Study Guide

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Weakness

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Weakness

The Man With the Twisted Lip

[After doing a bit of amateur begging] I wrote my articles and thought little more of the matter until, some time later, I backed a bill for a friend and had a writ served upon me for twenty-five pounds. I was at my wit's end where to get the money, but a sudden idea came to me. I begged a fortnight's grace from the creditor, asked for a holiday from my employers, and spent the time begging in the City under my disguise. In ten days I had the money and had paid the debt.

Well, you can imagine how hard it was to settle down to arduous work at two pounds a week when I knew that I could earn as much in a day by smearing my face with a little paint, laying my cap on the ground and sitting still. It was a long fight between my pride and the money, but the dollars won at last (Twisted Lip.204-5).

Neville St. Clair's weakness for a quick buck doesn't exactly lead him into crime, but it does make him run the risk of a public humiliation. He figures that would so bad that he'd rather go to jail as a murderer than admit that he's been begging in disguise.

The Blue Carbuncle

I see – her ladyship's waiting-maid. Well, the temptation of sudden wealth so easily acquired was too much for you, as it has been for better men before you; but you were not very scrupulous in the means you used. It seems to me, Ryder, that there is the making of a very pretty villain in you (Carbuncle.173).

James Ryder, like Neville St. Clair, gives in to sudden weakness in his theft of the Blue Carbuncle. But he's also willing to send another man to jail in his stead; those are the "not very scrupulous" means Holmes is talking about. So why does Holmes let Ryder go? What assurances does Holmes have that Ryder's really been scared straight? What do you think of our detective's decision?

The Speckled Band

The [Roylott] family was at one time among the richest in England, and the estates extended over the borders into Berkshire in the north, and Hampshire in the west. In the last century, however, four successive heirs were of a dissolute and wasteful disposition, and the family ruin was eventually completed by a gambler in the days of the Regency. Nothing was left save a few acres of ground, and the two-hundred-year-old house, which is itself crushed under a heavy mortgage (Band.24).

The Roylott family once had it all: money, reputation, and importance. But by the time we reach Dr. Grimesby Roylott, we still have the importance (the people in the village are glad to see a Roylott back at Stoke Moran) but definitely not the money or the good reputation. Social status is complex in Holmes's world: it's not just a matter of birth but also of respect. This is a distinctly modern idea, the notion that you aren't just born into good society – you have to behave well to stay there. We can compare this to earlier models of aristocracy, in which birth means everything in terms of social standing. In these stories, self-indulgence can ruin a Lord as quickly as it can ruin a common man.

The Beryl Coronet

It is unfortunately more than possible [that Mary Holder has eloped with Sir George Burnwell]; it is certain. Neither you nor your son knew the true character of this man when you admitted him into your family circle. He is one of the most dangerous men in England – a ruined gambler, an absolutely desperate villain, a man without heart or conscience. Your niece knew nothing of such men. When he breathed his vows to her, as he had done to a hundred before her, she flattered herself that she alone had touched his heart [...]

I have no doubt that she loved you, but there are women in whom the love of a lover extinguishes all other loves, and I think that she must have been one. (Coronet.204-7)

As a general rule in these stories, it appears that men often fall prey to greed or rage. Women, on the other hand, most often fall into crime as a result of excessive love – see Mary Holder in this passage or Mrs. Rucastle in "The Copper Beeches." Why does Conan Doyle give each gender different moral weaknesses? Do you think these distinctions hold true in real life?

I have thought sometimes that it was the disposition of her child which weighed upon her mind, for I have never met so utterly spoiled and so ill-natured a little creature [...] His whole life appears to be spent in an alternation between savage fits of passion and gloomy intervals of sulking. Giving pain to any creature weaker than himself seems to be his one idea of amusement, and he shows quite remarkable talent in planning the capture of mice, little birds and insects (Beeches.108).

In this passage, Violet Hunter is describing her employer's awful son. Holmes uses this kid's general evilness as further proof that his parents are bad. Is moral weakness something that can be taught? Are the children of bad parents really doomed to repeat their mistakes? Have we seen examples elsewhere in the Holmes stories that contradict or confirm Holmes's argument about the nature of children in "The Copper Beeches"?