Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

The tension between form and matter

‘Why do you hesitate?’
‘There is a realm in which the most acute and most experienced of detectives is helpless.’
‘You mean that the thing is supernatural?’
‘I did not positively say so.’
‘No, but you evidently think it.’
‘Since the tragedy, Mr Holmes, there have come to my ears several incidents which are hard to reconcile with the settled order of Nature.’ (Doyle 24)

I found this paragraph interesting because it seems to suggest one of the significant issues of the novel-the tension between form and matter. At first sight, it feels strange to discover the most supernatural kind of narrative-myth that is passed down along certain lineage-from the most reasonable kind of narrative, detective novel. However, it can provide the readers with interesting hypothesis that even in the time of rationality, certain superstitions were still needed to calm people’s anxiety about fast changing society and its instability. No matter how social/economic progress has positive impact on the crowd, as long as progress itself is a form of change, instability is inevitable in the process. So there existed some temporal gap between people’s spiritual life and the real life.

I also contend that the text may bear some other implications depending on one component that finally beats the other. Although the two contrasting components leads readers to go along the plot of same mystery, for the story to come to its end only one component survive to culminate the novel. As detective novel is a product benefiting from the modernity itself, I would make a guess that the novel will finally end in supporting science and reasoning, the values that Sherlock Holmes symbolizes through his whole character.


  1. thoreauly_written

    October 1, 2017 at 9:41 am

    I totally agree with your statement that there is a tension between form and matter in this novel. It, in addition to adding a great binary to the novel, helps us reflect and understand Victorian Culture. During the Victorian Age, people were starting to stray from religion as society was starting to progress in a scientific direction. While people were growing more and more atheistic, there was still a small hint of allegiance to superstitions, religions and the supernatural.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post! I did not think of the novel in this way but what you wrote is very interesting. I agree with how you said people used this myth or superstition to calm their nerves and in a time of instability and constant change. The House of Baskerville does give the reader a unique way of experiencing a detective novel. From the narration of the story to the content about this mysterious hound, the novel has proven to keep a mind captivated and invites you to solve the mystery yourself.

  3. There is tension in some passages created by slightly strung out dialogue, like in the passage you selected. I think it is accurate to state that this kind of tension may be a common attribute to detective novels. I have not read many detective novels, but I have seen this anxiety creating strategy in detective based TV shows and movies. I do not really understand what you mean when you stated “there existed some temporal gap between people’s spiritual life and the real life ” and how it relates to your initial point. The time period this novel takes place in is one that is quickly progressing, however I do not feel as if it would be developing so quick that peoples brains could not keep up.

  4. You are looking at The Hound of the Baskervilles through an interesting lens (superstition vs. rationality). There is dichotomy between superstition and rationality that is present in The Hound of the Baskervilles as well as the real of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As we learned in class, Doyle saw a fake picture of a young girl with fairies. Conan Doyle remained convinced that the photo was real even after it was debunked. This hurt his credibility in the eyes of much of the public. It is interesting that in Sherlock Holmes, everything winds up being explained rationally; the hound was not supernatural, rather it was had phosphorous painted on it to give it a hellish look. The curse of the Baskervilles is revealed to be an elaborate superstition with no truth to it. It is interesting to see the differences between Conan Doyle’s rational ending to the book (in fact, Sherlock Holmes never believed in any superstitions to begin with) and his own fantastical beliefs in real life.

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