The two characters whom I aim to compare are the heroes in two short stories, from the detective genre. One is Sherlock Holmes, the star of “The Speckled Band” and many other stories by Arthur Conan-Doyle. The other is Tony Reseck, a very different style of detective from Raymond Chandler’s “Ill Be Waiting”. These characters reflect the eras in which they were written. The reasoning behind this statement is that they were written for contemporary audiences. For this reason they will be the image of a fashionable, extravert person from that era.
In this essay, I aim to investigate the characteristics of Holmes and Reseck, and find out how they are made to appear an enviable or interesting person from that time. The ways in which this can be achieved are vast, yet one of the major methods is the language, tone and accent that the hero uses.
Holmes’ language epitomises 1980’s style. This is shown by the complex sentence structures he uses, and the proper and classy way he delivers these lines.
The use of “pray” such as in, “pray, proceed with your statement,” and “pray, draw up to it,” show the soothing and confident way in which he expresses himself. He speaks without an accent and his true ‘breeding’ shows through. The 1890’s readers of the book could look up to the admirable way that Holmes converses, his language and tone show his class.
In contrast however, the language that Reseck uses is much more relaxed and, when speaking, he has the appearance of a streetwise and slick character.
The colloquial language he uses and his heavy accent exemplify this. His persona is that of a cool, modern man, who is relaxed yet astute. It is a tribute to the writing of Chandler and Conan-Doyle that the reader can ascertain so much from just the language that each hero uses. To build up the personalities of these characters, the aforementioned authors also use the appearance of their heroes to build up a more complex persona.
Appearance includes many features, these being dress, height, weight and the general way they come across. As with language, Reseck and Holmes come across very differently. Holmes may be seen as a very elegant, handsome and ‘dapper’ man, because of his smart dress and the immaculate way in which he is always turned out. This gives the notion that his working methods may also be as proper and neat as the way he dresses. The statement of Watson, the narrator, “I woke one morning to find Holmes fully dressed”, underlines this orderliness, as he is always neat and disciplined. Reseck has a greatly differing appearance. He is “short pale and paunchy”, the opposite of the elegant Holmes. This appearance is in contrast to his taste in music (Mozart). Despite this, both characters reflect the locations in which they work.
Holmes is in an upmarket Baker street location, whereas Reseck works in a seedy gangland location. This is because the authors have described their characters for the enjoyment of contemporary audiences – 1890’s readers would like to read about a man with Holmes’ status but 1940’s readers would prefer Reseck’s more seedy underworld. Setting and location are used to both complement the appearance of a hero and to exemplify their characteristics. Holmes’ Baker street office is well furnished with a fire and even a servant. The average 1890’s reader would aspire to this lifestyle, hence making the story more engaging.
The environment in which Reseck works is in total contrast to this lavish lifestyle. He appears to work in a dangerous and crime ridden city, ruled by gangs and, most probably, fuelled by drugs. This would be incredibly interesting to the readers of Chandler’s time, for similar reasons to those of the Holmes stories. The sleazy environment in which Reseck works is a world away from that of the average reader so they would be interested and intrigued.
Due to these differing locations, the crimes that the two gifted detectives solve will differ greatly. Holmes deals with crimes committed by the aristocracy and other lords and ladies. This reinforces the interest of readers with the wealthy upper classes. Reseck in total contrast deals with gang-related, drug fuelled crimes in the dangerous environment of the Windermere Hotel. As well as the appearance, language and environment, Conan-Doyle and Chandler have used the characteristics and personalities of their heroes to add an extra dimension to their persona.
Throughout this analysis, Reseck and Holmes had differed greatly, mainly due to the times at which they were invented. Their attitudes to others and to work however are quite similar. The urbane Holmes is respectful and polite, and appears to be ‘the perfect gentleman’. When he addresses Helen Stoner, he is sensitive, soothing and kind. He calls her, “my dear madam” and asks her to “pray proceed with your statement”.
He also has a ruthless side to him which shown by his confrontation with Dr Grimsby-Roylott, “when you go out please close the door, for there is a decided draught.” Overall he is shown to be amiable, charming and perceptive, yet he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Reseck is comparable in his manner. His is also charming, especially to Eve Cressy, (“Eve Cressy…a name waiting to be in lights!”). He can also be abrupt and sharp, such as his questioning of the porter. He questions him as to whether he had been drinking whilst working, “Lemme smell your breath.” The similarities between the two extend to their attitudes to their work.
Holmes loves his work, because of the intellectual challenge that it poses him. He does not work for the money, but he is happy to take it when it is offered. He says, “my profession is its own reward.” He is meticulous, calculating and methodical, providing careful and brilliant deductions. These make him a most superior detective. Reseck also has the intelligence of Holmes and he is also brilliant at times.
These are shown by his decisions in the Hotel. However, he often rushes until, unlike Holmes. Also, he does not have the same disregard for the money, partly because he is not so wealthy as Holmes and he does not so adore the job, although he does like it. He is unmotivated and not ambitious. His brother reflects on this when he says to Reseck, “you are in the slow lane.” Both of these intelligent men obtain results through extremely different methods, as they are very different people from very different poques.
In summary, the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Tony Reseck were written for very different audiences. The 1890’s audiences liked violent murders that were macabre, exotic and gothic. This is in contrast to the sophisticated, calm and meticulous Holmes. This contrast makes Holmes seem more appealing entertaining. In addition Holmes is the epitome of the upper classes, many readers would aspire to him. Therefore, his character has been shaped by the thoughts and desires of his contemporary audiences. In contrast, the 1940’s audiences sought a slight more down to earth story, preferably in the sleazy gangland world. Reseck’s character is built around that need, and he complements the plot with his appearance, accent and language. For these reasons, Holmes and Reseck reflect the eras in which they were written. They were designed for audiences of that time and their personalities reflect the time.