"The Hound of the Baskervilles" in the Context of Gothic Fiction and the Detective Story

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2013

17 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Gothic Fiction
2.1. Defining Gothic Fiction
2.2. Late-Victorian Gothic and its Characteristics

3. Gothic Elements in The Hound of the Baskervilles
3.1. Characters
3.2 Setting
3.3. Plot

4.The Hound of the Baskervilles: Gothic Fiction or Detective Story?

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

When enthusiastic readers and fans around the globe think of Sherlock Holmes, they do not necessarily associate the stories of the detective with Gothic fiction. Holmes is rather linked to be the supreme example of the classic detective story. Ever since the first Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet has been published, numerous adaptations such as theatre plays, films and a recent BBC series followed. Adding scholarly texts to the adaptations, one can certainly argue that most of the publications deal with Holmes in his role as a detective. Thus, Nils Clausson claims that “the myth of the scientific detective was born” (61). Certainly, it is more likely to associate Sherlock Holmes with crime fiction than with vampires or zombies. However, Gothic fiction is far to complex to reduce the term only to this associations.

Thus, the purpose of this seminar paper is to lay the focus on Gothic elements and detective fiction in one particular Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Hence, the structure of the paper will be as follows. In the first chapter, the paper will be concerned with the term Gothic. This implies an attempt to both define as well as limit the notion to Gothic fiction. Moreover, the paper deals with common motifs or features of the classic Gothic fiction, which developed in the 18th century. In the next sub-chapter, the paper sets the focus on the so – called Gothic revival, which occurred in the late – Victorian era of the 19th century. As it is of peculiar interest for The Hound of the Baskervilles, some characteristics of the late-Victorian Gothic will be implied. The third and the fourth chapter will illustrate the main aspects of the paper. Subdivided into characters, setting and plot, the third chapter will discuss some Gothic elements in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Could The Hound of the Baskervilles either be considered as Gothic fiction or a detective story? Based on this question, the paper will incorporate several scientific statements to find an answer. Finally, the paper will give a conclusion as well as a bibliography.

2. Gothic Fiction

Before analysing Gothic elements in The Hound of the Baskervilles, it is helpful to have a broader overview of the genre. Therefore the paper will define Gothic fiction and examine some of the developments of the genre.

2.1. Defining Gothic Fiction

Generally speaking, it is not easy to find only one definition of the term Gothic. Depending on the context of usage, the Gothic has different meanings ( Smith 3 or Byron and Punter xviii). Due to the fact that this paper will deal with the Gothic in terms of literature, the architectural and historical meaning of the Gothic will briefly be outlined. However, one has to be aware that the historical context can be considered as a background for the rise of Gothic fiction (Smith 3). Thus, Byron and Punter claim that the “Gothic stood for the old-fashioned as opposed to the modern; the barbaric as opposed to the civilized; crudity as opposed to elegance” (8). The word derived from the term Goth, which is associated with an old Germanic tribe. This Germanic tribe was known for its barbarism. Gothic literature itself is divided into several genres and national or social contexts. The context for The Hound of the Baskervilles is the late-Victorian or fin-de-siecle Gothic, a literary genre which will be dealt with in the next chapter. In order to deal with later developments of Gothic fiction, it is necessary to briefly outline the beginnings of the genre. Although a few texts existed before, it can be argued that Horace Walpole´s The Castle of Otranto (1764) presented the rise of Gothic fiction ( Hogle 1). To a certain extent, every literary genre reflects the social and political developments of its age. Accordingly, it is essential to know that early Gothic fiction of the 18th century represented an Anti-Enlightenment approach (Smith 18-48). In this context, Smith states that the concept of Enlightenment “has been associated with the triumph of reason”, whereas “the Gothic of the 18th century represented an irrational and emotional counterpart” (218). Even throughout the literary genre known as the Romantic period , which roughly occurred from 1790 to 1830, Gothic fiction had its followers and enjoyed great popularity (Hogle 1). Remarkable about that time is that Gothic fiction adopted romantic elements to its foundation as a horror genre. An appropriate example for the coincidence of these two genres is Mary Shelley´s well-known novel Frankenstein (Hogle 1).

For the purpose of this paper, the Late-Victorian Gothic possesses an important function. However, it is important to visualize that the Late-Victorian Gothic is only one aspect in the variety of Gothic fiction. From the very beginning until today, different approaches and contexts enhanced the variety of the genre. Despite the fact that we have French, German, American and British Gothic, just to mention a few, the genre has displayed persistence throughout the time (Hogle 2). This point should be made clear by some consistent features of the genre such as “representations of ruins, castles, monasteries and forms of monstrosity, and images of insanity, transgression, the supernatural and excess” (Smith 4).

2.2. Late-Victorian Gothic and its Characteristics

With the publication of Robert Louis Stevenson´s novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in 1886, the Gothic fiction witnessed a revival. This resurgence of the genre is frequently called the late-Victorian or fin-de-siecle Gothic (Hogle 1). The french term fin-de-siecle often refers to the end of the nineteenth-century in Britain, a period which has been characterised by decadence and theories of degeneration (Smith 219). Moreover, it has been called an age of fear and anxieties (Smith 102). According to Claussen, the basic principles of the late-Victorian Gothic were “its questioning of the power of late-nineteenth century positivist science and its appropriation of the discourse of degeneration[...]” (63).

What is now the difference to the 18th century Gothic fiction? Smith argues that the late-Victorian Gothic “rather internalised concepts of monsters than externalized it” (87). Thus, monsters have been regarded as internalised “sources of danger” as in the doubling between Victor and his creature in Frankenstein (Smith 87). Kelly Hurley claims that the late-Victorian Gothic “consistently blurs the boundary between natural and supernatural phenomena, hesitating between scientific and occultist accountings of inexplicable events”(16). Including major works by such authors as Bram Stoker, H. G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the problem of identity within some characters occurs. Thus, instead of having a balanced personality they are rather in a liminal condition. Liminality means that those characters are situated between two contrastive notions, like “human/beast, male/female, or civilized/primitive” (Hurley Cambridge Companion 190). The process of loosing a full human identity, whereby one imbibes inhuman traits has been called an abhuman body (Hurley 3-20). Byron and Punter point out, that the late-Victorian Gothic is “frequently considered to be a genre that re-emerges with particular force during times of cultural crisis and which serves to negotiate the anxieties of the age by working through them in displaced form”(39). Following this definition of the Late-Victorian Gothic, it is likely to associate the genre to the fin de siecle. “itself often characterized as an age of anxiety and crisis” (Daly 15).

Judith Wilt identified the concept of counter-attack as a characteristic of the Late-Victorian Gothic (620). Although, Wilt´s definition of the the term is a bit vague, the concept includes various anxieties which have been classified as features of the late-Victorian Gothic (Clausson 64). First, there is the anxiety of a “suppressed past re-emerging in the present” (Clausson 64). In this case, events of the past symbolize a threat to the present and modern existence. As a contrary direction to the scientific developments of the late-Victorian era, there is the fear of regression. An example for this second anxiety is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where a scientist turns into a primitive creature (Clausson 64). Finally, there is the action of Europeans “going native” (Clausson 64). This implies the travel to remote places in order “to discover the dark, repressed sided of one´s self” (Clausson 64).

Before the paper will analyse some of the Gothic characteristics in The Hound of the Baskervilles, it is important to realize that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been closely linked to the genre of Gothic fiction. Among other great authors such as Charles Dickens, the founder of Sherlock Holmes has been classified as a proficient of mystery (Peterson 197). Born in 1859 in Edinburgh, Doyle attended a catholic elite school before he studied medicine in his home town. During these years of study, a professor called Dr. Joseph Bell became the role-model for the Sherlock Holmes character (Peterson 198). Important for the context of this paper is that Doyle has been fascinated with spiritualism throughout his life until he died in 1930.


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"The Hound of the Baskervilles" in the Context of Gothic Fiction and the Detective Story
University of Bayreuth  (Sprach - und Literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät)
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Sherlock Holmes, Gothic Fiction, Detective Story, Englische Literatur
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Daniel Quitz (Author), 2013, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in the Context of Gothic Fiction and the Detective Story, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/273546


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