In German, the word uncanny translates to unheimlich which means unhomely. However, Sigmund Freud’s definition of this word is one that is much more complex. In his essay The Uncanny, Freud writes “the uncanny is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar” (Freud 1). In this quote, Freud is arguing that the uncanny, things that are seen as unfamiliar at the moment, ultimately comes from a familiar place. Freud defends his argument by listing “Dismembered limbs, a severed head, a hand cut off at the wrist, as in a fairy tale of Hauff’s, feet which dance by themselves” (Freud 14) as things that are uncanny. With this example, Freud strengthens his argument by implying that at first, dismembered limbs, a severed head, and a hand cut off at the wrist are all gruesome things that have a significant effect on the mental health of any normal human. When these body parts are put together, however, they “lead back to what is known of old and long familiar”.
According to Freud’s definition of the word, I do believe Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is an uncanny text. This novel fits the criteria because it is a Gothic novel. Gothic novels tend to be filled with events that are strange and frightening yet familiar. In the novel, there is a constant reoccurrence of strange events. For example, early in the novel, Holmes is introduced to the marauding, supernatural hound. The hound reappears later on when it causes Stapleton’s death. Although they might seem frightening at first, these events are essentially familiar due to their constant occurrence throughout the novel.
In the novel, Doyle contrasts settings, the homely with the unfamiliar, to create a sense of an uncanny environment on the moor. As stated previously, the uncanny is something that is presently seen as frightening but comes from a familiar place. The moor is a great example of a setting that is homely and unhomely all at once. In the novel, the moor is described as a bleak, gloomy, and misty landscape. In that sense, it is quite similar to London, the city where Sherlock Holmes originates from. London is a gloomy city whose weather changes often and without warning. Due to the constant rain the city faces, it is considered by most as a misty city. The similarities between the weather of the two settings are what make the moor homely for Holmes. However, that is as far as the similarities go. On the other hand, the moor is a place filled with superstition. With a nearby prison, gloomy estates, and being the home of the hound, the moor is also an unfamiliar place for Holmes because he is used to the more urban landscape of London. The attributes of the moor are often utilized by authors or directors to create a frightening ambiance in a setting. Therefore, the moor is a frightening place for Holmes. In conclusion, through the use of creating subtle similarities between the moor and Sherlock’s hometown of London, Doyle is able to contrast settings to create a sense of an uncanny environment on the moor.
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