Study Guide

The Hound of the Baskervilles Cunning and Cleverness

By Arthur Conan Doyle

Cunning and Cleverness

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Obviously, Holmes is clever. Who wants read about a detective who isn't good at figuring stuff out? (Well, unless it's some kind of joke detective like the bumbling Thomson and Thompson in Tintin...)

The terrific thing about The Hound of the Baskervilles is that Holmes is not allowed to be brilliant from start to finish. He makes mistakes, and he worries about his failures. We get to see a more vulnerable side of the Great Detective in this novel. But there are still plenty of dramatic deductions and surprising reveals to prove to us that Holmes hasn't lost his flair out in the remote wilds of Dartmoor. If you were an avid reader of the Holmes stories in Conan Doyle's day, Holmes' cleverness was what you came for.

Questions About Cunning and Cleverness

  1. How do the characters around Holmes respond to his deductions? Do they all admire Holmes' smarts the way Watson does?
  2. What terms does Holmes use to describe his own process of reasoning? Does he seem to think of his intellectual process in the same way that the characters around him do? 
  3. What are the limits of Holmes' intelligence? What can't he predict?

Chew on This

Holmes emphasizes that his detective work is based on science. However, the fact that Watson always presents Holmes's surprising conclusions first, before explaining his practical reasoning processes, makes Holmes's cleverness seem dramatic rather than scientific.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles Holmes seems like a more approachable, human character despite his superhuman gifts. He gets irritated with Dr. Mortimer. He's uncertain about the identity of the corpse at the bottom of the cliff. He worries about Sir Henry's safety on that foggy night and torments himself for failing Sir Henry when it appears he's been killed.