The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle STUDY GUIDE
The Hound of the Baskervilles written by Arthur Conan Doyle. The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of four crime novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. Originally serialised in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902, it is set largely on Dartmoor in Devon in England's West Country and tells the story of an attempted murder inspired by the legend of a fearsome, diabolical hound. The term is also a reference to the titular Hound of the Baskervilles.
Biography: Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle (born in Edinburgh, May 22, 1859) studied medicine in Scotland under the tutelage of one Doctor Joseph Bell. In later years, Conan Doyle would remain greatly impressed by Dr. Bell’s ability to deduce facts about his patient through careful observation. Dr. Bell, said the author, “would sit in his receiving room… and diagnose the people as they came in, before they even opened their mouths. He would tell them details of their past life; and hardly would he ever make a mistake.” Conan Doyle received his medical degree in 1885 and established a small private practice in Southsea, specializing in opthamology; however, in his spare time (and, for lack of patients, he seems to have had a fair amount of it), he began writing fiction.
Although Conan Doyle always said he hoped he would be remembered for such historical fiction as The White Company (1890), his fame today is due almost entirely to his creation of Sherlock Holmes. Like Dr. Bell, Holmes was a master of observation and deductive reasoning. Literature’s first private consulting detective made his debut in the novel A Study in Scarlet (1887 in Beeton’s Christmas Annual) and reappeared in the novel The Sign of Four (1890). It was, however, in a series of short stories that appeared in the Strand magazine, beginning with “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891), that Holmes really became a sensation among Britain’s reading public. By 1893, Conan Doyle had grown tired of writing the Holmes stories, convinced as he was that they stole his time and energy away from more serious matters. He attempted to “kill off” Holmes in the short story he (no doubt optimistically) entitled “The Final Problem.” Readers would have none of it, however. Not only was Conan Doyle obliged to bring Holmes back for an adventure set preceding his
Conan Doyle returned to military medical service in the Boer War in 1900; after the war, he ran for Parliament twice, both times unsuccessfully. He
left the Roman Catholic Church in which he had been born and raised and became a spiritualist, keenly interested in such supernatural phenomena as speaking with the dead in séances. He was touring the world to promote spiritualist beliefs when exhaustion led him to return home to England in 1929. He died the next year on July 6.
The Pressure of the Past: “The past is never dead,” wrote William Faulkner; “it’s not even past.” His sentiment certainly captures one of the thematic preoccupations of The Hound of the Baskervilles: the pervasive presence of what has gone before. Various characters in the book are coping (or, in some cases, failing to cope) with the burdens of their past. Sir Charles and Sir Henry, for instance, are both confronted with the legacy of their family name: the purported ribaldry of Hugo Baskerville, who looms large in family lore as a “wild, profane and godless man,” has cast a blight upon the Baskerville reputation and, of course, is the ostensible basis for the “curse” of the
The Uncertain Future: A further temporal theme in The Hound of the Baskervilles is the anxiety with which Britain faced the dawning of the 20th century. The age of the British Empire, upon which once “the sun had never set,” was ending; society was shifting; the old certainties no longer proved true. As Watson tells Beryl Stapleton, “Life has become like that great Grimpen Mire, with little green patches everywhere into which one may sink and with no guide to point the track” (p. 86). With its vivid depiction of an ancient family line facing a crisis from which, were it not for the interventions of Sherlock Holmes, it might not have recovered, Conan Doyle’s novel perfectly captures the sense of social
The Triumph of Reason: Closely related to the fin de siecle concerns of the novel, then, is its celebration of Sherlock Holmes as a rational
hero. Not for nothing does Beryl Stapleton’s warning to Sir Henry tell him to stay away from the moors “as he value[s] [his] life or reason” (emphasis added), for the moors around Baskerville Hall, “haunted” as they supposedly are by a demonic, spectral Hound, challenge Victorian society’s faith in the power of the intellect. Both Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and the Industrial Revolution created a sense of inevitable human progress in Victorian Britain, carried forward by the power of the human mind. Such “fairy tales” (as Holmes dismisses the story of the family curse) as haunt the moors only threaten that sense of stability and that faith in rational progress. Holmes exists, however, to reinforce it, encouraging readers not to shy away from the irrational but to confront it for the purpose of refuting it. As he famously tells Watson, “The more outré and grotesque an incident is the more carefully it deserves to be examined, and the very point which appears to complicate a case is, when duly considered and scientifically handled, the one which is most likely to elucidate it.”
The title character of The Hound of the Baskervilles is, of course, the most memorable and gripping symbol in the book (including in the literal sense, as it grasps hold of its victims throats!). Vividly described as “an enormous
Baskerville Hall is another symbol that looms large in the text. It has fallen into a general state of disrepair, representing the way in which the Baskerville’s family legacy has fallen. Sir Henry’s declared intent to restore the Hall is thus his declared intent to restore his family’s legacy of good works, a legacy that has been tarnished. To what extent are any of us able to come to terms with our families’ “dark fate” (p.
The moors surrounding Baskerville Hall, and particularly the Great Grimpen Mire, also serve symbolic purposes in the novel. Watson makes it clear that the moor and mire are a disorienting location: “Life has
become like that great Grimpen Mire, with little green patches everywhere into which one may sink and with no guide to point the track” (p. 86). The moor is, Beryl Stapleton warns Sir Henry, a place to be avoided as one values life and reason. The physical setting thus acts as a metaphor for the way late Victorian society felt “mired” in a fin de siecle malaise regarding the end of the old certainties of life.
The net, first seen as a tool used by Stapleton in his butterfly collecting, is another symbol in the book. Indeed, Chapter 13 takes its title (“Fixing the Nets”) by using Stapleton’s butterfly nets as a metaphor for the resolution of the mystery: as Holmes says, “We have him, Watson, we have him, and I dare swear that before tomorrow night he will be fluttering in our net as helpless as one of his own butterflies” (p. 156). In this metaphor, it is Holmes, not Stapleton, who is the
Sherlock Holmes – The world’s first consulting private detective (as he described himself in his initial adventure, A Study in Scarlet). Possessed of a keen intellect and a master of rational, deductive thought (as opposed to giving any credence to superstition or supernatural explanations, as others in The Hound of the Baskervilles do), Holmes may sometimes prove lacking in ordinary interpersonal relationships, but does understand the place and power of human emotions as motivating factors in criminal
Dr. John Watson – A physician who served the British Army in Afghanistan (as established in A Study in Scarlet) but who, at the time of this adventure, is sharing rooms with Holmes at 221B Baker Street, London. (In other Holmes stories, which occur after this one according to internal chronology, Watson has moved out of Baker Street to marry and resume private medical practice.) In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Watson proves his loyalty and utility to Holmes (although the detective seems to grant it slightly begrudgingly) by accompanying Sir Henry Baskerville to his family estate to investigate the death of Sir Henry’s predecessor, Sir Charles.
Sir Henry Baskerville – The young nobleman who has inherited Baskerville Hall following the mysterious death of its former master, Sir Charles. Sir Henry is dedicated to rebuilding both the family manor and the family reputation, and refuses to be scared away from doing so by the legend of a supernatural
Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore – Two
Jack Stapleton – A naturalist with a special interest in catching and collecting butterflies. Stapleton is secretly a member of the Baskerville clan. He is responsible for unleashing his specially bred and
Mrs. Laura Lyons – A young wife who suffers an estranged relationship from her father, the litigious Mr. Frankford, and an abusive relationship with her husband, whom she is attempting to divorce (a bold move for women in Victorian Britain). At the suggestion of Jack
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Where are Holmes and Watson at the beginning of the novel?
What information is revealed by the mysterious walking stick and what character does it belong to?
What evidence is found near the body of Sir Charles?
How is Sir Henry related to Sir Charles Baskerville?
What mysterious things happen to Sir Henry upon his arrival in London?
What does Sherlock Holmes deduce from the anonymous letter sent to Sir Henry Baskerville? How does he make these deductions?
What is the curse on the Baskerville family? According to the legend, how did it begin?
What name does the man in the cab give to the driver? How does Holmes react?
There are two settings in this novel. One is where the action so far takes place; the other is described in the manuscript. Describe both settings, in terms of time and place.
What is Sherlock Holmes like? Consider how he approaches evidence, the questions he ask, how he treats Watson, and his ECCENTRICITIES. Make a list of the six best words to describe Holmes.
What likely motive exists for Sir Charles’ death and the intimidation of Sir Henry? Which suspects appear to have been cleared?
Sir Henry says, “You don’t quite seem to have made up your mind whether it’s a case for a policeman or a clergyman.” Explain this statement. Do you think the evidence points to a logical of a supernatural explanation at this point?
How does the author use the first few chapters of the novel to establish the theme that most people are unobservant and tend not to see the obvious.
Why are there guards at the train station and along the road?
What noise does Watson hear during his first night at Baskerville Hall?
Who are the Stapletons and Mr. Frankland?
Who are the Barrymores?
What have the Barrymores found in Sir Charles’ fireplace?
How does Stapleton explain his odd behavior when he finds Sir Henry and his sister together on the moor?
In what way does the setting of Baskerville Hall on the moor contribute to the mood of the novel? List as 6 words or more that the author uses to describe the moor and explain each one’s effect.
Briefly describe the subplot, which involves the Barrymores and the escaped convict Selden.
In what way does the developing relationship between Miss Stapleton and Sir Henry complicate the plot?
Why did Laura Lyons write a letter to Sir Charles Baskerville?
How does Holmes know that Watson is in his hut?
What interrupts Holmes as he is telling Watson about the murderer?
Where does Mrs. Stapleton tell Holmes and Watson to look for Stapleton?
Who or what is the hound of Baskervilles?
List the elements of Holmes’ plan to catch the murderer.
Do you like Beryl Stapleton as a character? Why or why not?
The mystery is solved in Chapter 14. What purpose, therefore, does Chapter 15 serve?
Who is the mysterious man seen by Watson on the TOR? Who discovers the man’s identity? How? Where has he been hiding?
Who is killed by falling from a cliff on the moor? At first, who do Holmes and Watson think it is? Why?
Why does Sherlock Holmes go to the moor in secret? What advantage does this give him?
How does Holmes discover that Jack and Beryl Stapleton are not brother and sister? What is their relationship?
Why is Holmes fascinated by the portrait of Hugo Baskerville? What missing piece of the puzzle does the portrait reveal?
Why do you think the author did not choose to have Holmes use a decoy instead of Sir Henry in the trap to catch Stapleton? If you were Sir Henry, would you have agreed to Holmes’ plan? Why or why not?
One theme of the novel is that strong emotion can lead one to do things for the wrong reasons. How does Stapleton use that idea to further his ends?
What effect does the author achieve by using Dr. Watson as a first person narrator?
A foil is a character that serves as a striking contrast for another character. How do both Watson and Stapleton serves as foils for Holmes?
Explain how the theme GREED CORRUPTS is presented in the novel.
Explain how the theme FEAR AND SUPERSTITION OFTEN OBSCURE THE TRUTH is revealed in the novel.
Explain 3 conflicts in the novel.
Holmes assumes Stapleton perished in Grimpen Mire, but there is no evidence to support that assumption. Write an ending from Stapleton’s point of view, one in which he escapes to bother Sherlock at another time in the future?
Decide on the 10 most important events in the book and put them in the order they occurred in the novel.