Conan Doyles hero Sherlock Holmes was popular in Victorian and Edwardian society for many reasons.
What in your opinion ,makes the stories “The Red Headed League ”and “The Speckled Band”exciting and successful Sherlock Holmes stories are some of the best detective stories ever written. They were written by Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle (1850-1930) who was a medical doctor. “The Red Headed League” was published in 1891 and “The Speckled Band” was published in 1892 in a magazine called The Strand Magazine.
“The Red Headed League” is about a mysterious organisation which Mr. Holmes client, Mr. Wilson was working for until it dissolved. Finally this strange league turns out to be simply a cover up to distract Mr.
Wilson while the criminals dig a secret passage from his cellar intending to rob gold from the “City and Suburban Bank”.“ The Speckled Band” is about a cruel stepfather (Dr. Roylott) with an intention of murdering his step daughters to acquire their property. He succeeds in murdering his elder stepdaughter, Julia, in a mysterious way.
When his younger stepdaughter, Helen, gets suspicious about everything as the mysterious circumstances repeated themselves she contacts Mr. Holmes in fear to help her to find out whether her sister s death was a murder and if it was to find the murderer.Mr. Roylott then tried to use an Indian snake to murder Helen Stoner and during the climax the snake bit Mr.
Roylott himself. The first thing we should notice is that always the criminal is punished. During Victorian and Edwardian times people were confused about all the theories they had on justice as Charles Darwin (1809-1882) proposed the evolution theory which made many feel that God did not exist. Edwardian people had doubts in believing that God will punish offenders in hell.
Therefore they wanted the criminal to be punished in this life itself. That is why Conan Doyle makes sure that the criminal is punished and justice is upheld. At this point we should remember that many during Victorian and Edwardian times believed that Sherlock Holmes did exist and for them the fact that Holmes always finds the criminal gave a sense of security. Conan Doyle has created Sherlock Holmes a believable hero by creating him with both strengths and weaknesses.
For example Holmes excellent reasoning skill is his strength while his moody personality is his weakness.The time when this story was written was in the 1890s. People were feeling insecure as the end of 19th century was approaching. There were rumours that the world was going to end.
The arrival of their crime detecting new hero, Sherlock Holmes, would have definitely provided reassurance. Sherlock Holmes is described as “the relentless, keen- witted, ready-handed criminal agent”. He is shown as the best in the detective field with every skill that a detective needs… He has a “brilliant reasoning power” and it amazes the readers in ways how he draws correct conclusions from small observations.For example, in “The Red Headed League”, by looking at John Clay s “worn wrinkled and stained ” knees he realises that John Clay has been digging a passage to the bank.
On the other hand he is also shown as a lonely man without a family life. I think this is done deliberately for psychological reasons to prevent readers from hating him because even though some might feel jealous for his investigating skills on the other hand they will feel pity for his lonely life. Dr. Watson is the narrator of the stories .
Doctors are one of the most trusted professions as they traditionally have an image of being saviours.I think the reason why Dr. Watson is shown as a doctor is to make the readers trust him and therefore believe in the story. He is shown as less skilful, lacking the reasoning skills compared to Holmes, which makes us trust him more and like him because we are at the same level as well.
As a doctor he has excellent skills of observing and describing which is an aid for us to recreate every event that happened in the story while we read. People always prefer familiar settings. That is why the author provides information like the name of the streets and underground stations such as “Baker street” and “Aldersgate” underground.This would have attracted the British / especially London readers who knew these places.
Conan Doyle also provides precise dates such as “The Morning Chronicle ,of April 27, 1890” and “The Red Headed League is Dissolved. Oct. 9,1980” which would have delighted the readers who lived during this period because they would have felt a part of this story which also develops its realism. The author always gives the readers clues.
When Dr. Roylott warns Holmes by saying “Don t you dare to meddle with my affairs ” in “The Speckled Band”, we may guess that he might be the villain in this story as he feels uncomfortable with Mr. Holmes nvestigation.Similarly when Holmes asks whether John Clay s “ears are pierced for ear-rings” in “The Red Headed League” we guess that he might be a well known criminal.
This is a technique to make the reader follow the investigation in the right track and at the end when Holmes explains everything instead of feeling completely lost they will feel happy and proud for guessing correctly. In both stories the climax is an interesting part with full of suspense and action . In “The Red Headed League” the climax is more like a thriller which includes Mr. Holmes and Scotland Yard Officers surrounding the cellar and arresting the criminals.
In “The Speckled Band” the climax is set more like a horror sequence which includes action with a mysterious creature (which later turns out to be a snake) and the death of Dr. Roylott. Even though they might not be much thrilling to us as we have seen many thriller and horror movies it would have been really interesting for the Victorian and Edwardian readers. The climax is always kept full of suspense either if it is about whether the criminal might escape from justice (John Clay in “The Red Headed league” for example) or about whether the innocent will be hurt (Helen Stoner in “The Speckled Band” for example).
In the end we can notice that in both cases what we wanted happened (which is the criminal being punished and the innocent being protected), which restores morality. The author also includes many references to foreign countries. “Indian animals” in “The Speckled Band” and ‘the Chinese tattoo in “The Red Headed League” are two fine examples for this. As the British empire was ruling many foreign countries Victorian and Edwardian people were interested in these countries.
But the author s common usage of French sentences such as “ ‘L homme c est rien-l oeuvre c st tout” also serves to show the readers that Mr. Holmes is intellectual.Sherlock Holmes stories were famous during Victorian and Edwardian times because of the techniques Conan Doyle uses. He seems to have got the ability to describe virtually everything in the imaginative scene of crime and make the reader feel him/her self as a detective.
Even if Sherlock Holmes stories might not be as successful as they were in the Victorian and Edwardian societies due to the time gap, I still feel that they are relevant as still many crime novelists use Sherlock Holmes stories as basis for their modern novels and movies.If we look at the famous detective series Inspector Morse for example Inspector Morse also has an assistant/ partner ( Like Dr. Watson In Sherlock Holmes stories) and he also draws conclusions from his observations. This is a proof for Conan Doyle s long lasting effect on detective literature.
On the whole, the excellent characterisation, brilliant plot, griping climax and the sense of realism make Sherlock Holmes stories very successful.