The name that has become known more than his creator and that has been stuck in readers' memories for decades is Sherlock Holmes, the great detective, and the fictional creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The importance of clearly defining this figure is that the social function that is given to the detective fiction by Doyle is crucially linked to the role that Holmes plays in investigating criminality. So, Doyle's vision of human psyche and social reality is effectively one of the most complete and effective in all detective literature, and Holmes becomes more than just a fictional figure but rather a social icon. The nature of the detective genre necessarily involves a social dimension as it takes criminality as its focus but more precisely the way criminality is coped with through the role of the detective. The widespread popularity of the genre is then linked to its capacity to address a crucial collective concern and to produce a kind of catharsis which is the effect of the detection of criminality. In fact, the social significance made of Doyle's works is the relationship between the maintenance of social order, and the mission of social control. A.C.Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, gives a perfect illustration.
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This study focuses on the role of the detective novel as social control. In the first part of the study, the focal point is to analyse the significance of the detective novel. The focus then is on the literary background of the crime fiction and the historical background of Doyle's work. As a final part of the first section, the attempt will be to illustrate the rise of the Gothic, and Conan Doyle's style the novel includes. The second part of the study is devoted to covering the socio-psychological aspects involved in the detective novel; the psychological effect on the reader is investigated along with the social function of Doyle's works, and the psychology of the murderer as part of the detective investigation. Part three is directed to fathom the role of the detective. At this level, Holmes's portrait, characteristics, and his scientific methodology are taken into consideration to convey the matter of social control.
I/ The social significance of the detective novel as a literary genre:
1/ Literary background:
In the period before Arthur Conan Doyle emerged as a prominent writer in the detective genre, there had already been a great concern with crime, violence, and murder in certain literary works. The year 1733, saw the publication of first 'New Calendar'; it was a series of stories establishing details about 'real life crimes'. This form led to the appearance of a sub-genre called the 'Newgate Novel'. It was a fictional counterverse of the true crime stories established in the 'Calendar' (L.J.Hurst: 2001), and one of these significant models was Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist (1837-1839). In the 'Introduction' of Penguin classics edition, Philip Horne admits;
'Dickens still hiding the wound of his period of family abandonment and social despair [….] and so predominantly self-taught and self-made, came to Newgate on an impulse, at the last minute, and may have had cause to doubt the purity of his own motives'.
Later, Victor Hugo in his famous Les Misérables published in 1860, introduced as an attractive element the pursuit of the hero J. Valjean by the policeman Javert. One would also consider Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, as an outstanding work in the nineteenth Century, dealing with violence and criminality. Hence, the murder which is committed by Raskolnicov is due to the rebellion of human spirit and the abuse of power. Punishment then, was the primary concern. There is, however, another way of thinking about the detective fiction.
Throughout, the structure of the detective novel was evolving, and the subject matter was expanded to the fundamental psychological motivations. As generally accepted, the first detective story was Edgar Allan Poe's Murder in the Rue Morgue, in 1841; Two women are murdered in 'a locked' (1999: 268) room became a special category in crime fiction. Doyle acknowledged Poe's influence in the shaping of his detective writings. The 'house of the Baskervilles' is an illustrative example of Poe's impact. But, what Poe had introduced, Doyle mastered completely, and the detective novel showed the most astonishing fashion during his life. It is striking that the name of Edgar Allan Poe figures in a brief discussion between Watson-the legal companion of Holmes-and Holmes who refer to Dupin's detective methods with the interesting irony that they are in fact like him just literary figures;
'You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of the stories'. Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe, 'No doubt you think you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin', […..], Dupin was a very inferior fellow [….]. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine'.
So, Watson announces his admiration of the character, while Holmes thinks he is superior to him. This is a way for Doyle to pay some respect to writers who influenced him but insisting that his character is an improvement over all.
The first English detective novel was Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone (1868), which treats the theme of the material and spiritual that humanity strives for…. T.S.Eliot called The Moonstone 'the first, the longest, and the best of modern English novels' (Wikipedia: 2006). In the The Moonstone's introduction, Catherine Peters assumes 'the story [to be] not centrally concerned with a murder' (1992: Introduction), but actually, it had its impact on Doyle's works. Catherine Peters continues;
'Without The Moonstone we should not have had [….] Conan Doyle's The Sign of Four, which shamelessly incorporates much of Wilkie Collins' material: even Holmes' troop of 'Baker Street irregulars' who made their first appearance in A Study in Scarlet in 1887, perhaps owe their existence to Collins' sharp-eyed boy 'Goose berry''.
Nevertheless, the widest popularity of the genre is known when Sherlock Holmes set his presence in 1887, A study in Scarlet, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was a book which played a peculiar part in the history of the detective novel. His aim was fundamentally to discover the identity of a criminal, taking cues from the socio-psychological motivations, and the reasons of crimes. In The Complete.Sherlock Holmes Long Stories's Preface, Doyle conveys that his first detective novel 'represented a reaction against the too facile way in which the detective of the old school' (1959: V). So, the unprecedented success of the detective novel clearly pointed not only to the interest and fascination with the genre but also to the satisfaction of a psychological need in the face of a social phenomenon that is criminality.
2/ Social background:
Crime was the result of the changing nature of society in the late nineteenth Century. This period witnessed an industrial and social revolution, which created an extensively economic and social change. In fact, in their study of the era, many historians celebrated the prosperity and the majesty of England and the continuing intellectual debates among the gentry and the elite, at a time when society was perceived as an arena of peace and security. When Mark Twain visited London in 1897, he declared;
'British history is two thousands years old and yet in a good many ways the world has moved farther ahead since the Queen was born that it moved in all the rest of the two thousand put together'.
Furthermore, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary on 1May, 1858; 'God bless my dear country which has shown itself so great today'. However, it seemed that the revolution reinforced a demographic increase in large cities. Here, for example, by 1851, over half of the population of British was located in urban areas. It is noticeable that the main sites of the crime fiction are large towns and cities, including London which was one of the most characteristic locations of Doyle's detective investigation, since London was the site of disorder, and was seen as a place of cruelties and extra-ordinary crimes. 'The house of the Baskervilles', where most of the events are set, symbolises a disseminated society which Doyle aims to restore through his detective faculties. Michael Cohen assumes;
'The most readily remembered examples of atmosphere in detective fiction are found in Arthur Conan Doyle's descriptions of Sherlock Holmes's fog-enshrouded London'.
Indeed, the severe surrounding of the 'the melancholy moor' compliments the atmosphere of the gloom and doom that permeates the story; 'the house', Doyle proclaims, 'glimmered like a ghost at the farther end' (1974: 72). This atmosphere thus, establishes an ordered society that is disrupted by the intrusion of violent crime. Doyle's target so, is to engage the reader's feelings, and to raise his awareness of the danger.
In addition to this, the social and economic revolution challenged the religious faith, substituted by the scientific knowledge. A set of new values by the portable property appeared, and then, the theft of this property became a real threat. To this point, Doyle in The Hound of the Baskervilles, critically announces from the perspective of his character Sir Henry that criminality with its different levels, becomes normal and unexceptional;
'Sir Henry smiled. 'I don't know much of British life yet, for I have spent nearly all time in the States and in Canada. But I hope to lose one of your boots is no part of the ordinary routine of life overthere'.
On the one hand, the theft used by Doyle is meant to structure the plot, and to present a clue that works toward a solution. On the other hand, the theft becomes a symbol of a perverse mentality that dominates Victorian society. At this level, Sir Charles Petrie, sees that 'Queen Victoria reigned over a society dominated by contrasts' (Petrie: 1976). In the light of what he asserts, the establishment of the 'Metropolitan Police' in 1828, and later the creation of the figure of the 'Official Police detective', answered some of these contrasts, and reacted on people's anxiety about their social existence. Following Adam Roberts, 'the fiction of police detection shadowed the development of a department of criminal detection itself'. (2003: 56). The detective Sherlock Holmes, in Doyle's novels shows the significance of the literary production of this social situation. Though England local gentry was governed by the notions of law and order, still crimes were never reported to local police owing to erroneous statistics delineated by the new chief who used to create the impression that nothing was wrong; 'The deathly silence [then,] lay upon the old house'(1959: 75). The detective novel's interest then, is to reveal the truth, uncover the social disturbance, and to demonstrate its cause-roots.
3/ The rise of the Gothic: Conan Doyle's style:
Though The Hound of the Baskervilles is pervaded by the mystery and the gothic that are present in the source story through his detective style, Doyle marks his novel with certain distinctive features. The story opens with the folk tale of the Baskerville's curse. 'Black Shuck' and 'The Whist Hound' (Trubshaw: 2005) are ghost-like-dogs from British folklore, and these dogs are the inspiration for the novel. However, when Holmes sheds light on the situation, nothing remains either horrible, or mysterious. Chris Baldick sees that;
'While such Gothic elements hark back to archaic forms of despotism or cruelty, the intervention of the detective as illuminator of dark places leads in another direction, towards the security of modern rationality'.
The primary concern for Doyle thus, is obtaining truth with intuitive logic, and astute observation by first excluding fantasies or phantasmagorias. Doyle also interrogates England's culture and ideology at the time. The detective novel is seen as something 'light and entertaining'. The pattern is popular. By contrast, as a signifying metaphor, the detective novel is a mirror which reflects the traits of social and cultural condition. Hence, a reflection but also a criticism of that reality.
This way, the skilful writer of this genre, should reveal certain aspects of a society and culture that more or less remain hidden. Since the social disturbance could be considered as a major factor behind the thirst for a new kind of crime fiction containing discourse. Therefore, a sense of reality is essential to the detective novel, for it shows strategies of writing which foreground such question as 'how can we get better control of the society of which we are part? Indeed, the struggle to control disorder is a central theme in Conan Doyle's works. Bennett reassures the idea mentioned above;
'This is because the genre depends, on the one hand, on an outcome in which society's and the reader's desire for moral restitution is fulfilled and, on the other hand, on the detective's ability rationally to deduce the criminal's motives'.
Consequently, Doyle had canonised the detective as a big-gun-power.-Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories about Sherlock Holmes-and becomes as Adams Robert mentions, 'the most influential writer of Victorian detective fiction' (2003: 57). The detective is always in an attempt to shed light on the sources of trauma and destructiveness within society. In other words, Doyle conveys that, 'everyone has some little immortal spark concealed about him'. He then, sees man as a 'strange enigma'. This pronouncement presents the individual and the society as a puzzle to be solved. In short, the function is no longer simple entertainment, but it is criticism of reality.
In this respect, The Hound of the Baskervilles may be imaginative, but it gives the impression of the reality of action. Here, Doyle shows an orientation toward more realism, since there are many references to real facts within the book. For example, the setting corresponds very closely to real places in England, such as 'London' and 'Devonshire'. Doyle also adds a degree of reality to the novel by quoting documents and, using real dates. For instance, 'the manuscript', 'the newspaper', [The second report of Dr.Watson] in 'oct: 15' and more illustrated in chapter ten; 'Extract from the diary of Dr. Watson' in 'octobre 16'. Doyle marks a change in the narration form. The events are told from the point of view of Dr. Watson, which gives the reader the benefit to see the story from a shared perspective, because the narrator relies on Watson's reports and diary rather than his memory. Watson proclaims;
'I have arrived at a point in my narrative where I am compelled to abandon this method and to trust one more my recollections, aided by the diary which I kept at a time'.
The rejection of the writer's interference at this level, gives more importance to dialogue, and structures the plot in the form of scenes instead of long narration. So the novel offers a chronologically coherent account by moving from one point to another. A sense of authenticity is maintained, and the reader is involved to pinpoint the clues in order to reach a solution, and to experience a sense of anticipation within the events. In fact, reason and commonsense dominate the novel, and are paired with the investigation of human behaviour in society as the main tools of the detective's work.
II/ The socio-psychological dimension in doyle's detective novel:
1/ Psychological effect on the reader:
Doyle begins his novel by the impact of the totally mysterious crime, then woks backwards to reconstruct the incomplete fragments. The detective presence is to consolidate the baffling absence of clues into logical solution. Throughout the novel the narrator Dr. Watson, is kept in ambiguity by Holmes. The detective does not share his interpretations with Watson or with the other characters. Most are stupid, others are shown to be mistakenly confident and barely overlook the clues causing them to arrest the wrong person. The reason to annoy the reader so, is because Doyle aims to keep his reader in his dependence and then under control, letting very little information out. In the 1974 'Pan' edition of the book's 'Afterwards', John Fowles claims;
'It is not simply that Watson is the obvious foil for Holmes's brilliance and that his ineffable capacity for not understanding what is really going on allows Conan Doyle to provide explanation for the slow minded-reader as well'.
Doyle concludes with an explanation, and chapter fifteen 'A Retrospection' is the part of the novel where all unsolved problems are answered. The reader is often in need of such exposition to understand the matter. Another technique that serves to include larger readers is the simplicity of language Doyle uses to address his readers. In fact, while his process is intuitive and often very astonishing, the language seems popular, so that the reader could understand the author's ideological discourse.
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The use of suspense in Doyle's work is also a basic technique that enables the detective novel to act as a social controller. As commonly known, a well-established suspense actively engages the reader's feelings and hooks him into reading the book. The following process, however; will clear up how Doyle uses suspense to control the reader's anxiety, since suspense, following Bennett, 'makes the story so terrifying'. (2004: 198). Chapter eleven; 'The man on the tor', comes out with one of Watson's investigations. Here, Doyle gives an intense detailed description which leads the reader to interact with the scene and, raises his emotion of fear and horror;
'And then [Watson proclaims] at last I heard him. Far away came the sharp clink of a boot striking upon a stone. Then another and yet another, coming nearer and nearer. I shrank back into the darkest corner, and cocked the pistol in my pocket, determined not to discover myself until I had an opportunity of seeing something of the stranger. There was a long pause, which showed that he had stopped. Then once more the footsteps approached and shadow fell across the opening of the hut'.
The novel hence, has something to do with the reader's feeling and mind, and how they work. In other words, the unconscious fear that the reader feels, adds to the suspense and therefore, Doyle must provide a kind of psychological alleviation that the reader needs. As a result, Holmes's prompt appearance would be the best way for Doyle to keep the reader under regulation. To the recent idea, the following chapter; 'Death on the moor', is a fine example to deal with Doyle's intention. Watson continues;
'For a moment or two I sat breathless, hardly able to believe my ears. Then my senses and my voice came back to me, while a crushing weight of responsibility seemed in an instant to be lifted from my soul. That cold, incisive, ironical voice could belong to but one man in all the world.
'Holmes!' I cried-'Holmes!'
Holmes is not present for a third of the book's chapters; those six chapters in which Holmes does not appear are those in which the greatest plot developments occur. The choice of Doyle to absent Holmes from a large part of the book is to establish the need to the detective presence that the reader would normally call for. Though, the return of Holmes -from London-which seems unexpected, becomes necessary to the reader, since Watson left things a bit ambiguous, and uncertain. Rosemary Herbert claims that 'an important aspect of suspense is the state of expectant waiting that it arouses'. (1999: 437). After Holmes arrives, there is no more mystery to solve. Suspense is important to keep the reader interested, and wondering whether the conclusion of the story would end like he thought, but when the detective checks on the reader's worry, the definition of disturbance is changed completely.
The detective significance is then psychological and could be demonstrated through the widespread popularity of such novels. One might spot on the strong public demand expressed by the high numbers of Doyle's consumers and readers, which translates a keen interest in experiencing such a type of reading. When Doyle wanted a dramatic finish for Sherlock Holmes in 1893, as The Adventure of the Final Problem, saw the death of Holmes. John Fowler in the 1974 'Pan' edition of The Hound of the Baskerville's 'Foreword' assumed that;
'This book was therefore a kind of test case-both of the depth of public demand after the eight years of silence and the author's ability to satisfy it'.
Many reasons were behind the appeal for Holmes then, may be the originality of the way in which the crimes are solved, the attractive techniques Doyle uses, and the way in which he describes the mannerism and speeches of Holmes, that often indicate that he is in control of the situation. Following this process, the reader feels that the primary function of the detective is to safeguard society through the prevention of crime, and he achieves a kind of psychological release, since the social order is rearranged, out from the grip of the criminal arrogance.
2/ The social dimension of Doyle's work:
The wide public demand for Doyle's novels is due to the increased awareness and concern for crime and general safety. Following Philip Weller; 'Public demand for Holmesian adventures has also been met by the worlds of theatre, film and television' (1992: 15). The significance of Doyle's Holmes as a literary figure standing as a social icon is in acting as guardian, and physical embodiment of the law as a safeguard to security. This meaning arises most notably at the moment of climax of the detective plot. When Holmes finally discovered the spectral appearance of the ghost-like-dog, which is due to the effect of phosphorescent paint, he acknowledged that the murderer is Stapleton. The truth then is revealed, and the series of crimes are stopped. Herein lies the crucial role of the detective as a form of social control, since with each crime he solves, the social order is rearranged, and the public safety is maintained thereby regaining public confidence In this level, Bennett assumes;
'A detective story typically involves a disturbance of order in the wake of an originary event of physical violence or theft of property, followed by the re-establishment of order by the discovery of the criminal'.
In order to fulfill such a crucial function in the detective story, Sherlock Holmes is endowed with an exceptional personality and exceptional qualities, not least of them are the sharp eye and mind operating in the rational tactics of his detective works.
All through the series of stories, the social iconicity of Holmes becomes a starting point to the detective operations. The novel's introduction deals with the great influence of Holmes 'on the police methods and criminology all over the world'. J Edgar Hoover declares;
'The FBI had incorporated his method to the full and the French Sureté named its celebrated criminal Laboratory at Lyons after him'.
Regarding his efficient social engagement, Holmes is transformed from a fictional character to a perfect tool to absorb public worry, and appease fear; 'I have hitherto confined my investigation to this world' (1974: 35), Holmes suggests. Through such pronouncement then, Doyle intends to increase the nearly mythical universal dimension of the mission of the detective and to increase interest and confidence in that mission. To this end Doyle uses a kind of parallelism between his character and the police detective, in chapter four; 'Sir Henry Baskerville', that highlights the logical tactics used in the detection operation. In this chapter, Sir Henry received an anonymous note of warning at his hotel; 'As you value your life, or your reason, keep away from the moor' (1974: 43). Here, Holmes notices that the words are cut out of the 'Times' paper except the word 'moor'. The word was handwritten, and the spluttered writing suggested a lack of ink, the result of hotel pen and not a private one. As a result, Holmes demanded an investigation of the hotels registrations around 'Charing Cross', where the letter was postmarked. This example shows how crucial are the qualities of Holmes in the success of the detective mission. These qualities distinguish him not only from ordinary men, but also from other detectives all over the world and of all times.
In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Doyle also gives off an occasional whiff of social arrogance. Doyle's introduction of such a social line highlights the social dimension of his novel and confirms control a basic concern. With this element, he underlines the collective bond of society and then prepares for the detective mission. Holmes constantly speaks about society interrogating its structure of norms, values and beliefs that may have created a favourable milieu for the criminal to perpetrate his deeds. For example, the family portrait of Hugo enables Holmes to figure out the motive. Holmes assumes; 'A study of family portraits is enough to convert a man' (1974: 161). Here, Doyle dehumanizes Hugo's family interrelation which is revealed through Stapleton's mistreatment of his wife and the others;
'His wife had some inkling of his plan; but she had such a fear of her husband. […….]. He tied her up, therefore, that she might have no chance of warning Sir Henry'.
Dehumanization here can also be seen in the parallel involving Stapleton's insects. There is Mrs. Stapleton who is tied up in the same room as the collections, and in a similar manner. Furthermore, the neglect by Franckland of his daughter presents also a good illustration of the broken family unit and more generally the dislocation of the social frame that Doyle helps to examine and then contain, as it shows how the detective novel incorporates an image of society and the state, and the nature of relationship within it.
The detective role and mission become an occasion not only of unmasking a crime, but also of measuring then reconstituting and reconstructing society's structure of values and moral rules. Eminent sociologists have asserted such role of criminality thereby of the detective's work. For instance, Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist, sees that without a crime, society is obviously impossible, and cannot constitute itself or develop morally. In his Theories of Society, Durkheim conveys;
'Crime is normal, an inevitable and necessary part of every society [….] A society exempt from it would be utterly impossible. Since people differ from the 'collective type', there are some divergences which tend toward the criminal'.
According to Durkheim, There are guides and controls that can be defined as patterns of social conduct and that are capable of exercising control over individuals through 'socialization, education and, moral obligations' (Elwell, 2003). The detective novel begins by images of social dislocation. A ghostly hound, an old family legend, a mysterious death attributed to supernatural means, an escaped convict, a family ancestor known for his violent misconduct with women and drunken ways…This dramatic depiction seems to be in place primarily for the chock value. It is important to note that Doyle's preliminary social diagnostic attempt is an education in itself. The reader thus, discovers the sternness of his social surrounding and then, experiences a kind of psychological attachment to the detective process to come, as it represents an adequate response to his worry of the danger around.
3/ The psychology of the murderer as part of the detective investigation:
With a total precision Holmes places in perspective all the necessary elements for a thorough grasping of the cases and essentially the psychology of the criminal provide the most valuable cues. He first takes a closer look at the cause behind the series of crimes made by Stapleton and then begins by investigating his personality through its recent history. In this connection, the crime which Doyle is up against is largely crime against property. So, having embezzled public money, Roger-Stapleton- fled to England, changed his name, and established a school up north. When the school folded, Roger had to return to Devonshire, hearing of his stake in a large inheritance. His motivation then, is the opportunity to get his hands on the Baskerville's estate. The idea of criminal means therefore, and comes to assert itself and gradually dominate Stapleton's mind;
He meant in the end to have the estate, and he was ready to use any tool or run any risk for that end'.
Following Doyle's perspective, crime and, the pursuit of money and power, are tightly linked together. Here, Doyle points out the human selfishness, revealing an increasingly materialistic Victorian society. The nature of Man thus, becomes 'the reflection' of that social circumstance, according to K. Marx doctrine. In other words, the dramatic picture of crime that Doyle depicts mainly disrupts the bond of self-control and respectability that hold society together. Even if Marx's tendency works primarily towards the class structure of society, the evils formed in the human psyche, 'are necessary sublimates of their material life processes.'(Mattick, 1969). Doyle's ideological viewpoint, comes very closely to the doctrine noted above, fathoming the strong desire 'of the whole countryside [to] profit by [Sir Charles Baskerville's] good fortune and [to] have personal reasons for bewailing his untimely end' (1974: 27). The detective novel is thus a way of understanding the actual socio-psychological urge behind crime thereby a way of understanding society and its individuals.
The convict is also another figure that enters into the frame of the detective novel's depiction of such social collapse. Though his presence does not drive the mechanism of the novel's plot, Doyle stresses his psychic disorder, and his alienation from social living. The convict is a murderous villain; he is not humanized by his association with the Barrymores, and has such an aggressive instinct that he commits violent crimes. His only wish is to escape to 'South America' as Doyle proclaims;
'….until he came to think that the world is made for his pleasure, and that he could do what he liked in it. [……]. From crime to crime he sank lower and lower, until it is only the mercy of God which has snatched him from the scaffold'.
The reader is brought very close to the socio-psychological process of his becoming an inveterate criminal. It is here again useful to refer to Durkheim's view about criminality in society since the desires and self-interest of human beings could stimulate a crime;
'The more one has, the more one wants, since satisfactions received stimulate instead of filling needs'.
In 'The light upon the moor', the convict becomes a symbolic sign of the selfishness and greed of late Victorian society. Though the convict is from a wealthy family, his desires are strong enough to make crimes. In fact, what Doyle aims here, is to serve as a mediator between late-Victorian British society, and the collapse of social frame, the result of individualistic values.
'The danger that society, rather than a particular individual, will itself come to be seen as the culprit'.
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