“’It is a swamp adder!’ cried Holmes; ‘the deadliest snake in India.’” (Doyle 57)
In this moment Holmes has just opened the door of Dr. Roylott’s bedroom to find him killed by the same snake he used to murder Julia Stoner. While Dr. Roylott is undoubtedly cruel and cunning, a great deal of terror for the Victorian reader would have come from the image of a snake in the bedroom, crawling about the body of a sleeping girl every night until it eventually bit her, ending her life.
The use of an Indian snake as the vehicle of such frightening imagery betrays the fear that Victorians felt for the lands they colonized: India was an English colony for nearly 300 years, but most of the population in England would never have physically gone there. This gives it a tangible connection to England while leaving it foreign enough to be a stage for English fears (particularly scientifically-minded Victorians’ fears of the unknown and the untamable in nature) to play out on. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has the snake wrapped around the head of the villain of the story—completely unnecessary positioning for the bite that killed him– noticeably playing off the image of the pagri (turban) which many Indian men wear. In this way the English doctor is, in the moment when his greatest crime is revealed, depicted as an Indian man. It is also worth noting that, supposedly, Roylott was an upstanding gentleman bent on improving his familial situation through “professional skill and his force of character” (Conan Doyle 41) until he went to India and became violent and angry. The demonization of India through Roylott is ironic; nobody and nothing from India would have harmed anyone were it not through the actions of a white man. Much like many politicians do today, Conan Doyle plays off the racism and xenophobic fears of his intended audience to sell his work.