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Embodiment Of Conan Doyle’s Own Ideals In The Characters Of His Novels

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When Conan Doyle was writing about the Sherlock Holmes novels, he decided to be an objective writer. I firmly believe that this is because of the strict lifestyle and social order that existed during the Victorian era in New England. For Doyle to represent his views on society, he constructed Sherlock Holmes to be the physical embodiment of his own ideals.

That is why throughout the novels you see the recurring themes of family fortunes, personal reputation, and moral weakness due to social status. The characters Dr. Grimesby Roylott in “The Speckled Band” and Isa Whittney in “The Man With the Twisted Lip” provided great examples that the themes listed above exist throughout the novels.

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To better understand Doyle’s writing, we must first take a look at the environmental surroundings during his lifespan. Doyle lived during the Victorian era, in which England was a leading power compared to the rest of the world. Due to England’s prominence in wealth, territory, and innovations caused a strong sense of nationalism that I believe went to many of the native’s heads. Keeping this in mind, Doyle was witnessing all these ill-behaviors forming and decided to educate the people with his novels about Sherlock Holmes. The fundamental message of his writings was that, no matter what your social or economic status was, you have to keep working to maintain your social stature. Failure to maintain that mentality can cause you to abuse your status or take it for granted. These claims have been proven by Doyle’s characters such as Roylott or Isa Whitney, which lead to poverty, corruption, violence, and sometimes even death. I would like to point out that the way Doyle utilizes Sherlock Holmes throughout his works. He creates Holmes to acknowledge society’s issues or structure instead of taking a direct stance. This meaning that Sherlock Holmes will suspect anyone regardless of gender, race, and social stature. Holmes will use these established bias traits though to make conclusions about a person’s character. These premonitions were crucial in cases when Holmes saw a woman by her clothing (Mary Sutherland in “A Case of Identity”), or a man by his compass ornament and fish tattoo. These observations did fail when Holmes was fooled by Irene Adler cross-dressing as a man or Neville St. Clair dressed up as a professional beggar. While using these different character’s, Doyle successfully informed readers of an established social quo and many social dysfunctionalities. One of the most prominent things while living in the Victorian era was the idea of social status. The higher your social class resulted in better housing, education, facilities, and more authority. Since Doyle was exposed to seeing these varying lifestyles, he crafted it into making interesting Sherlock Holmes plots. In “The Man with the Twisted Lip” Neville St. Claire would have rather gone to jail for “murder” than potentially letting the public know that he was posing as a beggar for a few years. “I would have endured imprisonment, ay, even execution, rather than have left my miserable secret as a family blot to my children. ” This quote from the text stresses how big social stature was in play during this time, that an individual would instead die than being discovered as a traitor to his social class.

We also discover that reputation drives the plot in “Scandal of Bohemia. ” The King of Bohemia whom hires Holmes in the attempt to save his social perception from the possibility of blackmail from a former lover. Just the extreme measures he took to prevent Adler from ruining his image and impending marriage strongly depicts how important social status was during the Victorian era. “The circumstances are of great delicacy, and every precaution has to be taken to quench what might grow to be an immense scandal and seriously compromise one of the reigning families of Europe. . . Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked her house. Once we diverted her luggage when she traveled. Twice she has been waylaid. ” Provided that the people viewed people of higher class as people of only good character, I believe this contrast of social normalities created the interest for readers to get involved in the Sherlock Holmes novels. Doyle also proposes that there was an issue with the class system within the novel “Scandal of Bohemia. ” He suggests that the villain is Irene Adler, who instead was the victim. This scrutiny of who the antagonist is was crucial to the plot due to how the nature of women was portrayed during this time. Women were generally viewed as inferior in every way compared to their male counterparts. This societal issue is where Doyle challenges the existing social perception of women by making Adler able to best Sherlock Holmes in a game of wits. A woman just bested the man that allegedly was the best in his field while fending of the drastic measures of harassment the King of Bohemia threw her way. Doyle created the ideal feminine character to prove that a woman can be a male’s equal instead of just being the inferior sex which fought against the social quo.

I believe that Doyle didn’t try to restore society’s status quo but rather the individual’s status quo. I base this off the evidence in the text in “The Boscombe Valley Mystery. ” Holmes could have thrown Mr. Turner into jail for murder, but there was no point in doing so. In doing so, would have overridden Holmes’s sense of justice based on the fact that the man was already dead and his kids would have been affected for the rest of their lives due to the shadow looming over the families reputation. Instead, Holmes takes a written statement before the man passes to ensure that young McCarthy wouldn’t have been hanged. The only condition was that Holmes would use this statement in case if it was unavoidable and to save the innocent man’s life. This confession saved everyone’s reputation at the end of the novel, upholding the families status quo inside society and at the beginning of the novel.

In closing, Conan Doyle was attempting to communicate the need for change in the class structure as well as shed light on the idea of women’s rights. He consistently wrote works that questioned the status quo of the time by depicting women as equal to men, allowing his criminals to exist outside of the middle and lower classes, and by illustrating the upper elite as uninformed and unimaginative. This social order manipulation caused his readers to identify with Doyle, along with his characters, and thus creating the urge to read more about his unorthodox villains. These eccentric villains are essential because Holmes doesn’t allow any social prejudices to form his hypothesis. It was a matter of cold hard facts in any of his books. Holmes believed a rich man was just as much as suspect as a poor man or vice versa. This objectivity is what made the Sherlock Holmes series a hit during Conan Doyle’s time.


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