The plot of “The Speckled Band” was designed in a particular format to appeal to a Victorian audience. Throughout the story Doyle builds up tension. From the distraught Miss Roylott, through to the night spent in the Roylott house, both danger and suspense are introduced. The Victorians would have liked this – it was an accomplishment of the new detective fiction genre: using evil and horror to engage and sustain the readers interest.
The exotic animals from around the house and the gypsies staying in the grounds help to make the whole tale extraordinary.
This would have appealed to the Victorians because they had very little information about foreign animals and would have led a very protected life. Much of the information found in “The Speckled Band” would be new to them. The tale provided them with an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the foreign, unfamiliar and dangerous.
W H Auden outlined what he believed was a standard detective fiction plot, “a murder occurs; many are suspected; all but one suspect, who is the murderer, are eliminated; the murderer is arrested or dies”.
Doyle’s “The Speckled Band” fits this format almost perfectly. The introduction, when a murder should occur, involves a woman, Miss Stoner, with her sister recently murdered, fearing for her own life. This fits perfectly with Auden’s idea. Many potential suspects are included in the complication; the animals, gypsies and Dr Roylott. All of these have both opportunity and reason to have committed the murder.
In Auden’s plan all the suspects, apart from the murderer, should now be eliminated.
However, this is where, “The Speckled Band” differs slightly from the standard. Even though it is made clear that it is unlikely the animals attacked or the gypsies murdered Miss Roylott, by showing the doors and windows were well closed, “and Holmes, after a careful examination through the open window, endeavoured in every way to force the shutter open.”
Holmes still has not completely excluded these suspects. The end, in which the murderer should be arrested or dies, is also included in “The Speckled Band” when Dr Roylott’s scheme backfires, killing him. The story also fits in with the standard opening, complication, climax, resolution pattern. The introduction, suspects, stake out and death fit these slots. Victorians would have appreciated such a neat, orderly structure.
Doyle ends the story in such a way as to provide a satisfying conclusion. All loose ends are tied up and the murderer is caught. The neat ending would have appealed to the Victorians’ sense of order but there is also an unmistakeable moral message. The way in which Dr. Roylott is caught shows Doyle’s own views coming forward. Doyle obviously believes in adhering to law and never resorting to violence. This is also shown by the line: “Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent”. This message of good triumphing over evil is found in all of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Even though the stories may include topics that are foreign or dangerous to a Victorian audience, the righteous ending would make them feel justified in reading them.
Doyle adds to the tension of “The Speckled Band” through his use of locations and the weather. The Roylott house would have seemed, to Victorians, to be the perfect location for a murder. The house is large, old and in need of repair work. This would make it seem spooky and more sinister. The weather also adds to this effect. Before Holmes and Watson arrive the weather is calm and warm, “…there was a strange contrast between the sweet promise of spring and this sinister quest upon which we were engaged”.
This helps to build up an anticipation of troubles yet to come. When it comes for the time for the duo to begin the stake out, the weather reflects their mood, “… on the dark road, a chill wind blowing in our faces … the gloom to guide us on our sombre errand”. The darkness and even the chill wind are often used to symbolise evil or a menace and help to build up a sense of impending danger.
In conclusion I believe that even though Doyle wrote “The Adventures Of The Speckled Band” with Victorian views and preferences in mind he did not let it completely change his writing style. This is revealed by the fact that even today, years after the stories were written, they still appeal to the contemporary audience. The friendship between Holmes and Watson, the logical deductions and the triumph of good over evil still appeal in modern day. There are few things, such as the reliance on men of Miss Stoner, which do not fit in with modern society and views.
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