Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Gothic Hounds

“He​ ​was​ ​honestly​ ​convinced​ ​that​ ​a​ ​dreadful​ ​fate​ ​overhung​ ​his​ ​family,​ ​and​ ​certainly​ ​the​ ​records 
which​ ​he​ ​was​ ​able​ ​to​ ​give​ ​of​ ​his​ ​ancestors​ ​were​ ​not​ ​encouraging.​ ​The​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​some​ ​ghastly 
presence​ ​constantly​ ​haunted​ ​him”​ ​(19) 
 
This​ ​quote​ ​shows​ ​a​ ​direct​ ​connection​ ​between​ ​​The Hound of the Baskervilles​ ​​and​ ​the​ ​gothic 
genre,​ ​through​ ​its​ ​reference​ ​to​ ​the​ ​supernatural​ ​and​ ​Sir​ ​Charles​ ​Baskerville’s​ ​overwhelming 
dread.​ ​Sir​ ​Charles​ ​Baskerville​ ​is,​ ​in​ ​his​ ​final​ ​months,​ ​depicted​ ​in​ ​great​ ​stress​ ​due​ ​to​ ​the​ ​belief 
that​ ​“some​ ​ghastly​ ​presence”​ ​-​ ​namely​ ​the​ ​hellhound​ ​-​ ​was​ ​lurking​ ​around​ ​him​ ​and​ ​intended​ ​to 
kill​ ​him.​ ​He​ ​feared​ ​a​ ​gruesome​ ​demise,​ ​in​ ​continuance​ ​with​ ​his​ ​family’s​ ​past​ ​history.​ ​Sir​ ​Charles 
Baskerville’s​ ​constant​ ​anxieties​ ​also​ ​connects​ ​this​ ​passage​ ​with​ ​the​ ​crisis​ ​trope​ ​of​ ​gothic 
literature;​ ​he​ ​was​ ​“constantly​ ​haunted”​ ​and​ ​clearly​ ​tortured​ ​by​ ​these​ ​fears​ ​to​ ​such​ ​a​ ​degree​ ​that 
his​ ​anxiety​ ​“was​ ​having​ ​a​ ​serious​ ​effect​ ​upon​ ​his​ ​health,”​ ​and​ ​ultimately​ ​lead​ ​to​ ​a​ ​heart​ ​attack 
(20).​ ​His​ ​dread​ ​of​ ​the​ ​supernatural​ ​provides​ ​a​ ​connection​ ​between​ ​the​ ​novel​ ​and​ ​the​ ​gothic 
genre. 
 
Nonetheless,​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​predetermination​ ​is​ ​not​ ​a​ ​common​ ​theme​ ​of​ ​gothic​ ​novels;​ ​here,​ ​Sir 
Charles​ ​is​ ​convinced​ ​that​ ​he​ ​is​ ​predetermined​ ​to​ ​die​ ​in​ ​a​ ​gruesome​ ​way,​ ​due​ ​to​ ​his​ ​family’s 
lineage.​ ​While​ ​this​ ​concept​ ​does​ ​not​ ​necessarily​ ​play​ ​a​ ​large​ ​role​ ​in​ ​gothic​ ​novels,​ ​it​ ​may,​ ​in​ ​​The Hound of the Baskervilles,​ ​allow​ ​for​ ​an​ ​interesting​ ​plot​ ​device,​ ​as​ ​characters​ ​attempt​ ​to​ ​avoid​ ​a 
fate​ ​that​ ​readers​ ​know​ ​they​ ​are​ ​ultimately​ ​destined​ ​for.​ ​Perhaps​ ​Sir​ ​Henry​ ​will,​ ​like​ ​Oedipus, 
attempt​ ​to​ ​cheat​ ​his​ ​destiny,​ ​yet​ ​ultimately​ ​fail,​ ​causing​ ​his​ ​further​ ​trauma​ ​and​ ​pain.​ ​Maybe​ ​Sir 
Arthur​ ​Conan​ ​Doyle​ ​will​ ​use​ ​a​ ​similar​ ​plot​ ​approach​ ​in​ ​​The Hound of the Baskervilles.

1 Comment

  1. I agree with your observation that Sir Charles may have thought he was ultimately fated for some sort of supernaturally caused death. The questionable presence of the supernatural within Gothic novels makes me think that a character (i.e. Sir Charles being eaten by the Hound of the Baskervilles, Lady Audley’s Secret being revealed) understands that what they fear the most may happen, but he/she dedicates their life to preventing that one thing from happening until their fate ultimately overpowers. One difference I notice is the plot of HOB itself: we are uncovering the mystery after the character (Sir Charles) meets their destiny, instead of uncovering the mystery in order for the character (like Lady Audley) to meet their destiny.

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