Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

The Binds of Classism

With the arrival of Dr. Mortimer at Detective Sherlock Holmes office as the first scene in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the questions of natural versus supernatural come into action. Dr. Mortimer tells Holmes and his friend/colleague, Dr. Watson, of Sir Charles Baskerville’s death and the mysterious, supernatural hound that is believed to haunt the Baskerville lineage and their estate. Watson and Holmes are informed that the next of kin of is to arrive to Baskerville Hall very soon, but Dr. Mortimer fears it is unsafe for him to do so. Unsure of what to do, he asks for the help of Holmes and Watson to which they agree to take the case.

From what Holmes has been told by Dr. Mortimer, he is not as quick to speculate that Sir Charles Baskerville died at the hands of a supernatural hound. Evident from the beginning of this novel, there is a connection between classism and the question of natural/supernatural. Holmes questions Dr. Mortimer, “and you, a trained man of science, believe it to be supernatural?” (Conan Doyle 24). Holmes thinks that men of a higher class, have had a better education, especially a man like Dr. Mortimer, therefore they must not believe in the supernatural. Their intellect is rooted in logic and what they have learned is the truth. Holmes states “if Dr. Mortimer’s surmise should be correct, and we are dealing with forces outside the ordinary laws of Nature, there is an end of our investigation. But we are bound to exhaust all other hypotheses before falling back upon this one” (Conan Doyle 29). For him to do his job properly he must consider all other options and examine all other pieces of the story to explain the death of Sir Charles Baskerville was not done by something supernatural.

Further into the novel, Watson moves into Baskerville Hall with Sir Henry. He decides to take a walk around the moor, where Sir Charles had died, and ran into one of the neighbors, Stapleton. Watson and he have a conversation pertaining to Sir Charles death and the mysterious hound. Stapleton adds, “it is extraordinary how credulous the peasants are about here! Any number of them are ready to swear that they have seen such a creature upon the moor” (Conan Doyle 65). What he states parallels Holmes’ idea that belief in the supernatural only belong to common folk and intellectuals are to dismiss the curse. This leaves the reader in a mystery, opening them up to the Gothic tradition of storytelling and who has the power to believe in it.

Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Hound of the Baskervilles. Penguin Group, 2003.

1 Comment

  1. I agree with your assertion that classism in the novel is seen through the presumption that only people of lower class can believe in the supernatural. I think this demonstrates as a whole the limits and expectations placed on people of higher class. An example of this can be seen in the limitations placed on women in Lady Audley’s Secret, and the irony there is that as Lady Audley strives for more wealth and higher class status, she must become more and more restrained. In The Hound of the Baskervilles these limitations can be best seen through the assumption that only poor people can believe in the supernatural. Overall these limitations show a commentary on Victorian Society in gothic literature.

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