerve and cunning even if he loathes his motives. This convinces us readers that Stapleton is worth taking seriously as a threat, even if we're pretty sure that Holmes will prevail. At least Stapleton is smart enough not to make it challenging.
The London express came roaring into the station, and a small, wiry bulldog of a man had sprung from a first-class carriage. We all three shook hands, and I saw at once from the reverential way in which Lestrade gazed at my companion that he had learned a good deal since the days when they had first worked together. I could well remember the scorn which the theories of the reasoner used then to excite in the practical man. (13.138)
Lestrade, Scotland Yard policeman, has learned to respect Holmes over the course of their work together. He's apparently one of the rare few who wasn't always impressed with Holmes. Lestrade first appears in A Study in Scarlet, which was published fourteen years before The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1887. By the time of this story, he's a fan.
"… I came to you, Mr. Holmes, because I recognized that I am myself an unpractical man and because I am suddenly confronted with a most serious and extraordinary problem. Recognizing, as I do, that you are the second highest expert in Europe—"
"Indeed, sir! May I inquire who has the honour to be the first?" asked Holmes with some asperity.
"To the man of precisely scientific mind the work of Monsieur Bertillon must always appeal strongly."
"Then had you not better consult him?"
"I said, sir, to the precisely scientific mind. But as a practical man of affairs it is acknowledged that you stand alone. I trust, sir, that I have not inadvertently—" (1.62-6)
A hilarious clash between someone who's sensitive and a bit arrogant (Holmes) and someone who has the social-emotional skills of a brick (Mortimer). Dr. Mortimer tells Holmes to his face that Holmes is his second choice— he'd rather have consulted French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon. Dr. Mortimer foreshadows the other eccentric characters we'll meet in Dartmoor. The isolated region where he lives is filled with people who are, honestly, a tad strange. The Dartmoor of The Hound of the Baskervilles seems to be full of awkward loners.
I knew that seclusion and solitude were very necessary for my friend in those hours of intense mental concentration during which he weighed every particle of evidence, constructed alternative theories, balanced one against the other, and made up his mind as to which points were essential and which immaterial. I therefore spent the day at my club and did not return to Baker Street until evening. It was nearly nine o'clock when I found myself in the sitting-room once more. (3.95)
Holmes lives in one of the largest cities of the world (London) and he shares a house with his best friend (Dr. Watson), but he is still definitely a loner. Holmes needs his space to think through his new cases, and in those moments, Watson has to leave him on his own. Holmes spends a lot of time inside his own head; it's his favorite place.
While this kind of isolation might help Holmes excel at problem-solving, it comes at the expense of his interpersonal and emotional skills.
Shmoop has recently learned that there's a huge controversy brewing in the U.K. because some people think the BBC TV series hints that Holmes is autistic. Here's what some British psychiatrists have to say about that.
He turned into one of the district messenger offices, where he was warmly greeted by the manager.
"Ah, Wilson, I see you have not forgotten the little case in which I had the good fortune to help you?"
"No, sir, indeed I have not. You saved my good name, and perhaps my life." (4.110-12)
Part of Holmes' strength as an investigator is that he is never truly alone. He's surrounded by a network of people whom he has helped, which means that he has more backup than the criminals he hunts down. (The one exception is Professor Moriarty, the head of a criminal organization who faces Holmes in the short story "The Final Problem," in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.) Still, these are mostly professional, not personal, relationships. The warmth all seems to be on the part of Holmes' clients.
"I was a boy in my teens at the time of my father's death and had never seen the Hall, for he lived in a little cottage on the South Coast. Thence I went straight to a friend in America. I tell you it is all as new to me as it is to Dr. Watson, and I'm as keen as possible to see the moor." (6.23-4)
Sir Henry's closely connected to the family there as Sir Charles' heir. But he's also a complete stranger to the place, never having laid eyes on it. So he's in a peculiar isolation: his blood lines and fortune make him an important person in the neighborhood, but he isn't at all familiar with it. You can see why he wants to reach out to neighbors; this makes him more vulnerable to Stapleton, who's a longtime resident who knows his way around.
"But your family have been with us for several generations, have they not? I should be sorry to begin my life here by breaking an old family connection."
I seemed to discern some signs of emotion upon the butler's white face.
"I feel that also, sir, and so does my wife. But to tell the truth, sir, we were both very much attached to Sir Charles, and his death gave us a shock and made these surroundings very painful to us. I fear that we shall never again be easy in our minds at Baskerville Hall." (6.61-3)
Living in a huge, old house like Baskerville Hall requires a ton of servants: Sir Henry can't run the house by himself. And no sooner does he arrive in his new home than the staff up and quits. He probably thought he could rely on his uncle's butler, whose family has been working with his for generations. The possibility of losing them increases both his sense of isolation and his general anxiety about his safety at Baskerville Hall.
A long, low moan, indescribably sad, swept over the moor... Stapleton looked at me with a curious expression in his face.
"Queer place, the moor!" said he.
"But what is it?"
"The peasants say it is the Hound of the Baskervilles calling for its prey. I've heard it once or twice before, but never quite so loud."
I looked round, with a chill of fear in my heart, at the huge swelling plain, mottled with the green patches of rushes. Nothing stirred over the vast expanse save a pair of ravens, which croaked loudly from a tor behind us. (7.69-73)
The moor is a dramatic background for this novel because it's filled with strange noises, prehistoric ruins, and dangerous mires. Part of what makes it so romantic and threatening is its isolation. Watson's description that, "Nothing stirred over the vast expanse save a pair of ravens" makes the unexplainable, echoing sound of the hound that much more frightening. You're alone in the dark.
"Halloa, Watson! Where have you dropped from?" said he. "You don't mean to say that you came after me in spite of all?"
I explained everything to him: how I had found it impossible to remain behind, how I had followed him, and how I had witnessed all that had occurred. For an instant his eyes blazed at me, but my frankness disarmed his anger, and he broke at last into a rather rueful laugh.
"You would have thought the middle of that prairie a fairly safe place for a man to be private," said he, "but, by thunder, the whole countryside seems to have been out to see me do my wooing—and a mighty poor wooing at that!" (9.24-6)
We just suggested that one of the things that makes the moors so threatening is their vast emptiness. In fact, the moors turn out to be full of people: Holmes has been concealing himself there, as has Selden the convict and Sir Henry and his secret love interest . But everyone seems to be there on his or her own private business. They're definitely not planning a block party.
A spectral hound which leaves material footmarks and fills the air with its howling is surely not to be thought of. Stapleton may fall in with such a superstition, and Mortimer also, but if I have one quality upon earth it is common sense, and nothing will persuade me to believe in such a thing. To do so would be to descend to the level of these poor peasants, who are not content with a mere fiend dog but must needs describe him with hell-fire shooting from his mouth and eyes. Holmes would not listen to such fancies, and I am his agent. But facts are facts, and I have twice heard this crying upon the moor. Suppose that there were really some huge hound loose upon it; that would go far to explain everything. But where could such a hound lie concealed, where did it get its food, where did it come from, how was it that no one saw it by day? (10.3)
We sometimes forget that Watson himself spends much of this novel isolated and out on his own. Without Holmes by his side to keep him grounded, Watson is obsessed with questions he can't answer. His reflections also guide our attention to what we should be thinking about as Watson's investigations continue. As Watson says here, clearly there is not going to be a ghost dog involved in this case. But if it's a real dog, where is it and how has it been hiding …?
It's easy to get obsessive when you're alone with a lot of time on your hands.
One of Sherlock Holmes's defects—if, indeed, one may call it a defect—was that he was exceedingly loath to communicate his full plans to any other person until the instant of their fulfilment. Partly it came no doubt from his own masterful nature, which loved to dominate and surprise those who were around him. Partly also from his professional caution, which urged him never to take any chances. The result, however, was very trying for those who were acting as his agents and assistants. I had often suffered under it, but never more so than during that long drive in the darkness. The great ordeal was in front of us; at last we were about to make our final effort, and yet Holmes had said nothing, and I could only surmise what his course of action would be. (14.1)
Holmes has people whom he trusts (Lestrade and the kid Cartwright) and people whom he cares about (Watson) in this novel, but he still tends to withdraw into himself at the most critical moments. Watson understands why, but it still drives him nuts.
It seems unfair to drag Watson along on this "great ordeal" and not tell him the plan. It could put Watson in greater danger. But do you think Holmes would keep the plan a secret if he thought it might harm his friend? Would this even occur to him?
This, in truth, his neighbours might have pardoned, seeing that saints have never flourished in those parts, but there was in him a certain wanton and cruel humour which made his name a by-word through the West. It chanced that this Hugo came to love (if, indeed, so dark a passion may be known under so bright a name) the daughter of a yeoman who held lands near the Baskerville estate. But the young maiden, being discreet and of good repute, would ever avoid him, for she feared his evil name. (2.17)
In our analysis of the "Genre" of The Hound of the Baskervilles, we talk about the Hugo Baskerville episode as an example of Gothic fiction. Gothic fiction seldom features moral "gray area" or subtlety in its portrayal of evil. Bad guys in Gothic fiction may not always seem wicked at first glance, but they generally are evil through and through, without no redeeming quality. Hugo Baskerville is this kind of Gothic villain: his "evil name" in the area turns out to be absolutely justified. How about Stapleton—is he a Gothic villain like his ancestor, Hugo Baskerville? How do these two villains compare?
"On observing the cab I should have instantly turned and walked in the other direction. I should then at my leisure have hired a second cab and followed the first at a respectful distance, or, better still, have driven to the Northumberland Hotel and waited there. When our unknown had followed Baskerville home we should have had the opportunity of playing his own game upon himself and seeing where he made for. As it is, by an indiscreet eagerness, which was taken advantage of with extraordinary quickness and energy by our opponent, we have betrayed ourselves and lost our man." (4.105)
It is pretty unusual that Holmes makes mistakes. But here, early on in The Hound of the Baskervilles, he is filled with regret because, as he is trying to follow Sir Henry's pursuer, he allows himself to be seen. This mistake on Holmes' part not only convinces us he's imperfect like the rest of us, but it also ups the suspense early in the story. It hints that, even in these more familiar surroundings, there are still risks to his investigation—risks that will only get more dire in strange, gloomy Dartmoor.
This is another example of Holmes regretting a professional error. If only he'd feel some regret about treating Watson so abominably. Now that would be real guilt.
The only conceivable motive was that which had been suggested by Sir Henry, that if the family could be scared away a comfortable and permanent home would be secured for the Barrymores. But surely such an explanation as that would be quite inadequate to account for the deep and subtle scheming which seemed to be weaving an invisible net round the young baronet. Holmes himself had said that no more complex case had come to him in all the long series of his sensational investigations. (7.21)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the first suspect in a detective story is never the actual murderer. It would be completely boring if Watson suspected Barrymore the butler from the start and he turned out to be right. No twists and turns, no dramatic reveals! So these early speculations from Watson lead us in the completely wrong direction. Still, the more questions Watson poses—and the more that he reassures us that "Holmes himself had said that no more complex case had come to him in all the long series of his sensational investigations"—the more curious and emotionally involved we get.
[Stapleton's] sister is everything in his life, he says. That is natural enough, and I am glad that he should understand her value. They have always been together, and according to his account he has been a very lonely man with only her as a companion, so that the thought of losing her was really terrible to him. He had not understood, he said, that I was becoming attached to her, but when he saw with his own eyes that it was really so, and that she might be taken away from him, it gave him such a shock that for a time he was not responsible for what he said or did. He was very sorry for all that had passed […] He would withdraw all opposition upon his part if I would promise for three months to let the matter rest and to be content with cultivating the lady's friendship during that time without claiming her love. This I promised, and so the matter rests. (9.40)
In a detective novel, we spend a lot of time as readers trying to figure out who's behaving suspiciously and why. Here, Stapleton is acting strangely: he blows up at Sir Henry for proposing to his sister, and then he apologizes for his behavior with the most involved explanation possible before doing a 180. Sir Henry and Watson both appear to accept his explanation. But as readers, this episode increases our suspicions about Stapleton. When Holmes tells Watson the truth about Stapleton's marriage to Beryl, that seals the deal for us. Guilty!
"No, no, sir; no, not against you!" It was a woman's voice, and Mrs. Barrymore, paler and more horror-struck than her husband, was standing at the door. Her bulky figure in a shawl and skirt might have been comic were it not for the intensity of feeling upon her face.
"We have to go, Eliza. This is the end of it. You can pack our things," said the butler.
"Oh, John, John, have I brought you to this? It is my doing, Sir Henry—all mine. He has done nothing except for my sake and because I asked him."
"Speak out, then! What does it mean?"
"My unhappy brother is starving on the moor. We cannot let him perish at our very gates. The light is a signal to him that food is ready for him, and his light out yonder is to show the spot to which to bring it."
"Then your brother is—"
"The escaped convict, sir—Selden, the criminal." (9.65-71)
So, the Barrymores are feeling guilty about something, but not about what Sir Henry and Watson expect. In fact, they've secretly been sheltering the escaped convict Selden, since he's Mrs. Barrymore's little brother. Up until now, all of the clues seem to indicate that the butler's the threat facing Sir Henry. But we're only in the ninth chapter of the novel out of fifteen. If Barrymore were really the killer, what would the remaining six chapters be about?
I saw Holmes put his hand to his forehead like a man distracted. He stamped his feet upon the ground.
"He has beaten us, Watson. We are too late."
"No, no, surely not!"
"Fool that I was to hold my hand. And you, Watson, see what comes of abandoning your charge! But, by Heaven, if the worst has happened we'll avenge him!" (12.71-4)
When Holmes initially believes that it is Sir Henry who has died from falling off a cliff rather than Selden, he feels he's failed his client. How guilty do you think he feels? In this passage, he seems more angry at himself than guilty. It's easier to imagine Watson feeling guilt based out of his respect and affection toward Sir Henry.
"The brute! The brute!" I cried with clenched hands. "Oh Holmes, I shall never forgive myself for having left him to his fate."
"I am more to blame than you, Watson. In order to have my case well rounded and complete, I have thrown away the life of my client. It is the greatest blow which has befallen me in my career. But how could I know—how could I know—that he would risk his life alone upon the moor in the face of all my warnings?"
"That we should have heard his screams—my God, those screams!—and yet have been unable to save him! Where is this brute of a hound which drove him to his death? It may be lurking among these rocks at this instant. And Stapleton, where is he? He shall answer for this deed." (12.81-3)
Point made. Check out the difference between Holmes' and Watson's reactions to Sir Henry's supposed death. Holmes worries about the blow to his career. Watson's undone by the sound of those horrible screams. Both men's reactions intensify the action—someone is gonna pay for this.
But no slightest sign of [footsteps] ever met our eyes. If the earth told a true story, then Stapleton never reached that island of refuge towards which he struggled through the fog upon that last night. Somewhere in the heart of the great Grimpen Mire, down in the foul slime of the huge morass which had sucked him in, this cold and cruel-hearted man is forever buried. (14.80)
Conan Doyle chooses to punish Stapleton by sinking him into the same bog where he has been hiding the Hound. This does seem like a fitting end: on the day that Watson and Stapleton first meet, they watch a pony sink into the Grimpen Mire. Watson is struck by the fact that the pony's struggles "turned [him] cold with horror, but [his] companion [Stapleton's] nerves seemed to be stronger" (7.59). Stapleton's lack of empathy for the pony foreshadows early on that there's something morally wrong with him. And what goes around, comes around.
[This from Hugo Baskerville to his sons Rodger and John, with instructions that they say nothing thereof to their sister Elizabeth.] (2.24)
(A side note: the Hugo who is signing this note is writing in 1742, about a hundred years after the events in the manuscript Dr. Mortimer presents to Holmes. We find it funny that the Baskervilles have continued using the name "Hugo" when the first Hugo Baskerville in this manuscript appears to have brought down the vengeance of a hell beast on their heads.) Why do you think that Hugo Baskerville doesn't want to tell this story of the Hound to his daughter, Elizabeth? Why might Elizabeth get singled out for protection from this story, as opposed to her two brothers?
"By no means. You could not make a greater mistake. If they are innocent it would be a cruel injustice, and if they are guilty we should be giving up all chance of bringing it home to them. No, no, we will preserve them upon our list of suspects. Then there is a groom at the Hall, if I remember right. There are two moorland farmers. There is our friend Dr. Mortimer, whom I believe to be entirely honest, and there is his wife, of whom we know nothing. There is this naturalist, Stapleton, and there is his sister, who is said to be a young lady of attractions. There is Mr. Frankland, of Lafter Hall, who is also an unknown factor, and there are one or two other neighbours. These are the folk who must be your very special study." (6.6)
Here, Holmes lays out a list of people whom Watson should watch while he's staying with Sir Henry at Baskerville Hall. It's useful that there is a relatively limited list of people in the neighborhood who might be guilty of killing Sir Charles and threatening Sir Henry: it makes Watson's job a lot easier. We also know that at least one of these people must be lying, if they are on Holmes' suspect list. Clearly, any detective novel has to deal with the theme of "Lies and Deceit," or else there'd be nothing to detect.
"Go back!" she said. "Go straight back to London, instantly."
I could only stare at her in stupid surprise. Her eyes blazed at me, and she tapped the ground impatiently with her foot.
"Why should I go back?" I asked.
"I cannot explain." She spoke in a low, eager voice, with a curious lisp in her utterance. "But for God's sake do what I ask you. Go back and never set foot upon the moor again."
"But I have only just come."
"Man, man!" she cried. "Can you not tell when a warning is for your own good? Go back to London! Start tonight! Get away from this place at all costs! Hush, my brother is coming! Not a word of what I have said." (7.91-6)
Beryl Stapleton doesn't want Sir Henry to be murdered (in this scene, she's mistaken Watson for Sir Henry). But she also doesn't want to upset her husband or reveal his role in Sir Charles' death. Beryl wants the impossible: she wants to protect Stapleton and save Sir Henry. By the end of the book, she doesn't even care about protecting Stapleton any longer. What do you make of Beryl's character? Do we have any sense of her as a three-dimensional person from this novel?
It is not to be wondered at, for time hangs heavily in this lonely spot to an active man like him, and she is a very fascinating and beautiful woman. There is something tropical and exotic about her which forms a singular contrast to her cool and unemotional brother. Yet he also gives the idea of hidden fires. He has certainly a very marked influence over her, for I have seen her continually glance at him as she talked as if seeking approbation for what she said. I trust that he is kind to her. There is a dry glitter in his eyes and a firm set of his thin lips, which goes with a positive and possibly a harsh nature. You would find him an interesting study. (8.7)
Even though Beryl and Jack Stapleton are lying about their identities, their physical appearances hint at the truth. Watson notices that there is something "tropical and exotic" about Beryl, which foreshadows the revelation that she's Beryl Garcia, from Costa Rica. (See our "Character Analysis" of Beryl for more thoughts on Conan Doyle's racial politics here.) Watson also sees that Stapleton "has […] a very marked influence" over Beryl. While he may not know the details, we later discover that Stapleton uses a combination of love and harsh treatment to keep Beryl in line.
"I should say that it was much more likely that it was the son of one of the moorland shepherds taking out his father's dinner."
The least appearance of opposition struck fire out of the old autocrat. His eyes looked malignantly at me, and his gray whiskers bristled like those of an angry cat.
"Indeed, sir!" said he, pointing out over the wide-stretching moor. "Do you see that Black Tor over yonder? Well, do you see the low hill beyond with the thornbush upon it? It is the stoniest part of the whole moor. Is that a place where a shepherd would be likely to take his station? Your suggestion, sir, is a most absurd one." (11.93-5)
Here, Watson cleverly a lie to provoke Mr. Frankland into spilling what he knows about the mysterious man out on the moors. Mr. Frankland can't stand the "least appearance of opposition," so when Watson pretends to dismiss his ideas, Mr. Frankland immediately contradicts Watson with more details than he might have otherwise let on.
"Because he so far forgot himself as to tell you a true piece of autobiography upon the occasion when he first met you, and I dare say he has many a time regretted it since. He was once a schoolmaster in the north of England. Now, there is no one more easy to trace than a schoolmaster. There are scholastic agencies by which one may identify any man who has been in the profession. A little investigation showed me that a school had come to grief under atrocious circumstances, and that the man who had owned it—the name was different—had disappeared with his wife. The descriptions agreed. When I learned that the missing man was devoted to entomology the identification was complete." (12.57)
Stapleton's undoing is that he doesn't lie quite enough. He tells Watson the truth about having been a schoolmaster in the north of England. That is how Holmes manages to trace Stapleton's identity back to Yorkshire, where he and Beryl were living under the name of Vandeleur. The thing about living a life of constant lying is that you can't be on your guard all the time—Stapleton is bound to slip up, which is enough for Holmes to discover his secret.
"Who—who's this?" [Stapleton] stammered.
"It is Selden, the man who escaped from Princetown."
Stapleton turned a ghastly face upon us, but by a supreme effort he had overcome his amazement and his disappointment. He looked sharply from Holmes to me. "Dear me! What a very shocking affair! How did he die?" (12.111-13)
This is the first dialogue between Stapleton, Holmes, and Watson after Holmes has told Watson that Stapleton is the murderer. Stapleton tried to hide his shock that the body isn't Sir Henry. The language Watson uses to describe Stapleton changes entirely once he knows for sure that Stapleton is guilty. Suddenly, Stapleton's face is "ghastly" (meaning very pale) because he is struggling with his "amazement and his disappointment." Watson has an entirely new insight into Stapleton's character now that he can see through his lies, and it influences his narration.
"Yes, it is an interesting instance of a throwback, which appears to be both physical and spiritual. A study of family portraits is enough to convert a man to the doctrine of reincarnation. The fellow is a Baskerville—that is evident." (13.61)
Once again, no matter how much Stapleton lies, his face betrays him. Here, his resemblance to Hugo Baskerville proves to Holmes that he's secretly a Baskerville relative after the family fortune. No matter how good a liar Stapleton may be, he can't control every variable. As Shakespeare said, "the truth will out." Especially with Sherlock Holmes on the case.
"Thank God! Thank God! Oh, this villain! See how he has treated me!" [Beryl] shot her arms out from her sleeves, and we saw with horror that they were all mottled with bruises. "But this is nothing—nothing! It is my mind and soul that he has tortured and defiled. I could endure it all, ill-usage, solitude, a life of deception, everything, as long as I could still cling to the hope that I had his love, but now I know that in this also I have been his dupe and his tool." She broke into passionate sobbing as she spoke. (14.68)
Beryl Stapleton claims that she could take Stapleton's abuse and lies if she "could still cling to the hope that she had his love." As soon as this bubble bursts, she turns violently against him. What might Conan Doyle be suggesting about the morality (or immorality) of love in general? Have you ever lied to protect someone you love? (All answers are strictly confidential.)