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When using a story, the author has to create a setting. In Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle uses London as the base and main setting for most of his stories. By using an appropriate setting and describing it in proper detail, the author can create a feeling of absolutely anything and everything. In this essay, I shall look at how Conan Doyle used settings to stylise and narrate his stories. In “The Speckled Band”, the main character that is described is Dr. Roylott; the villain. He lives in a village called Stoke Moran, which seems to inject a feeling of tension and uneasiness.
I believe Conan Doyle used this name to create a tense atmosphere to ‘help’ the reader dislike Dr Roylott and this feeling is helped by the fact that the Doctor keeps wild animals on his grounds. Though a red-herring, it builds up tension and suspense and aids the reader in coming to the conclusion that Roylott is evil. The doctor lives in a manor that is portrayed as a neglected building: “The building was of grey lichen-blocked stone, with a high central portion and two curving wings, like the claws of a crab, thrown on each side.
” It is clear to the reader that Conan Doyle wants you to dislike the doctor, by saying the building was “lichen-blotched” and that two wings were “thrown out”; showing a wreck of a building. The grounds are also described in this way when Holmes walks up the “ill-trimmed lawn”: all these points leading to the conclusion that “Dr Roylott has other things to do than keeping the house in repair. In “The Final Problem”, Holmes is put into an unknown situation at the start of the story and Conan Doyle describes this very well.
As soon as Holmes enters Watson’s room, Holmes asks Watson whether he has any objections to the closing of the shutters: this leaves the room in complete darkness, save for a single candle lamp. This image is used to convey a feeling of tension and unease in Holms as he is often not shrouded in this much secrecy. When creating an atmosphere, Conan Doyle uses description to set the scene and build up tension where necessary. In “The Speckled Band”, there is a scene where Holms and Watson hide in the bedroom for something to occur and wait in the pitch-black darkness:
“Then creeping up to me and making a trumpet of his hands, he whispered into my ear so gently that it was all I could do to distinguish the words. ” The verbs and adjectives in this passage are carefully chosen to portray an atmosphere of suspense. Holmes did not talk but “whisper” and Holmes did not walk but “creep”. He acts in manner that Conan Doyle used to show the characters are waiting and should any loud noises be made; a human life could be in jeopardy. In “The Final Problem”, there is a whole change of atmosphere as Holmes flees to the continent for the sake of his own life.
Throughout the story, there is a recurring theme of close calls and near misses. There are many such incidents, mainly when Moriarty just missed the pair on the train, but the biggest has to be when Watson and Holmes reach the Reichenbach Falls. Holmes is in unfamiliar territory and so does not have the upper hand. In “The Man with The Twisted Lip”, the atmosphere is ironic as the main setting is that of an opium den (which was legal in the Victorian times) and the “villain” – Neville St. Clair” was a posh man; living in a large house outside of the city with a wife and two young children.
He found that he made more money by begging rather than actually working. The only man who knew the truth, besides him, was the Lascar that St. Clair had bribed. The Opium den was in Upper Swandam Lane which was described as “a vile alley lurking behind the high wharves which line the North side of the river. ” You can see that, although the den was legal, it was not nice; it was not just an alley people didn’t like in the middle of London, it was a vile one that lurked behind the sheds and maritime buildings. In “The Red-Headed League”, Conan Doyle uses the setting to create an atmosphere of anticipation, apprehension and tension.
This is at the end of the book when Holmes, Watson, Mr. Merryweather the Bank manager and Jones of Scotland Yard go to apprehend John Clay; a criminal that Holmes has pursued for a long time and has a very long criminal record. The crew go to spring a trap in the vault of the bank and have to wait in the dark: “To me, with my nerves worked up to a pitch of expectancy, there was something depressing and subduing in the sudden gloom, and in the cold, dank air of the vault. ” Conan Doyle describes the room as not just being dark and boring but “depressing and subduing”.
The air in the bank vault wasn’t just wet it was dank and the room was just cold. Conan Doyle then describes that it was so quiet, Watson could distinguish between the different breathing sounds of his friends: “My hearing was so acute that I could not only hear the gentle breathing of my companions, but u could distinguish the deeper, heavier in-breath of the bulky Jones from the thin sighing note of the bank director. ” This atmosphere is one that is so quiet Watson can hear the slightest sounds. It is used as a build up and an effective climax to the apprehension of the criminals after they break into the vault. All stories have a purpose.
The most obvious example is “The Final Problem”; the story was written solely for the destruction of Holmes. Holmes was put into unfamiliar territory at the Reichenbach Falls and so didn’t have the upper hand when it came to geographical knowledge. That, coupled with the fact that Holmes was up against a villain (Moriarty) he regarded as his intellectual equal was enough to allow Conan Doyle to dispose of his crime-fighting character. So in conclusion, Conan Doyle uses settings to great affect. He is able to use them to manipulate the atmosphere to create the mood he wants: whether it is happy or sad, tense or relaxed.
He can use the setting to help the reader understand the characters more: like in “The Speckled Band”, where the description aids the reader in disliking Dr Roylott and in “The Final Problem”, where we come across Holmes’ intellectual equal – Professor James Moriarty. Conan Doyle also uses the setting and description to help us understand Neville St. Clair. He also uses the setting in helping us understand the purpose of the story, using the Reichenbach Falls as a setting for Sherlock Holmes’ “death”. Overall, I can say that Conan Doyle can use setting to help the reader understand the story or to aid the story in it’s mystery and suspense.