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'The Speckled Band' and 'The Engineer's Thumb.' How does the writer create mystery and suspense in these stories? Explain how he uses language to create character and atmosphere. What does this tell about the conventions of the Victorian short story?

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ENGLISH/LITERATURE COURSEWORK PRE - 1900 PROSE ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE Look carefully at 'The Speckled Band' and 'The Engineer's Thumb.' How does the writer create mystery and suspense in these stories? Explain how he uses language to create character and atmosphere. What does this tell about the conventions of the Victorian short story? The two stories that are referred to in this essay are, 'The Speckled Band' and 'The Engineer's Thumb', both are written by Arthur Conan Doyle and describe two of the many adventures of Sherlock Holmes. 'The Speckled Band' was set in early April 1883, however it was not published until February 1892. 'The Engineer's Thumb' was set slightly later in the summer of 1889, though again it was also published in 1892 just a month before 'The Speckled Band'. Both short stories contain the main characteristics of the Victorian short stories. In 'The Speckled Band' Dr Roylott murdered his stepdaughter and, two years on, history is repeating itself, at the family home in Stoke Moran. Holmes discovers the daughter was murdered by a snake, through Dr Roylott's intricate and sinister methods, and prevents this from happening again. In 'The Engineer's Thumb' a young engineer is hoodwinked into helping an illegal money laundering operation. When he becomes aware of the true nature of his employment, he finds himself in a life-threatening situation. Again Holmes in his inimitable style helps to solve the mystery. Although both are mystery stories, they evolve in slightly different ways. 'The Speckled Band' creates a mystery that is only solved at the very end with a dramatic revelation through Holmes' brilliant reasoning power, as he deducts all the correct conclusions from small observations. However, in 'The Engineer's Thumb', the mystery element develops as the story goes on, and therefore there is no major revelation at the end. Personally I felt that 'The Engineer's Thumb' was exciting throughout, whereas 'The Speckled Band' was slow until the very end. ...read more.


This is a strange combination, however Roylott is a very atypical man. We are told that he is "marked with every evil passion" and this alone is a particularly large clue as to the fact that he is clearly the villain. Previously we have learnt that Roylott "beat his native butler to death" so he is obviously a very volatile man. This kind of remark adds to the sense of suspense, as we know that a young woman has to live alone with this man who is "uncontrollable in his anger." He is a doctor and intelligent man, but the Victorians see him as the villain and quite possibly blame his "mania" on his long stay in the tropics. "Indians are bound to lead him into bad habits." He has become a recluse and therefore a social outcast. This makes him, therefore, the perfect person to play a villain in a Victorian short story. Victor Hatherly is the victim in 'The Engineer's Thumb'. This is obvious from his horrific injury and the fact that he is not quite stable. When he meets Watson he breaks out into an "hysterical outburst" which, according to Holmes, comes when some great crisis is over. This comment creates a sense of mystery as we want to know what has happened to this man, and also suspense as it must have been something terrible to get him into the state he is in. He is young, lives completely alone and is fairly new to owning his own business. Therefore he could be seen as vulnerable. Obviously the colonel adopted this attitude as he deceived him, and managed to get the young man to work for him even though the conditions he was offered were very suspicious. The character of the Colonel Lysander Stark is an obvious choice for that of the villain. As is already apparent, villains in Victorian stories were played by social outcasts, people who were not from within our own society. ...read more.


Therefore he immediately locates the house, much to the astonishment of his companions. However the house is on fire as the lamp, which the engineer used to examine the machine, was not put out. Unfortunately the occupants had already left, taking their fake money with them, but their machine was destroyed. Again there is clearly a moral to this story, i.e. that it is unacceptable to meddle in affairs, which you may suspect to be immoral or illegal. Holmes told the engineer that he had gained "experience" and he also had a certain degree of revenge on the criminals, as it was most probably his oil lamp that destroyed their house and money-laundering machine. Throughout both stories Arthur Conan Doyle creates mystery and suspense with a use of various techniques. He uses language to create character and atmosphere. Doyle uses a combination of melodrama, vivid descriptions of atmosphere, setting and character along with language and various literary devices to build up a sense of mystery and suspense in both short stories. In conclusion, with his Holmes stories, Doyle did two things: he established the conventions of the detective story genre, and he achieved enormous popularity because the world and action of the stories reflected the values of their late Victorian audience. In each story good overcomes evil and this is vital for a popular short story in the Victorian era, as this reflected Victorian morality. At the time Sherlock Holmes was introduced society was confident in its industrial and imperial force, valuing science and rationality. Everyone was conscious of a relentless improvement in all aspects of life stemming from the power and prosperity society was experiencing. Whatever problems threatened their society, including crime, could be solved by rational means. Holmes demonstrated this, and readers responded with a love for the character. This link, between the values of a society and the methods and values of its crime solvers, has endured in crime fiction ever since. Ruth Fitzpatrick 11S ...read more.

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