The short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are set against the backdrop of Victorian society and moral attitudes. Conan Doyle’s stories convey the Victorian moral values, the issues of the time and also the duality of man’s nature is, a double life led by men. Conan Doyle linguistically conveys the duality of man’s nature by the juxtaposition of ‘singular’ and ‘dual’ this is reinforced by the word ‘alternatively’. Conan Doyle emphasises the contrast of Holmes’s dual nature by his ‘languid dreamy eyes’.
This is stressed by the repetition of ‘gently and his relentless keen minded nature’. An example of the duality of one of Conan Doyle’s lesser characters in The Red Headed League is John Clay, one of the best examples of the duality in nature. As one week he is robbing banks in Scotland and the next week he is raising money to build a children’s orphanage; this the influence of Charles Darwin questioning religious beliefs and suggests that man was reverting to bestial instincts.
At the time of the publication of Sherlock Holmes the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was shaking Victorian religious beliefs, as natural history at the time was dominated by creationism and the influence of the church. The church who saw their science as God revealing his plan and the reaction that was that without Creation showing love, humanity would suffer and be damaged. The whole theory of ‘Men from Monkeys’ gave rise to fantasies and an increase in crime that had a ripple effect all over Victorian England.
This rise in crime could be blamed on the shaking of faith in a benevolent creator. This theme is common throughout Conan Doyle’s stories. The Victorian opinion to criminals at the time was that they were lazy members of the working class who preferred a life of crime and selfishness then doing an honest day’s work. In the days of Sherlock Holmes criminals were believed to be suffering from some behavioural abnormalities; either inherited or caused by family related issues. The criminals in Doyle’s stories often have distinctive features about them that made them stand out to other men and women.
An example of a distinctive looking criminal would be Vincent Spaulding, as he has no facial hair, pierced ears and a white splash of acid on his forehead. The victim who has called upon Holmes to help him solve his dilemma is called Jabez Wilson. Watson refers to Jabez Wilson as a typical tradesman as he is obese, pompous and slow. Due to the class division at the time Holmes shows a lack of respect to Jabez Wilson as he pushes him back into his chair; due to the massive divide of rich and poor.
Due to this severe division in social classes a sense of superiority shown by the upper and middle classes (Holmes plus Watson) towards the lower classes (Jabez Wilson). This contrast between the wealth and glamour on the one hand, in contrast to poverty and shabbiness on the other can be perfectly described by the geographical description of Saxe-Coburg square. As Saxe- Coburg square is described as a ‘pokey little shabby gentile’ ‘weedy grass and a few clumps of faded Loral bushes’. This cluster of words can be describing people who are locked in the sadness of their poverty.
This mention of ‘Faded Loral bushes’ articulates a sense that unlike the symbol of Roman Emporial triumph the poor’s hope of success is ‘Faded’. However, by contrast when Holmes turns the corner Doyle uses the simile ‘as we turned round the corner from the retired Saxe-Coburg square presented as a great contrast to it as the front of a picture does to the back’ to express the difference between the front of a photo to the back. Conan Doyle also uses adjectives to describe the poor, faded and stagnant square to the street opposite which has ‘fine shops’ and stately business premises’.
However, the Speckled Band is evidence of the influence of the Victorian fascination with the gothic. As the word ‘Gothic’ referred to a Germanic tribe the Goths who fought against the Roman Empire. But it was not until the renaissance people rediscovered Greco-Roman culture and began to regard a particular type of architecture. But when ‘Gothic’ (named for its barbarity at the time) style architecture started appearing it took centuries before it was accepted and used to describe certain novels which were set or took place in ‘Gothic style’ architecture.
The ‘gothic’ novel was invented by Horace Walpole whose novel The Castle of Otrano contains all that constitutes the genre of Gothic novels. To do this he included the setting in a castle, atmosphere of suspense and mystery, prophecy, omens, the supernatural, tyrannical male, women in trouble and threatened by a male and a metonymy of horror and death. Several people have described the Gothic novel as a description of a fallen world.
This fascination that the Victorians had for the gothic can be clearly seen in the Speckled Band, as there is a tyrannical male, women in extreme distress and emotional wrecks, an old manor house, the sense of impending doom and an omen, ‘You’ve been cruelly used’ marks on the woman’s hand, ‘The wild night’ wind howling sense of eeriness as nature is reflecting the human anger. There are also the distinctive features of Dr Grimsby Roylott as his face was full of wrinkles burned yellow by the sun; this is another use of Conan Doyle’s distinctive stand out of a crowd criminals.
Also the influence of Darwin is mentioned throughout The Speckled Band as Dr Grimsby Roylott is marked with every evil passion’ and had ‘Deep set bile shot eyes’; Dr Roylott was also described of having lizard like features and his ‘Resemblance to a fierce bird of prey’ Conan Doyle conveys all the aspects of Victorian society in all of his stories to in my opinion give the reader a sense of being there with all of the descriptions of the Gothic, attitude toward criminals and the attitude of the rich and poor at the time. Conan Doyle may have done this to simplify the stories for the reader and make dysfunction between good and evil obvious.