In what ways could “the Hound of the Baskervilles” be described as a gothic novel?
A gothic novel is thought to be a novel of horrors and mysteries, it has a theme and a philosophy of the “world’s evil”, a representation of something supernatural and mysterious. Its plot is bound up with secret murders. There are various obvious characteristics of a gothic novel and I have to investigate each other them in detail to establish the genre of “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.
Sir Arthur Connan Doyle was a qualified doctor of medicine. He published his first Sherlock Homes novel in “Beetons Christmas Annual” in 1887, when he was aged 27. Sherlock Homes stories were then published in “The Strand” with worldwide success. “The Hound of the Baskervilles” was published in 1902. This was after great public uproar when Holmes was killed off by Conan Doyle in “The Final Solution”
Sherlock Holmes novels where primarily written in the detective genre but in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” Conan Doyle not only uses his practised method of detective writing, but also manages to incorporate many features of a gothic novel.
The book is set in Baskerville Hall, a place surrounded in mystery. It is described when Sir Henry first sees his family home.
“In the fading light I could see that the centre was a heavy block of building from which a porch projected. The whole front was draped in ivy, with a patch clipped bare here and there where a window or a coat-of-arms broke through the dark veil. From this central bloke rose the twin towers, ancient, crenellated, and pierced with many loopholes. To right and left of the turrets where many more modern wings of black granite. A dim light shone through heavy mullioned windows, and from the high chimneys which rose from the steep, high angled roof there sprang a single black column of smoke.”
This is a description of the house on a dark, rain soaked evening when Sir Henry and Watson were weary after a long journey. This is the only description of the house in the whole book. I feel that this is a very dark description of the house, words like “dark” and “black” all portray the house as an evil one. This makes you think that something “dark” and “black” has happened at the house. You think it would be the perfect place for murder.
Gothic novels are always set in a certain atmosphere of darkness with a moaning and howling wind. “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is no exception. When Sir Henry and Watson first arrive on the cold windswept night the moor is described as a
“Barren waste, the chilling wind, and the darkening sky”
Again Conan Doyle has described a negative view of the moor in the opening part of the book. This puts a sense of foreboding into the reader. Like a gothic novel it makes you think this is part of the world where some great evil could take place. Holmes even says after studying a map of the area.
” The setting is a worthy one, if the devil did decide to have a hand in the affairs of men”
Not only does this build up the evil element of the setting but also makes the reader wonder if the murder was in fact supernatural.
There are three characters that occur in the majority of gothic novels, A knave Stapleton, a young lady Miss Stapleton and a young man who is struggling with an evil Sir Henry.
The first mention of Mr Stapleton is when Dr Mortimer is describing the case to Holmes and Watson. He is very simply said to be,
” Mr Stapleton the naturalist”
No importance is put onto his part in the case. He isn’t mentioned again until Watson accidentally bumps into him when walking on the Mire.
“He was small, slim, clean-shaven, prim-faced man, flaxen haired and lean-jawed, between thirty and forty years of age, dressed in a grey suit and wearing a straw hat”.
This isn’t the description of a murderer. In fact the reader thinks Stapleton is anything but a cold-blooded double murderer. This is an example of Connan Doyle slipping into the detective genre with a supposed red herring, it puts the reader off the trail of Stapleton.
The young lady in a gothic novel is beautiful, kind, noble, wise and, of course, pensive. Miss Stapleton is a classic example of this. Watson says about her
” She was darker than any brunette who I have seen in England- slim, elegant and tall. She mad a proud, finely cut face, so regular that it might of seemed impassive were it not for the sensitive mouth and beautiful dark, eager eyes. With her perfect elegant dress she was, indeed, a strange apparition upon a lonely moorland path”
This description of Mrs Stapleton for fills all the characterisations of a classic gothic young lady.
The final character which appears in most gothic novels in a young man, who is usually struggling with some type of evil. It the case of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” this character is the heir the Baskerville fortune Henry Baskerville. Sir Henry is the long lost heir who has being living in America since a very young age. He is the nephew of Sir Charles and comes back to England from America to inherit his fortune. Watson describes Sir Charles on their first meeting.
“Sir Henry was a small, alert, dark-eyed man about thirty years of age, very sturdily built, with thick black eyebrows and a strong, pugnacious face. He wore a ruddy-tinted tweed suit, and had the weather-beaten appearance of one who had spent most of his time in the open air, and yet there was something in his steady eye and quiet assurance of his bearing which indicated the gentlemen” Connan Doyle uses the words “alert”, “sturdy”, “strong” and “steady” to describe Sir Henry, this doesn’t make you think off a man who would be scared by myths and legends such as that of the Hound. You think of a strapping and courageous man who will face whatever it was that drove his Uncle to the grave.
The secret myth, which has plagued the Baskerville family for centuries, is revealed at the very start of the book to set up the story in the first place. Dr Mortimer comes to Holmes with the problem in the second chapter he reads Holmes and Watson a “statement of a certain legend, which runs in the Baskerville family”. It is the legend telling of the murder of Sir Hugo Baskerville in 1742. It is when the legend of the hound is first place in the minds of the people of Dartmoor. This is also the first time the reader is given a description of the hound it is described as, “foul thing, a great, black beast, shaped like a hound yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon”. The sentences “blazing jaws and dripping eyes” are also used. This sets up the reader’s fear of the hound very well and it is then surrounded in myth all through out the book. The reader doesn’t actually encounter the hound face to face until the penultimate chapter. You also feel that it is very possible that it was the hound that killed Sir Charles Baskerville.
There are two mysteries that run through the whole book. The first and most obvious who or what killed Sir Charles and why? The second is a more cunning piece of writing by Connan Doyle, it all surrounds the identity of the Hound. Is the Hound real or fictional? If the Hound if fictional what is making the sounds on the moor? What killed Sir Henry?
The morality of the Hound is revealed in chapter 12 “death on the moor” when the escaped convict Selden is attacked and killed by the Hound. This reveals for the first time that the Hound it actually real and capable of killing. It isn’t in fact until the penultimate chapter, “The Hound of the Baskervilles” that the Hound is first seen by Homes and Watson and therefore described to the reader. On this one and only sighting of the Hound Watson describes his feelings towards the Hound.
“Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish, be conceived than that dark form and savage face.”
This once and for all reveals the identity of the hound as the terrible beast that it really is.
Like a detective novel the answer to the great mystery is revealed at the dÃ©nouement of the novel but this is also very much like a gothic novel where there is usually a mystery which runs all the way through the book and then revels itself at the dÃ©nouement.
therefore this characteristics isn’t as useful to use in trying to distinguish the genre of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” because it is a characteristics which crosses genres.
The story for a Gothic Novel is usually introduced very early in the novel. The story, which is the basis for the mystery, is sometimes taken from an ancient manuscript, like “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. Also like “The Hound of the Baskervilles” Connan Doyle has used Mortimer telling Holmes and Watson the story and an introduction to the novel.
Dr Mortimer comes to see Holmes and tells him the story of Sir Charles’s death and the whole ancient story surrounding the Hound. He tells of Sir Hugo’s death and how the Hound came to being.
I think that this is a very good way to set up a novel because the reader can immediately start to place together their own theories and what has happened. It is also an easy way to quickly get across background information to the reader.
In conclusion I feel that “The Hound of the Baskervilles” manages to for fill many characteristics of a gothic novel, it has naves, heroines, castles and most of all a deep sense of evil, but it is fundamentally a detective novel. Connan Doyle has written many books it the detective genre using Sherlock Holmes before. I think this book it just another slant on the detective genre. It includes murders and mysteries but these would be equally and home in both genres. I feel Connan Doyle’s biggest swing towards a gothic novel is his setting for the novel. Setting it on a barren wasteland with “swirling mists” and “dangerous moor land” is a fundamental characteristic of a gothic novel and Connan Doyle achieves this feel perfectly.