Study Guide

The Hound of the Baskervilles Lies and Deceit

By Arthur Conan Doyle

Lies and Deceit

[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.)