Issue 3 : Hound, Chapters 1 and 2   

The Hound of the Baskervilles
When Arthur Conan Doyle first published his work in The Strand Magazine in 1891, he decided to present essentially serialized works in a new way. Sherlock Holmes, the main character of Conan Doyle's two short novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, would also be the hero of the stories in The Strand. Instead of writing another novel and presenting a chapter per week in the magazine, Conan Doyle hit upon a new idea: he would write a series of six loosely related stories about the same characters. That way, readers could read the stories in or out of order with no concerns about continuity.

By 1901, when The Strand had published 24 Holmes stories, and Holmes had been missing in action for eight years, Conan Doyle began work on a longer mystery story based on an old legend from Devon about a spectral hound that haunted a local family. It is not known whether he intended to use Sherlock Holmes in this story from the beginning, but, for whatever reason, Conan Doyle framed this novelette as a story from Watson's casebooks, supposedly taking place in the late 1880s. Unlike the earlier series of Holmes stories, Hound was serialized in nine parts, from September 1901 to April 1902, each leaving the narrative at an uneasy or suspenseful moment.

Nineteenth-century magazines that printed serialized literature brought mass entertainment to the middle class in an era when books were too expensive to be bought casually. The strategically placed cliffhangers that spiced up most serialized stories encouraged people to speculate about what they had read, thus bringing literature into their daily social interactions. When the long-awaited next installment finally arrived, people would gather in groups to read it aloud and savor ever word. Today, that experience is reproduced in a somewhat different form by popular weekly television series that generate what we call "water-cooler talk." The excitement of savoring a story, sharing our thoughts with friends and family, and waiting to see "what happens next" is not foreign to us, but can only be experienced in the Victorian manner by slowing down and reading a text with others who share the thrilling uncertainty of narrative possibilities.

Although The Strand's readers loved Hound, they were disappointed that Conan Doyle had not yet decided to resurrect Holmes definitively. That resurrection occurred in 1903 with "The Empty House."



I stood upon the hearth-rug and picked up the stick which our visitor had left behind him the night before. It was a fine, thick piece of wood, bulbous-headed, of the sort which is known as a "Penang lawyer."
Most gentlemen carried walking-sticks in Victorian times—as a sign of status, not of infirmity. Presumably, those who walked extensively over rough terrain would put their walking-sticks to more than decorative use. Penang, formerly a British colony, is today known as Negeri Pulau Pinang and is a state of Malaya. The "Penang lawyer" is a knobbed walking stick made from a native palm.


 
Copyright © 2006 Stanford University. All rights reserved. Stanford, CA 94305, (650)723-2300  l  Terms of Use