The Adventure of the Speckled Band: Characterisation

speckled band

Watson

(a) He establishes Holmes’ stature as a detective.  He is a willing assistant ‘I would not miss it for anything’.  Respects and admires Holmes’ deductions ‘as swift as intuitions.’  Without realizing the reason (169), Watson states Holmes ‘half opened his lids’ and asked for her to be ‘precise’.  This is because Holmes has realized that Helen’s sister was murdered to stop Roylott losing ‘a certain annual sum’ (168).

(b) He is an affable accommodating character who expresses bemusement and asks the questions we would like to know the answers to e.g. ‘What becomes then of these nocturnal whistles…?’  This question directs the reader to puzzle over the conundrum.  Holmes’ answers to Watson show us the areas he concentrating upon, but we are not given enough to find the answer for ourselves as to how the murder has been committed.  We all know that Royston is behind the murder, but how has he done it?  Watson is not as clever as Holmes and the contrasts between them emphasise Holmes’ qualities.  The rather humorous response to being woken, saying ‘a fire?’ shows he is fixed in his ways.

(c) As narrator, he gives a mature reasonable account.  Watson describes the murder room but he doesn’t notice the bell-pull – Holmes asks about it and observes that it is a ‘dummy’ (180).  He raises the tension by his description of the journey to the house in the dark e.g. the ‘distorted child’ (185) and his personal fears during the vigil (186).  He also describes Roylot’s ‘dreadful shriek’ of ‘pain and fear and anger’ [note the double use of ‘and’] and how he looks in death (187).

Mrs Helen Stoner

(a) She is a helpless, vulnerable victim.  She shivers not from cold but in ‘terror’.  She is in a ‘pitiable state.’  Her situation is one of ‘horror’ (167).  Helpless and unable to ‘reward…for services.’  Isolated (169).  However she displays her credentials by being a friend of Mrs Farintosh.  She shows ‘joy’ when Holmes arrives, displaying eagerness and relief, however her danger is increasing and the tension is mounting (178).

(b) Narrator: Her sister dies after early graying of the hair (169).  Miss Stoner’s account of Roylott gives details of financial motivation without her realizing.  This an effective use of dramatic irony by Conan Doyle. Helen relates that she was ‘horror-sticken’ and she identifyies the events preceding the murder and her sister’s death: the frightening nature of the metaphorically ‘howling’ wind and the ‘hubbub’ of the gale add a wild unnatural atmosphere through the author’s use of pathetic fallacy; her sister is ‘blanched with terror’; she ‘writhes’, her limbs are ‘convulsed’, she ‘shrieks’ and she is unable to convey what has happened (171)

(c) She is a giver of clues.   She unwittingly identifies the reason for her own danger in her forthcoming marriage.

Holmes

Nowadays he is seen as patronising but the author intended him to be supportive when ‘patting her forearm.’  He demonstrates his powers of deduction and minute attention to detail e.g. the appreciation of the tell-tale signs of the dog-cart splashes.   He is admired by the victim because he can ‘see deeply into the manifold wickedness of the human heart.’ (167).  The truth is established through questions on the detail of Helen’s account (170 – 172), thus showing his alertness.  He examines ‘with deep attention’ (179) and knows without being told that Helen has been physically abused (173).  A very thorough detective who will not decide upon a course of action until he knows ‘a thousand details’ (174).  One of these is to check the will (176).  He is ‘imperturbable’ (176) in the face of danger and shows an ironic humour , talking about crocuses and afterwards ironically commenting that Roylot was ‘amiable’.  However he straightens the poker, which is far more difficult than bending it, showing his superior qualities also include tremendous strength.  He returns the swamp adder to the safe, which is no mean feat either.  Holmes’ humour is understated – for instance, he refers to ‘An Eley’s No. 2’ (view it as a revolver or cartridge) as an ‘excellent argument’ (177).  Holmes identifies curious aspects of the murder and Roylot’s rooms: the reader tries to solve the riddles of e.g. the milk, the lash, the bell-pull, the hook (181).  Once he has solved the riddles, Holmes is confident and the reader is curious (181).  Holmes says he does not see more he ‘deduces more’ (183), but he hits out at the bell-pull when Watson ‘saw nothing.’ (186).  Also he knows the name of the snake and how dangerous it is when Watson only sees ‘strange headgear’ (187)!  At the end, Holmes summarises and explains to Watson so that all becomes clear to both him and us.

Dr Grimesby Roylott

Notice the associative implications of the name ‘Grimesby’.   He is almost a stage villain.  Initially revealed through the ‘victim’s’ account of the way he beat his native butler to death, by his ‘ferocious quarrels’ and through his ‘disgraceful brawls’, he becomes ‘the terror [note the word] of the village’, including ‘hurling the local blacksmith over a parapet’ (168).  His ‘immense strength’ is demonstrated by this last feat – blacksmiths are not weak!  He has dubious friends in the ‘wandering gypsies’ who are referred to in the more non-PC, frightening term of ‘vagabonds’.  He has a ‘passion for Indian animals’ (169).  Watson describes him as a ‘huge man’ who is tall and broad.  Description includes face ‘burned yellow’… and ‘marked with every evil passion’, ‘bile-shot’ eyes and he is likened to ‘a bird of prey’.  He ‘seizes’ the poker and bends it with his ‘huge’ hands. (176).  Notice the powerful vocabulary.

—oOo—

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