The Hound of the Baskervilles (Penguin Popular Classics)|
Penguin Classics, Paperback, 25 January, 1996
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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Sherlock Holmes through and through
The Hound of the Baskervilles is a curious story which follows the pursuits more of dear Watson than the master detective, with periods when the reader really would like to have the input of Holmes ever unflappable logic but are denied it. Despite this the story of Charles Baskervilles death and the spectral hound which, legend has it, haunts the sinister moors is an intriguing and compelling tale which introduces new sub-stories and wonderfully diverse characters to keep the reader satisfied. The end is perhaps slightly too predictable and it seems unlikely that the wily culprit would be duped so easily. There is no doubt that it is a times slightly too fantastic in nature but indeed to a certain extent this only adds to the thrills.
Some slight problems but over all an intriguing mystery which will keep your mind from wandering right up to the final page.
The quintessential Holmes tale
The image of Sherlock Holmes in 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' is perhaps the most enduring image we have of him. You see, an Inverness cloak and deerstalker cap are inappropriate wardrobe for the town, and belong in the country. Sherlock Holmes is predominantly a city dweller and city investigator; it is relatively uncommon that he treks out on adventures, but the case of the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and the attempted murder of Sir Henry Baskerville led him to the Dartmoor plain. Thus, country garb was in order. This is where we get much of our imagery.
Also helping with this is that every major actor to play Holmes has considered 'Hound of the Baskervilles' to be the ultimate Holmes story to act -- rather like the Hamlet of Conan Doyle's work. Holmes was a popular film icon, and in the early decades of the twentieth century several dozen films were made of Holmes, but the first after these many films to be set in Victorian times (and not be updated for the screen) was a version of Hound. Ellie Norwood, Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Jeremy Brett -- many distinguished actors have considered this among their greatest roles.
Watson dates the case to 1889, but various reading authorities, knowing the good doctor's occasional attempts to distort details to protect the privacy of the innocent, have dated this to between 1886 and 1900.
In fact, the novel appeared in serialised form in the Strand magazine, the great first-publication site of most Holmesian tales, between August 1901 and April 1902, after Conan Doyle had attempted to kill off the great detective in the short story The Final Problem, which showcased Holmes' battle with Moriarity, the Napoleon of Crime. In fact, Conan Doyle came to dislike the character of Holmes because it was a distraction to his other pursuits.
So, bowing to public pressure, Conan Doyle penned Hound of the Baskervilles to placate the public demand for more stories, but took care to place it before the death of Holmes, in the hopes that he could leave the detective safely dead (if not buried). Such was not to be, and we find a few years later that in fact Conan Doyle 'resurrects' Holmes in a rather ingenious fashion.
But, on to the story at hand. Holmes and Watson, at home at 221b Baker Street, are approached by a Dr. James Mortimer regarding the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and a family curse which involved evil forces in the form of a satanic hound. Mortimer is concerned for the safety of the new proprietor of the family lands, freshly arriving from Canada, who had a new boot stolen, then an old boot stolen, in his hotel in London. Later Holmes would put together the significance of this seeming strange minor act (no, I won't tell you).
Holmes sends Baskerville and Watson together to the country estate while he tends things in London on another case. In reality, Holmes is setting Watson up as a diversion, while he investigates the moor and the surroundings of the Baskerville estate under cover. Life at the estate is a bit strained, given the murder, an attempted murder, a curse, and all. The neighbours seem nice enough, though. Or are they? Watson picks up on curious little details of their relationship, which he reports back in written notes to Holmes (which have been redirected to his moor outpost).
Eventually Holmes reveals himself to Watson, and then to Baskerville, and the chase is on in earnest, to discover the reality of the mysterious creature each have seen or heard. In good mystery fashion, we come across long lost relatives and an inheritance to be had; we find plots and subplots muddied by superstitious belief and fear, on a mysterious plain in southwestern England.
All the elements combined that are now considered standard bits for a well-done country English mystery. But the mystery does not stop merely with the story. In true mystery fashion, appearing in the Daily Express edition of March 16, 1959, there were doubts cast upon the authorship of Hound of the Baskervilles. The one who carried the dispute was named none other than Baskerville, Harry Baskerville. He credited the story to one Fletcher Robinson, who died (perhaps of the Egyptian mummy's curse) at age 35 shortly after the publication of Hound. With his death, only Baskerville remembered the issue of co-authorship. Baskerville claims it was Robinson who 'borrowed' the Baskerville name.
One of Conan Doyle's heirs, Adrian Conan Doyle, heatedly denied involvement of Robinson past possible 'conversations' that might have taken place between Arthur Conan Doyle and Robinson. But, he did not deny Conan Doyle's possible 'inspiration' from Robinson.
One Baker Street Irregular (an exclusive club of Holmesian experts) was doing a monograph on this issue as well, claiming that the reason why Holmes appears so infrequently is due to the fact that he had to be written in to an otherwise essentially completed story. This Irregular travelled to meet with Baskerville, and hinted at discoveries he had found. But alas, the Irregular died three weeks later in America, his monograph never published and his notes were never found. Perhaps a dog ate the homework? A mysterious hound, perhaps?
"As you value your life...keep away from the moor."
With echoes of Edgar Allan Poe, this 1902 novel continues to delight mystery-lovers. Elegantly written in formal prose, the story focuses on the moor surrounding the ancestral home of Sir Henry Baskerville, an American who has inherited it upon the mysterious death of his uncle Charles. The moor is so treacherous that no one dares venture upon it at night--one step off the path, and the mire will swallow the unfortunate victim.
Family legend says that a sadistic Baskerville from the eighteenth century once loosed a huge and ferocious dog in pursuit of a woman who had escaped his clutches, and that she had died of fright when she heard the dog panting behind her on the moor. The lecherous Baskerville, in pursuit, had had his throat torn out by this "dog from hell." The ghostly dog can still be heard howling on the moors, and many believe it was the dog which caused the elderly Sir Charles Baskerville to have his fatal heart attack.
In classically Gothic style, the novel features mysterious cries from the moor, foggy nights, an escaped prisoner, signals by candlelight, a butler who knows more than he says, a beautiful woman with a mysterious past, a small boy who carries messages, and someone who spies on the dark and isolated Baskerville Hall. Sherlock Holmes plays a lesser role in this story than he does in most others, remaining in London while Dr. Watson accompanies Sir Henry to his estate as an observer and protector.
Holmes, of course, is operating behind the scenes, learning about the activities at Baskerville Hall through the daily accounts which Watson sends him (and which reveal much of the action to the reader). By no means the bumbling character which films have portrayed, Watson offers sensible advice to Sir Henry and shows a keen eye for details of interest to Holmes.
Though the prose is often "purple" with melodrama and overwrought description, this contributes to the fun of the novel, providing a dramatic counterweight to the extreme logic of Sherlock Holmes, whose late appearance in the novel comes as a carefully timed surprise. The story is intriguing, the mysteries are well developed, the atmosphere is suitably spooky, and the resolution, though not really surprising, is appropriate. Even if the story had not been made into a memorable film with Basil Rathbone, The Hound of the Baskervilles would still be justly famous as Conan Doyle's best developed mystery, a genuine classic of the genre. Mary Whipple