From Cuff to Holmes: Developments in Mystery

Nearly twenty years separate Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone from Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet. Similarly, the texts exemplify nearly twenty years of literary development. Here, I wish to bring attention to the ways in which the detective figure is constructed between these novels in order to explore the fluctuating views of crime and justice in Victorian society. Specifically, I wish to highlight the connection between the emerging field of forensics as a possible explanation for shift from a character like Sergeant Cuff to Sherlock Holmes.

While there are many aspects which separate Cuff from Holmes, I would argue that the most genre defining differences spawn from their relationship with mystery and how the detectives contribute to narrative pacing. For example, Cuff’s first introduction is met with Betteredge’s disappointment that, “this celebrated policeman proved to be quite a mine of learning on the trumpery subject of rosegardens [sic]” (Collins 107). Gardening, as an activity, relies heavily on a strong sense of patience and faith in the process, and these traits carry into Cuff’s relation with mystery. A brisk 342 pages later, Cuff relays his account: “I have waited to make it a complete Report; and I have been met, here and there, by obstacles which it was only possible to remove by some little expenditure of patience and time.” (Collins 449). For Cuff, mystery necessitates precision and patience in order to deliver a “complete” report. In this case, his methods do not delay the narrative so much as they lack in offering progression. Sherlock could not be more different.

Contrary to Cuff, Stamford introduced Sherlock with excitement. Stamford outlines a problem in which a, “man is suspected of a crime months perhaps after it has been committed,” (Doyle 12) because there was no reliable way to test blood. Miraculously “[n]ow we have the Sherlock Holmes test, and there will no longer be any difficulty.” (Doyle 12). Even the way in which he uses Sherlock’s name, Stamford equates Sherlock to a mystery already solved. In many cases such as this, Sherlock’s relation to mystery resembles action rather than inquisition. The tension with Sherlock stories is rarely “What happened?” but rather “How does Sherlock know what happened?” This shift in knowledge appears through a narratively, in which Sherlock’s actions set the pace rather than a Cuff-like need for precision. For the Victorian reader, these stories may represent a reaction to new and emerging epistemologies, such as forensics. After all, the idea that actions leave definitive signs leaves little room in the mystery genre for the supernatural and slow-moving elements in The Moonstone.


Works Cited

Collins, Wilkie. The Moonstone. Edited by Sandra Kempt, Penguin Classics, 1998, pp. 1-472.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. A Study in Scarlet. Penguin Classics, 2001, pp. 1-128.


A Study in Eating Sand

“They’re like the weird kids at the playground, who rather than running and going down the slide are like eating sand together, okay?”—Levy Rozman

Above, Rozman describes how chess grandmasters look to an average person. Their actions look erratic and their moves make little intuitive sense. And yet, this ‘sand eating’ is of the highest performance.

Rozman leans on a modern trope in which especially skilled individuals must also lack in other key components, usually social abilities. This individual’s prowess would be so great that they surmount most, if not all, shortcomings. I wish to propose that this phenomena in a Victorian literature both reveals and critiques the capitalist call for specialization. In the case of Sherlock, for instance, he prides that his mind “will have nothing but tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order.” (Doyle 17). So, while Rozman’s comment may come from the past couple of years, Sherlock Holmes most certainly consumes a similarly large volume of sand.

Holmes, however, may not possess that same iron stomach as modern chess players. At the cost of his specialty and skill, “now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night.” (Doyle 15). Sherlock’s character achieves balance through this suffering, and yet his focal point remains on his work. Holmes even encourages a blind eye towards this occasional catatonia. He instructs Watson that he, “must not think [he is] sulky when [he does] that. Just let [him] alone, and [he]’ll soon be right.” (Doyle 13). None of Sherlock belongs to himself. Everything from his pursuit of knowledge to his retention of information to his caring for his general well-being centers around his profession. When we love Sherlock as Watson does, do we also overshadow the pain and deliberate neglect in constraining a boundless man to specialized detective? Admittedly, he is one hell of a detective, but should we celebrate that?

Works Cited

Doyle, Arthur Conan. A Study in Scarlet. Penguin Classics, 2001, pp. 1-128.

Rozman, Levy. “GothamChess about eating sand Animation.” YouTube, uploaded by doctor bees, 21 April 2021,

A Study in Gabriel Betteredge

In The Moonstone, Betteredge tries to assert his importance in the discovery of the gem. On the arrival of the esteemed detective who promised to uncover the mystery, Betteredge immediately establishes his authority over the house to him in an attempt to include himself in the investigation (Collins 107). In other ways, Betteredge serves as one of the main narrators of the story and takes pride in his breadth of knowledge on the subject. For this reason, he believes he is qualified for the Sergeant to “speak to [him] about the business on which [his] lady was to employ him”, though is disappointed when the sergeant reveals “not a word” about it (Collins 107). Though Betteredge acts as Sergeant Cuff’s main informant of crucial information about the operations and personal lives of the tenants, such as his recommendation of questioning Mrs. Yolland about the whereabouts of Rosanna Spearman, Betteredge still maintains some frustration not participating as a leading proponent of the Moonstone discovery. In other attempts to insert himself, he references the predictive qualities and the advice of his trusted Robinson Crusoe. Reading Betteredge’s assertion of his value in the discovery of the Moonstone, I related him to Sherlock Holmes when reading A Study in Scarlet

Holmes shares Betteredge shares similar arrogance in relation to the cases he investigates, though he is backed with the experience of a skilled and successful detective. In this version, a continuation of Betteredge’s character, Holmes has his own particular way of collecting clues, such as jumping on the back of a cabman’s carriage to chase after his suspect. As well, his peers and those he questions throughout his investigation are often in awe of his ability to discover such explicitly accurate information, such as when he tells Dr. Watson he knew that he came from Afghanistan from a “train of thought that did not occupy a second” (Conan Doyle 22). To this Dr. Watson is astonished and further admires the detective prowess that Holmes maintains that he did not believe possible to “exist outside of stories” (Conan Doyle 22). Holmes’ character is how Betteredge attempts to be perceived by Sergeant Cuff.

Neurodivergent Representation in Sherlock Holmes

During today’s group discussion, I asked a question regarding Sherlock Holmes’s refusal to remember what he considers unnecessary information. Specifically, Holmes says, “You see, I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it” (Doyle 9). Obviously, being a jack of all trades is of not importance to Holmes, even though most men during this period valued well-versed education as a symbol of elevated social status. In addition to this oddity, Sherlock Holmes focuses his brain power on two specific fields: forensic science (5) and detective work (both of which go hand-in-hand). In fact, one could go as far as to say that Sherlock Holmes’s infatuation with detective work borderlines obsession. He applies most of his time and brain power to solving cases and developing new methods to do so. As a result, Holmes is viewed as “eccentric (3)” by those who know him–all except for Watson.

Davis brought up a good point about Sherlock Holmes’s potential neurodivergence. Although Arthur Conan Doyle makes no effort to diagnose Holmes with Asperger’s or any other type of condition (Asperger’s was not described in the DSM until the mid-twentieth century), he arguably represents the condition in the most digestible manner for his audience at the time. Not only is Holmes’s obsession with forensics indication of the likelihood of his neurodivergence, but also his communication style and his extremely close observations of people and his environment are tell-tale signs of his unique thought process, which Watson notices and grows to admire throughout the novel. What we may consider dry humor or flatness of character in Holmes’s verbal responses may actually be an indication of his inability to verbally engage other people in a usual, more inviting manner. In addition, Holmes’s attention span is very short, and Watson notes many occasions during which Holmes’s body language is notable for its unusual nature (Doyle 21).

This opens up a bigger discussion about the ways in which 19th century authors such as Doyle, Collins, and even Bronte attempt to portray disability without having the current language to name it. How could Catherine Earnshaw’s “personality” be analyzed as a result of trauma, and what language does Bronte use to convey such a framework? I think there is a lot to delve into here.


Were the Victorians Really that Dumb?

Richard Altick’s Victorian People and Ideas presents theories about the kinds of literature Victorians read as well as their motivations for doing so. His theories include that the majority of the reading public belonged to the middle class, and that most of those people who read did so to escape and avoid mental strain, and that they were mostly unable to read serious, well-written literature. In this piece, I will use Altick’s text as a lens to understand the form of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, while also exploring the limits to this approach. 

Altick argues that many Victorians read for entertainment, not facts, which is partially reflected in the way that The Moonstone is written. The narration is done from several different points of view, and all but one of these accounts are written from the perspective of the future, with the characters recalling past events. In introducing several different viewpoints, the novel provides different interpretations of the events depending on each character’s beliefs and experiences. It also means that each character’s feelings and ideas are also an integral part of the text, which means that much of the novel includes not only the events of the narrative, but also the characters’ worries and anxieties. This makes sense using Altick’s ideas, because he claims that “Because (the majority of readers) possessed virtually no general information, their reading matter had to be devoid of all but the most familiar literary and historical allusions; they could not be expected to waste time puzzling over any more recondite kind” (Altick 61). Using this idea of Altick’s, the need for familiar allusions explains why so much of this novel is dedicated to expressing common anxieties of the time. An example is Miss Clack’s preoccupation with religion, and the fate of her friends’ souls, which reflects the importance that Victorians placed on religion and living by the Church’s moral standards. However, using Altick to understand The Moonstone is limited in that this claim ignores some of the underlying ideas present in the text. 

Besides being a novel reflecting common Victorian anxieties and ideas, The Moonstone also has elements of class critique, which seems to be written for the middle class, that Altick states is the majority of the reading public. He argues that the working class did not have the time to read, and the upper class tended to avoid intellectual stimulation. Therefore, the class critique of The Moonstone illustrates both the benefits and limits of using Altick as a lens. The character of Betteredge is an example of a critique of the lower class. Betteredge is the head servant, which gives him exaggerated self-importance and belief in his abilities. He scoffs at Franklin Blake when he proposes to find the moonstone, saying “How can you hope to succeed (saving your prescence) when Sergeant Cuff himself made a mess of it,?” forgetting that Blake is above him (Collins 321). Furthermore, the characters of Mr. Ablewhite, with his contributions to charities such as the Mothers’-Small-Clothes-Conversion-Society and his mother Mrs. Ablewhite, with her refusal to do anything requiring physical or mental exertion are critiques of the upper class, and are satirically exaggerated. This makes sense through Altick’s view that the majority of the novel’s audience would have been middle class. However, this also illustrates a limit to this approach because satire requires a certain level of intellectual capability to understand, and therefore undermines Altick’s claim that the majority of the reading public was uneducated and read only simple texts.  



The minutiae and the many perspectives in the Moonstone: guaranteed detective fever

“The Moonstone” is considered by many the first investigation novel ever written in English. Despite being located in the very birth of this genre, Wilkie Collins makes use of some techniques that demands from the reader an active stance while reading the story. There’s no main character working as a clever detective who will solve all the mysteries for us. As a matter of fact, the title itself reveals that the center of the story is not a character specifically (like we have in “Mary Barton”), but the mythic Indian diamond which has been stolen from a sacred temple for the Indus and which breaks the balance of an upper-class house in England. Everyone is under suspicion.

The first part of the story is narrated by Gabriel Betteredge, who is the house-steward in service of Lady Verinder. Collins cleverly chose this character as the first narrator because he smoothly gravitates between the servants and the upper-class characters. He has first-hand information from the opposing sides of the house. However, he considers himself as a different employee given his closeness to the Verinder family members. When I first noticed this about this character, I automatically started to pay attention to his name and see what it meant, perhaps because I have already done that in “Great Expectations”.

To me, the name Betteredge suggested that he wanted to be in a “better” position, but he never left the edge or the limits between the social classes in the house. He is always in between. James R. Simmons Jr., in his article entitled “Read the name… that I have written inside: Onomastics and Wilkie Collins’s ‘The Moonstone’” says that Franklin Blake considers him one of his friends and that he has a “superior edge in relation to the other servants” (page 71). Simmons also comments that Gabriel is the name of an angel who is a messenger of God and this conveys the message that the house-servant is not only someone reliable to the Verinder family, but also the one who brings the information to the reader in the first part of the book. However, by being the narrator, we come to discover his many flaws, such as considering himself superior because he is unapologetically English, so supposedly different from the continentally educated Franklin Blake.

Although having such a strong and reliable name, Gabriel Betteredge is flawed and it’s not the one who solves the mystery regarding the Moonstone. In the second part of the story, the reader finds a plethora of narratives from characters whose names aren’t that dignifying (such as Miss Clack, a name that suggests a disturbing noise). They have quite different personalities and do not have the typical qualities of a hero, such as Betteredge. The reader is presented to very real human beings.

The meaning of the names in the “Moonstone” reveal interesting information, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. The reader must closely inspect everything, because nothing is obvious in the Verinder family’s house. As Simmons said, the family’s last name means that the truth is in the “very inside” (page 70).  Collins consciously creates a mysterious world full of hidden meaning, but also realistic, since we have the perspectives of many flawed characters. A definite answer takes a long time to appear. The mystery is intense, but not overwhelmingly supernatural.  The richness of details (and the name-choosing being an important aspect), alongside the variety of perspectives through the narratives ultimately contribute for a detective fever sensation for the ones who read the Moonstone, who deservedly has the title of the first investigation novel.

Sherlock’s All Seeing Eyes

D.A. Miller defines the panopticon in The Novel and The Police as “a circular prison disposed about a central watchtower…” in which “… surveillance is exercised on fully visible “prisoners” by unseen “guards “”. The quotations added by Miller state the fact that the panopticon does not necessarily exist only within a prison setting. It can also exist through people, one of those people being Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved character Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes is a detective, or as Watson calls an “amateur bloodhound”. He is able to accurately make assumptions about people based on the smallest things. He correctly declared that someone was a retired marine sergeant from his tattoo, beard, and the air in which he walked. No one is safe from Sherlock’s profound abilities of deduction. Just one look at a person and he can accurately guess a person’s deepest secret, or so it feels. Sherlock becomes the panopticon in this sense. If you know about his abilities, you will always be on edge that he is watching you and, therefore, you are always watching yourself. But in the end, it does not matter, because however careful you are, Holmes will still find out information because that information “is most characteristically exercised on “little things “”. 

This becomes most apparent with the retired marine sergeant. The tattoo of an anchor is the most visible marker that Sherlock sees but that only tells him of a previous profession that was on the seas. The two “little things” as Miller calls them, are his beard and the way in which he walks. If the sergeant were to cover up his tattoo, Holmes can still deduce that he was a retired sergeant of some kind. Holmes’ version of the panopticon is the scariest because it is invisible. No one can know when he is judging you and you never know if your small ticks or visible differences will be under his scrutiny.


Works Cited:

Doyle, Arthur Conan. A Study in Scarlet. Penguin Books. 1887.

Miller, D.A. The Novel and the Police. University of California Press. 1988.


Reverse, Reverse: The Inside-Out Relationship between The Moonstone and A Study in Scarlet

When moving onto A Study in Scarlet, one of the most interesting aspects thus far has been tracing the genre inheritance from The Moonstone. In many ways, the focuses seem to be inside out. Made of the same material, but different sides shown. Implicitly, Scarlet has much more of a lower-class focus, whereas The Moonstone seems more to be concerned with the affairs of the rich, from the granular to large scale. More precisely, Scarlet features more of the consequences of the lack of. As the reader sees the story unfold through the eyes of Watson, the inciting incident for the story as a whole is simply that Watson lacks money to live comfortably (8 Conan Doyle). Additionally, what partially causes this is Britain’s own imperialist practices in India and Afghanistan, providing another Moonstone connection (Conan Doyle 7). Still, Watson was involved in the upholding of this imperialist practice through battle, whereas the characters in Collins’ work mostly just profit off of the plunder. Additionally, Moonstone more directly deals with questions of empire (though what exactly it resolves is debatable) throughout the story. But in Scarlet, the reader sees how Britain’s imperialism impacts the “average” British man as merely a fact of life to uphold, presenting British imperialism merely as something that is, whereas the implicit thematic throughline of The Moonstone is much more concerned with delving into what this imperialism means, for better or worse.

For the characters themselves, Moonstone presents a fuller, albeit perhaps more upwards tilting, in its effort to exploring a complete picture of British society (which is definitely for the worse). Though narrators like Betteredge and Clack are noted to lack wealth, they still spend their narration with the wealthy and privileged. After all, the tragic chain of events caused by the diamond’s loss occurs due to that a wealthy woman wants “her” diamond back. In contrast, the main site of the crime in Scarlet “wore an ill-omened and minatory look. It was one of four which stood back some little way from the street,.., [It] looked out with three tiers of vacant melancholy windows, which were blank and dreary…A small garden sprinkled over with a scattered eruption of sickly plants.” (28 Conan Doyle). Throughout this passage, words like “dreary,” “ill-omened,” and “sickly” among others reinforce the grimness of life where the victim lived, and the reality facing all of the boarders who live there. Similarly, while Sherlock Holmes is portrayed positively as an eccentric character, the characters of Scarlet are more down-to-earth than the colorful persons of Moonstone. For example, John Rance, though perhaps not up to Holmes’ level of intelligence, is not presented with the same massive blind spots of Clack or Betteredge In comparison, The Moonstone features characters of much more “sensational” backgrounds, whether it be through the penitent and troubled former master thief, or the ultimate culprit having a wildly different secret double life. While realistic in their own ways, and much more defined than the common-if- somewhat-suspicious-joe of Scarlet.

When taking these differences in conjunction, it becomes interesting to think about the novel as almost inverses of each other. The lives of the common English people are more directly featured in Scarlet, but the shadow of empire still impacts the proceedings nevertheless. The Moonstone, however, is much more invested in ideas of empire and upper-class concerns, though the voices of those from below still filter through. But as Scarlet progresses, it will be interesting to see if this middle/lower class and insular focus develops further and will perhaps prove itself a true study after all.     

Works Cited:

Collins, Wilkie. The Moonstone. Penguin Books, 1998.

Conan Doyle, Arthur. A Study in Scarlet. Penguin Classics, 2001.

Job’s Bugs are Colonial Thugs

What are we to make of Job Leigh and his entomology? On the one hand, they create a cookie cutter image of the working class intellectual portrait that Elizabeth Gaskell paints in the opening of chapter 5 “There are entomologists, who may be seen with a rude-looking net…” This shallow portrait, however, doesn’t seem to explain the prominence of science and insects in the novel, which even appear in the closing lines.

As a narrative tool they position Job as a disinterested character, unaligned with either the hand-loom weavers or the masters. They also create some endearing interactions with Margaret and William, and just generally make Job Leigh seem like a cute and kooky old man who’s not quite on the right page. However, what more can we learn about the meaning they create by utilizing Elaine Freedgood’s metonymic Lens? 

Outside of class I have done some research on colonial writing and discovered Mary Pratt’s book Imperial Eyes where she details her theory that the emergence of natural sciences had a significant role on colonial exploration following the publication of The System of Nature in the 18th century. The same book which is responsible for latin naming method Job Leigh is so infatuated with. 

While I do think there is an interesting reading where Job’s scientific drive can be seen as a colonizing force (he supports Williams imperial expeditions and wants him and other sailors to bring him back specimens) that doesn’t have much impact on our understanding of Mary Barton itself. Instead, I would direct our attention to another way Job’s specimens serve as metonymic device: they stand in for international competition. Reading Gaskell’s propagandizing description of Mancunian already makes it clear that she is proud of Job’s entomology, but I think this lens helps to understand why.  Entomology is not just a silly hobby for an old man, it is the space race of the colonial age. Traveling the world, naming plants and animals, that was how colonial power’s fought their intellectual battles, and little old Job Leigh was a player! Poor working class Manchester was a player! In very small ways of course, but still, readers at the time would have associated Job’s hobby, not like we might, with our cliche’d old man hobbies like gardening, but with a scientific pursuit of national importance.

Books in Books

Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone is a plot of discovery, unraveling a dense mystery surrounding opium use and social ties, but it also carries a lesson about the diffusion of knowledge through the written word. Books within the book itself carry valuable information, often only perceptible or accessible to certain characters, indicating how valuable knowledge can be lost when it is written down rather than communicated directly. Paying attention to the comprehension gatekept within the books in The Moonstone promotes an awareness of how the format of the novel itself contributes to the confusion abounding within the story.

In her book, The Ideas in Things, Elaine Freedgood explores the importance of “things” in Victorian literature, suggesting that they carry more weight than just contributing to a realistic setting. Things are abundant in Victorian novels, referred to as “thing culture”, which “survives now in those marginal or debased cultural forms and practices in which apparently mundane or meaningless objects can suddenly take on or be assigned value or meaning…” (Freedgood 8). Books themselves are valued highly in The Moonstone. Betteredge regards Robinson Crusoe as his gospel, seeking advice from its randomly selected pages. Ezra Jennings relies on Human Physiology and Confessions of an English Opium Eater as the basis for his understanding of what happened to Franklin Blake. However, the other characters don’t have access or a desire to obtain the knowledge within their pages, despite their crucial importance perceived by their respective owners. Thus, these books can be viewed as metonyms, they are concrete objects that take the place of knowledge and understanding–more fluid concepts. These metonyms “…allow for causal, material, and conceptual connections…outside the frame of the narrative” (Freedgood 11). However, rather than encourage a connection outside the frame of the narrative, I would argue that the books encourage such about the frame itself. Collins’ novel is told through the written accounts of different characters involved in the mystery, and just as someone who doesn’t respect the wisdom of Robinson Crusoe can’t gain anything from its words or someone who hasn’t read a novel about opium use wouldn’t be aware of its stimulant effects, these same issues of comprehension occur because of written versus communication between the characters. Diffusing knowledge through the written word, just as Rosanna Spearman did in her letter to Franklin Blake or Sergeant Cuff did with his accusation placed in an envelope, relies on those who need the knowledge to both have access and a desire to read it. This conundrum is represented on a small scale through the book metonyms, allowing Collins to indirectly emphasize its pervasive nature in the narrative as a whole.