The Hound of the Baskervilles
Arthur Conan Doyle
First published in the UK 1901-02 in the Strand magazine
176 pages in print
This edition Project Gutenberg
I’m getting to the point, two thirds of the way through my personal challenge to read the CWA top 100 crime books, that the remaining titles are either so obscure I haven’t seen them in four years of bookshop browsing, or so famous that probably most of you have read them already.
For example, I’m sure there’s very little new that can be said about The Hound of the Baskervilles (or indeed any Sherlock Holmes story). For what it’s worth, it’s my favourite of the four Holmes novels. A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four come encumbered with lengthy back stories and are overloaded with Sherlock quirks (not that anybody dislikes Sherlock quirks); The Hound is content to live in the moment, and puts the story first.
Here are four reasons I enjoyed re-reading it this week, and at the bottom, a link to a very interesting article about its authorship:
1. Conan Doyle had a lovely command of eccentrics. Dr James Mortimer bursts into chapter 1 a gabbling mass of bizarre phrenological obsessions. How many people would ask for someone’s skull within five minutes of making their acquaintance?
‘You interest me very much, Mr. Holmes. I had hardly expected so dolichocephalic a skull or such well-marked supra-orbital development. Would you have any objection to my running my finger along your parietal fissure? A cast of your skull, sir, until the original is available, would be an ornament to any anthropological museum. It is not my intention to be fulsome, but I confess that I covet your skull.’
Equally barking is Mr Frankland, engaging in multiple futile law cases.
‘I have brought off a double event. I mean to teach them in these parts that law is law, and that there is a man here who does not fear to invoke it. I have established a right of way through the centre of old Middleton’s park, slap across it, sir, within a hundred yards of his own front door. What do you think of that? We’ll teach these magnates that they cannot ride roughshod over the rights of the commoners, confound them! And I’ve closed the wood where the Fernworthy folk used to picnic. These infernal people seem to think that there are no rights of property, and that they can swarm where they like with their papers and their bottles. Both cases decided, Dr. Watson, and both in my favour. I haven’t had such a day since I had Sir John Morland for trespass because he shot in his own warren.’
Wonderfully vivid – you can almost tug on their mutton-chops.
2. It’s a shame Victorians were so Victorian. Couldn’t Sir Henry and Miss Stapleton have got together somehow? What happened to love conquering all? I expect she ended up picking oakum and/or smallpox scabs in the Baskerville Asylum for Betrayed Gentlewomen.
3. Watson is at the forefront of The Hound, and it’s good to see how someone less equipped than Holmes handles a case. And how wonderfully frank is this line, written after Holmes’ famous reappearance?
A crushing weight of responsibility seemed in an instant to be lifted from my soul. That cold, incisive, ironical voice could belong to but one man in all the world.
‘Holmes!’ I cried—’Holmes!’
4. Conan Doyle was a fair descriptive writer, although nobody could really believe this is a diary entry (as is claimed in the text):
October 16th. A dull and foggy day with a drizzle of rain. The house is banked in with rolling clouds, which rise now and then to show the dreary curves of the moor, with thin, silver veins upon the sides of the hills, and the distant boulders gleaming where the light strikes upon their wet faces.
And here’s the interesting article…
The scandal haunting The Hound of the Baskervilles: Doyle wrote to his mother that “Fletcher Robinson came here with me and we are going to do a small book together ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’—a real creeper.” In the same letter, he mentioned that the book was already half written. Doyle also wrote to his editor offering him the story but stipulating, “I must do it with my friend Robinson and his name must appear with mine.”
Final destination: A keeper
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.