Examine some of the story telling techniques in the Sherlock Holmes stories, which are used to hold the attention of the reader. How do the stories reflect the time in which they are written? Sherlock Holmes stories are mysteries. They are also short stories with only a limited amount of space and opportunity for the author to express himself. The whole narrative, or story, rests on the reader, through the person of Dr. Watson . We are seeing what’s happening through Dr. Watson’s eyes, we are piecing the clues together one at a time. The clues have to attract the reader; they have to make the reader want to read on.
The pace of the story has to be sufficient to get the readers attention but the story still has to come to a climax. In all of the stories there is a moral ending. The good are rewarded and the evil punished, sometimes with a great jail sentence, as in ‘The Red Headed League’. The stories reflect the time they are written in a variety of ways. In 1880, when these stories were written, Sherlock Holmes was a household name he was known worldwide. Dr. Watson was similarly famous. Serious crime was much more widespread then today. There was no official police force; Scotland Yard was in its infancy.
Holmes was therefore seen as a professional crime fighter, probably because he was a gentleman his reward was to get the crime solved a payment for solving them. Some of the most recent modern inventions of the time were in the stories e. g. the revolver and steam train. The beginnings of the Sherlock Holmes stories are designed to hook and engage the reader immediately. In ‘The Speckled Band’ Watson introduces the case using retrospect. He tempts the reader by describing the case as one of the most ‘unusual’ that he and Holmes ever had to investigate.
He also adds that he has been bound by an oath of secrecy until ‘the untimely death of the lady to whom the pledge was given’. Mr. Conan Doyle prepares the reader for a dramatic and sinister story. Hints of strange, mysterious happenings occur from the outset of ‘The Speckled Band’ ‘I have reasons to know there are widespread rumours as to the death of Dr Grimesby Roylott which tend to make the matter even more terrible than the truth’ A similar style occurs in the middle in ‘Silver Blaze’. The action has already happened and unlike ‘The Speckled Band’, Holmes already knows a lot of the details.
‘The Red-Headed League’ begins instantly with Watson interrupting Holmes and ‘a very stout, florid faced, elderly gentlemen with fiery red hair’. This man (Jabez Wilson) has already begun his story to Holmes. Now with Watson present Jabez Wilson tells the story again so we, the reader, hear the story for the first time, like Watson does. Conan Doyle uses flashbacks to explain what has led up to the mystery. Helen Stoner tells Holmes and Watson about her stepfather. The circumstances leading up to the disappearance of Silver Blaze are told to Watson as they travel down to Exeter on the train.
Again Watson represents the reader . He hears what we want to know; he asks the questions that we want answered. In ‘The Red Headed League’ the narrative is told by Jabez Wilson. As he talks, Watson inspects him closely he is a ‘portly client’ who ‘puffs out his chest with an appearance of some little pride’ ‘There was nothing remarkable about the man’. This shows that Watson does not really like him or have a lot of sympathy for him. He hints that Jabez is not very bright and that he is rather too pleased with himself.
This is unlike ‘The Specked Band’ where Watson and Holmes are extremely sympathetic and attentive to Miss Stoner. They feel sorry for her straight away. Mysterious characters and events are used to add to the atmosphere of the suspense. The physical descriptions and appearances of Helen Stoner reflect the terrible things that have happened to her. Dr. Roylott is shown to be a dangerous and violent man, with reference to his past in India, by what he does to the local blacksmith, how he behaves in Holmes’s house, and the bruises on Miss Stoner’s hand.