The Victorian age was a time of increasing prosperity for England and immense development with regards to literacy and, consequently, literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” specifically for a Victorian readership. Many views and opinions differ greatly, between those of modern day and those of the nineteenth century. Because of this, it is quite easy to distinguish the techniques Doyle used to appeal to his target audience.
The Victorians’ beliefs and values would almost certainly have affected the style and content of Doyle’s work. Another aspect, which may have affected the story, is Doyle’s own view of Victorian England. He used his knowledge and understanding of the society in which he lived to inform and inspire his tales. Did Doyle have a didactic agenda, hoping to change public belief? The methods used by Doyle to appeal to a Victorian readership are deserving of careful analysis.
Doyle uses Holmes’ assistant Watson as the narrator of “The Speckled Band”. Watson is a simple and uncomplicated character; he is also far less perceptive than Holmes and leaves the logical deductions up to him: ‘ “You have evidently seen more in these rooms than was visible to me” “No, but I fancy I may have deduced a little more.” ‘ Doyle created the perfect narrator, someone who the readers can relate to and, to an extent, even rely on.
He does not have any personal agenda and so provides an easy and unbiased view of the story. Both Victorian and modern audiences could trust in Watson as a friend guiding them through the plot. The questions Watson asks are the ones which the reader wants an answer for, effectively giving the readers a voice in the story. Watson is everyman. His naivety and simplicity add to, rather than detract from, his appeal. Readers can relate to him. Watson is as ignorant and humble, when compared to Holmes, as the reader is.
Even though the readers are given the chance to solve the crime by themselves, they only see evidence through Watson’s eyes. This means that some crucial facts may be missed. It is up to Holmes, as the star of the story, to solve the near impossible crime. Holmes is an eccentric genius with a method of tying up loose ends which would appeal to the Victorians’ sense of neatness. The scientific methods of crime solving and amazing displays of logic would astound and impress a Victorian audience.
Holmes is a nineteenth century superhero. He is on a mission to clear human confusion and ease suffering. Whereas we relate to and sympathise with Watson, we admire Holmes. The very fact that Holmes was an amateur detective rather than a police officer would have delighted a Victorian audience and encouraged them to admire him even more – they did not like the recently created police force.
The characters of Holmes and Watson by themselves would not have provided enough to make an effective detective fiction storyline. It is only through their friendship that the balance is achieved. Holmes appeals to the Victorians but would never be viewed as a normal person; he is too precise and intelligent. Instead, Watson, as an assistant, is more of a character the readers could relate to. The juxtaposition of these two very different characters joined by friendship would appeal to both a Victorian and Modern audience. Sentimental Victorians would have appreciated the gentle friendship that the pair shared. However, this was not an original idea. Edgar Allen Poe’s book “Tales of Ratiocination” had used the detective Dupin and his assistant in a very similar method to Doyle’s Holmes and Watson.
Victorians had very set views on the roles of men and women. “The man’s power is active, progressive, defensive. He is eminently the doer, the creator, the discoverer, the defender”. (John Ruskin, from “Sesame and Lilies”). Doyle’s main male characters, Holmes, Watson and Dr Roylott, are all powerful and active. Holmes and Watson are defenders helping Miss Stoner. Contrastingly Dr Roylott showed men’s power through his strength. He is punished at the end of the tale. One could argue that this is because he does not completely adhere to the expectations of his sex: he is too violent and does not protect or defend Miss Stoner. Holmes’ intellect is “for speculation and invention”, (Ruskin).
Holmes’ intelligence and powers of deduction would have been viewed as perfectly suited to a male hero by a Victorian readership. The only female character, Miss Roylott, also fits the Victorian stereotypes. She is weaker than the men and needs to be protected: “he guards the woman from all this”, (Ruskin). Whereas Victorian readers would have approved of Miss Stoner’s behaviour, a reader in two thousand and three with a feminist agenda would not have viewed the actions favourably. Holmes and Watson are charged with the task of her protection. The stereotypical characters would appeal to a Victorian audience who expected that kind of behaviour.