This essay will compare the following four stories; ‘The Blue Carbuncle’, ‘The Red Headed League’, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’, and ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’, from the collection of stories, by Arthur Conan Doyle, called the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. While looking at and comparing these four stories, we will discover how Holmes uses his extraordinary powers of observation to solve the mystery of the day. It will do this by investigating and analysing the cultural, historical and social values of the era. In ‘The Blue Carbuncle’, the crime involves theft.
The four stories chosen all have a lot in common, for example, the fact that a murder never occurs, apart from a staged murder in the man with the twisted lip. This may have been because the author, Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to create less severe crimes, in case it scared people too much. At that period in time, there were many murders and crimes taking place. Jack the Ripper, was a man who murdered women, mostly prostitutes, in 1888. The corruption within the police force at that time meant that the killer was never caught, leaving the public constantly worried that there could be a possible reoccurrence in the future.
The ineffectiveness of the police force is shown in ‘The Blue Carbuncle’ when Holmes says ‘after all Watson, I am not retained by the police force to supply their deficiencies’. He created Holmes to substitute the poor work in the police force and satisfy the anxiety that was affecting the public. He did this so that the people who lived in fear of the uncaught murderers like Jack the Ripper would have a person to look up to. It created hope and faith for them as they believed that there could actually be someone like Sherlock Holmes.
Another reason that Conan Doyle did not put any murders in his stories could be that a murder would take much more investigation- even for Sherlock Holmes. The stories would have had to be far more detailed and include much more exploration. They would also have been too complex if they included murder, people would have lost interest if they had been too long and too intricate. He wanted to keep people attracted and they would not have understood murder sufficiently. They would not be able to relate the issues such as forensics covered in a murder story like they would with a story that was based on fraud, such as ‘The Red-Headed League’.
The stories had to include low key crimes so that they did not have to be too correct. The stories were released in separate issues of a magazine called the Strand in 1891, therefore, the target audience of the magazines were the rich people who could afford it, and who had been educated so that they could read it and understand the often complex plots. The plots also needed to relate to social, cultural and historical issues, so the crimes had to be ones that people would have known in their society of the time.
Poverty was common and so crimes about money and greed showed how the rich in society acted towards the poor. Magazines were a very popular source of entertainment, as there was no television, or cinema, and magazines were quite cheap, (to an upper class person). The Strand was released monthly, and what appealed to the audience, was the quick paced storylines, and the need to read on and find out who committed the crime. The poorer people were often poorly educated, and in some cases, not educated at all. This meant that realistically the upper class were the only ones able to buy the magazine.
Most importantly, the stories were often easy for the reader to relate to as London in the Victorian times was a dangerous place to be. Robbery’s like the one in the Blue Carbuncle may have been quite common, as might the fraud in the Red Headed League. Victorian readers looked to Sherlock Holmes as a hero, because of the crime that had been taking place. This blew out of control, as the police forces were corrupt and the police officers were regularly being paid excessive amounts of money, to let people off the hook for crimes, and blaming people for crimes that they did not commit.
This shows us the reader that the time that the stories were written, was a time in which people were desperate for a hero, or somebody who was uncorrupted who would help solve the crimes, and therefore they bought the magazines, because the stories gave them a sense of security, and peace of mind although the character was fictional. In order to create the hero that the people of Victorian London needed, he had to have a strong character. People did not need an average man; they needed someone that would be able to help them.
In Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle had created a man that was extremely good at his skills of observing. We see this when Holmes is described by Watson in the story ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ as ‘the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen’ The fact that he is better than anyone else, shows him to the readers as something extraordinary. When he described as a ‘machine’, it illustrates that he is modern and accurate. A machine would have been a modern device at the time and would have been much more precise than a human.
The society of the Victorian era was based around class, and wealth, which meant that the lower class people were often put down and taken advantage of, for example, if you were poor, you would be made to do the dangerous jobs like coal mining, and only get paid a small mount, whereas an upper class persons would be paid much more for doing a fraction of the work. The poorer people blamed the monarchy and government for this, so Conan Doyle showed his view on it by ending the story, “A Scandal in Bohemia”, by having the king be the victim.
The King had to be secret because he had done something that he was not supposed to. The fact that he has done this shows people that even the King can be devious. Although he is the victim to Irene Adler, it is his fault and therefore he is brought down to the level of the people. This showed that Conan Doyle agreed that the way that the poorer people were treated was wrong. Poverty was highly common experience for people living in London and the streets were full of beggars and the homeless. This is the reason for people being able to relate to ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’.
Although this is the story comes closest out of all the stories to the scandalous murder that would have terrified people. The books needed to be a comfort to people who were anxious about where they lived. If the crimes were solved in the Sherlock Holmes stories they thought that they could be solved in reality. Another prejudice that was apparent in the Victorian era was the way in which women were treated. Women were expected to clean, cook and look after the children, and the male role was to be strong, have a job, and support his family. The men would be allowed to go to the pubs, whereas the women would not.
Men had many advantages over women, which was why it seems fitting that there are very few women roles in the book. There are no main roles for women either, which, although is frustrating nowadays, would have been a normal fact of life then. The only woman that played a key part in the story was Irene Adler. By using her, Conan Doyle showed the significance of women in society. He showed that women could be as clever and interesting as men. ‘She has… the mind of the most resolute men’. He also proved that woman were smart and tough enough to be the villains and be the ones that victimize the men, ‘She has a soul of steel’.
Adler beats Sherlock Holmes and so Conan Doyle is saying that even the smartest man can be beaten by a woman. Conan Doyle may have been trying to show the value of women when he lets Sherlock Holmes be beaten by a woman. This is one of many examples where Conan Doyle purveys his cultural views. This essay aimed to show the cultural, historical and social values of four stories from ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ‘ It has done this by looking at Holmes’ extraordinary powers of observation. It shows how the issues in society at the time affected the way the story is shown and the way Holmes’ powers of observation effect the stories.