Study Guide

The Return of Sherlock Holmes Language and Communication

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Language and Communication

"The police believe that they have evidence in their possession which supplies a very convincing motive for the crime, and altogether it cannot be doubted that sensational developments will follow." (Norwood Builder.21)

The "sensational developments" mentioned in this newspaper article really describe how journalism worked in this period. As Holmes noted on occasion, the press tended to be "sensational" and over-the-top.

"I don't know whether you are playing a game with us, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said he. "If you know anything, you can surely say it without all this tomfoolery." (Norwood Builder.172)

First off, props to Lestrade for using the word "tomfoolery." Lestrade has the best dialogue. Secondly, Lestrade highlights two different forms of communication here: practical statements versus dramatic performances. Though Holmes is often plain-spoken, he has a definite flair for drama and a love of witty phrases.

"You see, my dear Watson" - he propped his test-tube in the rack, and began to lecture with the air of a professor addressing his class [....] (Dancing Men.12)

This image of Holmes as a lecturing professor is a recurring one throughout these stories. Holmes's speaking style is often very didactic, or is like an educational lecture.

"I'm not much of a story-teller," said our visitor, nervously clasping and unclasping his great, strong hands. "You'll just ask me anything that I don't make clear." (Dancing Men.28)

A number of characters give this qualification of not being a good storyteller before launching into lengthy narratives, which have presumably been edited by Watson. Storytelling is at the center of criminal investigations here and can be linked to themes of justice, truth and lies, reputation, communication, and even just detective work itself.

It was vain to urge that his time was already fully occupied, for the young lady had come with the determination to tell her story, and it was evident that nothing short of force could get her out of the room until she had done so. (Solitary Cyclist.2)

We get a lot of contrasts between how people tell their stories here, and also between how willing people are to tell them. In this case, a young woman demands to tell her story, which contrasts to characters like Colonel Moran in the "Empty House" who refuse to speak to Holmes at all.

"Gone to the nearest public-house. That is the centre of country gossip. They would have told you every name, from the master to the scullery-maid." (Solitary Cyclist.63)

Holmes often seems very fond of visiting lower-class places. It's possible that part of his enjoyment of these places has to do with the type of communication that goes on there. In this case, we see that Holmes has a fondness for gossip as a source of information.

"It's an extraordinary thing," said he, " that all my life I have been collecting other people's news, and now that a real piece of news has come my own way I am so confused and bothered that I can't put two words together." (Six Napoleons.41)

Journalist Horace Harker makes a great thematic statement here when he considers the distinction between reporting on other people's news and telling a personal story, that is newsworthy.

"The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if you only know how to use it." (Six Napoleons.94)

Holmes has a very interesting view of the Press, and it reflects how he seems to view people in general. The press, like people, can be useful and is capable of being manipulated for various ends.

"No, no, Mr. Gilchrist, sir, I never said a word – never one word!" cried the servant.

"No, but you have now," said Holmes. (Three Students.192-3)

This is a great example of how clever and quick-witted Holmes can be, and it also comments on the theme of unintentional communication. Suspects always give things away to Holmes without meaning to do so, and often non-verbally.

"I've got my facts pretty clear," said Stanley Hopkins. "All I want now is to know what they all mean. The story, so far as I can make it out, is like this." (Pince-Nez.19)

Hopkins basically sums up detective work in a nutshell here. Detective work is about gathering facts and then crafting a coherent story out of them. This is also what Watson himself does as a writer, which sets up an interesting link between him and Holmes.

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