Thursday, 27 February 2014

A Bird’s eye view of some of the characters of the novel, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Perhaps the most important characters in the novel are the protagonist Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson. Sherlock Holmes is depicted as the quintessential eccentric detective who has is typical mannerisms and habits. He prefers to close himself in a room smoking on his pipe, essentially filling the room with a fug of tobacco smoke in order to ruminate on the circumstances and clues. That his typical way of thinking over things! His clichéd remark, ‘ It is elemental, Dr Watson!’ suggests a degree of superiority and perhaps a degree of pride in his abilities.  I wouldn’t refer to Dr Watson as Sherlock Holmes’ “side kick” because that is just what Dr Watson does not want to be regarded as. Sherlock Holmes might be viewed as a flat character, a stereotype who does not grow as the plot progresses. He is the quintessential smart investigator who can read between the lines. He is rational, scientific, and can put himself in the shoes of his adversary, his foil and equally intelligent adversary, Mr Stapleton. What marks Sherlock as an accomplished detective is his patience and ability to reserve his judgement till he has adequate proof to substantiate his conclusions. His remarkable abilities of observation are described at length in the first few chapters of the novel when he is able to describe the owner of the walking stick, Dr Mortimer rather accurately as someone who had served in a prestigious hospital in London and then had shifted to the country side. Sherlock adds that the owner was a person who walked a lot and had a pet dog. Sherlock Holmes displays immense rationality later in making a connection between the similarity between Mr Stapleton’s facial features to those of his ancestor, Hugo Baskerville, noting the distinct long jawed feature shared by Mr Stapleton and his ancestor. He hides his suspicions from his assistant fearing lest the discovery should prejudice the fairness of the investigation. Unlike his assistant, Dr Watson he is a shrewd person who doesn’t jump to conclusions. He keeps his plan of visiting Devonshire a secret and sends Dr Watson to Baskerville Hall in order to conduct his own investigation-a decision that hurts the sentiments of his assistant! Sherlock Holmes somehow overshadows his assistant in terms of rationality, scientific detachment, and shrewdness to the degree of showing off Dr Watson to be a rather gullible and rather dumb kind of an investigator. Sherlock comes up a triumphant opponent when pitched against a formidable opponent in Mr Stapleton when he double times the latter, often guessing and predicting the latter’s moves well in time. He is quite certain that Dr Watson’s and Sir Henry’s lives could be in danger which is one reason why he personally decides to visit Devonshire without making his intention clear to them.
Dr Watson is the Ex-Military assistant to the formidable detective Sherlock Holmes. He is the more muscular of the two but what he lacks is the the shrewdness and rationality of his friend. Unlike Sherlock, Dr Watson likes to exercise at the club house in order work out the stress of the turn of events. He is more dependent on his visual senses, and goes with first impressions. Dr Watson’s letters to Sherlock display a sense of impulsiveness, especially in his strong belief that Mr Barrymore could have more to do with the death of Sir Charles. The needle of his suspicion falls on Mr Barrymore, the  Butler because he was probably the last man who had seen Sir Charles. His suspicion is stoked by his observation of Mr Barrymore’s suspicious behaviour at night, his tip-toeing to the French window, and signalling with a candle late at night. In his rather ham handed manner Dr Watson places much significance to the suspicious behaviour of the Butler. Dr Watson displays numerous errors of judgement throughout the novel. He is quick to suspect anyone with an eccentric  behaviour. He is distracted by the strange behaviour of Mr Barrymore and can’t think with a clear mind. However, it can be also said that the lucid descriptions of events during his stay at Baskerville Hall do a lot in helping Sherlock Holmes understand the wider picture. His detailed description of his meeting with Mr Stapleton and Miss Stapleton brings out the possible streak of violence in Mr Stapleton’s nature. Dr Watson cannot however be dismissed outright as an incapable investigator as he displays initiative in going out to Coombe Tracey to meet Laura Lyons and interview her. He also displays remarkable presence of mind in tracking down Sherlock Holmes to his lair by talking to Mr Frankland and looking through his telescope to see the errands boy carrying a parcel of food to his benefactor. It can be said that although Dr Watson might lack the shrewd insight of his friend, he is however the kind of person one would like to have when in a crisis.
Another important character in the novel is Dr Mortimer. It is clear that if it were not for the concern of this man for his friend, Sir Charles, this investigation would never have taken place! A man of science and thus a man who should have learned to apply a more rational approach to the whole episode of the death of his friend, Sir Charles, he is however swayed  by the supernatural elements in the whole story. Sherlock Holmes chides him for his rather unscientific view of the whole incident. Dr. Mortimer can be described as a trustworthy outdoorsman whom one would always like to have as a friend, although, perhaps one might question his decision to quit a lucrative post in one of the well established hospitals in London for the sake of marrying a rich woman. Yes, Dr Mortimer is eccentric in some ways, especially when he expresses his desire to measure Sherlock Holmes’ cranial dimensions, but then this can be ascribed to his being a man of science.
Another important character that strikes our minds is Mr Barrymore. The faithful butler of Sir Charles,  he is asked to stay on by his new master, Sir Henry. He however expresses his view that his new master might not after all desire to keep him, since he would probably like to appoint people of his own choice. Barrymore however displays a degree of tolerance towards the presence of his brother in law in Devonshire. He displays an immense degree of secrecy in hiding the fact that he is helping a man on the run from the law, just because he happens to be his wife’s brother. Barrymore’s secrecy and the consequent suspicious manner earn him the suspicion of Dr Watson. He is however a husband who is faithful to his wife and ready to go out of the way to help her brother out even though he knows that this could cost him his job. Barrymore also benefitted from his master’s death because he stood to gain some money from him. Barrymore’s secrecy however could have caused him more harm than good.
Mrs Stapleton and Laura Lyons are two women who fell victim to the predations of an unscrupulous criminal, Mr Stapleton. Ms. Stapleton, who later turns out to be the wife of Mr Stapleton is a woman of great beauty. She became  the unwilling partner in crime for her husband, Mr Stapleton. She refused point blank to be a part of his nefarious plans to destroy the entire succession of the Baskervilles so that her husband could acquire the title ship of the Baskerville estate. She was later brutalised and tied up in Merripit Hall because of her resistance to acquiesce to her husband’s nefarious plans. She does come up bravely to warn Dr Watson rather erroneously thinking him to be the new master of Baskerville hall advising him to return to London forthwith. She however turns out to be a helpless victim in the clutches of a ruthless criminal. A beautiful woman, she remains a victim of marital violence.
Laura Lyons is a woman whose beauty has been marred by the tragedies of life that she has had to undergo at the hands of a husband who had no scruples in ditching her a few months after marriage. One can say that she is damaged goods, damaged by the circumstances and a husband whom she had married against the wishes or her father. The so called cast off, she struggles to survive in a society that is rather inflexible in its principles of  propriety. She is a woman in distress like Ms Stapleton which is why she falls prey to the whiles of Mr Stapleton who promises to get her a divorce from her husband. Laura Lyons incidentally plays an important role in the whole story because she had been convinced to write a letter to Sir Charles to draw him out of Baskerville Hall so that he could be frightened to death by the hound. She is filled with fear when Dr Watson confronts her with the facts. She informs Dr Watson that she had been forced to write the letter although she never turned up to meet Sir Charles. She realises the wrong she has done when Dr Watson links her letter to the fact that Sir Charles had been drawn out doors to meet her although she had not turned up.

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