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What do the Sherlock Holmes stories tell us about Victorian Britain?

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Victorian Britain - Prose Study Coursework What do the Sherlock Holmes stories tell us about Victorian Britain? The essay will examine how much the Sherlock Holmes stories can tell us about Victorian times. It will provide an overview of what Victorian Britain was like, as depicted by three Sherlock Holmes stories: The Cardboard Box, The Man with the Twisted Lip and The Speckled Beard. They were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was so popular and well respected for the writing of these books he was knighted for it. These stories were written during the 1880s to the early 1900s during Queen Victoria's reign. The Sherlock Holmes stories fall under the detective genre which means there will be a mysterious crime, a charismatic investigator, the process of deduction and the revealing of the culprit and the motive behind it. The Victorians respected their class very highly and thought that whatever class you were born into was the class you should stay in. The vast majority of people lived in extreme poverty - around 70% of people were working class, 20% middle class and a mere 10% upper class. The Sherlock Homes stories appealed to a lot of people, but particularly those in the higher class, because they often depicted upper class people where something had gone wrong or they had committed a crime and not lived up to the expectations of their class. This gave a secret element of thrill to those in higher society. The Man with the Twisted Lip would appeal to the Victorians as it delineated a higher class person who had another life as a professional beggar. ...read more.


Holmes is also descried as physically very strong and we can establish this from The Speckled Band "he picked up the steel poker, and with a sudden effort straightened it out again". This is Holmes bending a steel poker which would necessitate an immense amount of strength. Another thing which makes Holmes seem more than human is that he appears to read minds by studying people's facial expressions. We see this take place in The Cardboard Box "leaning back in my chair, I fell into a brown study. Suddenly my companion's voice broke in upon my thoughts 'you are quite right Watson' ", this is Holmes agreeing with what Watson had said to himself in his mind, although it would have been almost impossible to know exactly what he was thinking about at that moment of time. Along with all his other amazing qualities Holmes is also the master of disguises, as it portrays in The Man with the Twisted Lip "the old man at my side, very thin, very wrinkled, bent with age... his form had filled out, his wrinkles were gone, the dull eyes had regained their fire, and there sitting by the fire, and grinning at my surprise was none other than Sherlock Holmes." All these different depictions shows us that not only could Holmes work out a case with barely any clues, or that he is incredibly strong without even looking it, or the fact that he can read peoples minds, but that he is also the master of disguises. Collectively, these points go on to prove how Victorians liked characters, because to them he was their idealistic person of who they wanted to be - he was perfect in every way. ...read more.


The upper class citizens were the people that mainly read these books and they appeared to like the seedier side of things, as they thought it was a true aspect of what really happened, which they preferred not to accept, but if it was in a book it was acceptable. The British people thought that they were better than every other ethnic group and saw it as being okay to discriminate against them and be racist whereas today we would not accept it and it is a crime. There was a lot more common crime in those times as well, which came up a lot in the stories as each was based around a crime, with even the higher class people committing crimes like going to opium dens among other things. Poverty as well was a lot more rampant in the Victorian times as no one seemed to be bothered about the poor, as it was part of their everyday life to be or to see a lot of poverty in the streets. The stories also told us about the Victorians' love of all things gothic, the architecture, dark clothes and writing; gothic writing contained a lot of murder, ghosts, evilness and darkness. They were also depicted as being a lot more gullible than we are today and would believe almost anything that they were told in stories and were not bothered if it did not seem real. We can see this from Holmes perfect character and how he did not even have one flaw. To summarise, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories combine many elements which give us a very good representation of Victorian life. Ross Bowman 1 ...read more.

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