Detective stories written in the Victorian era, of course, had to appeal to the typical Victorian reader and their expectations. in the 1920’s a writer called S.S Van Dine wrote an article called “Twenty rules for writing a detective story” for “American Magazine”. I will examine some of these rules and see if the speckled band meets them. One of his rules was that the reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery; all clues must be plainly stated and described. The way the speckled band has kept to this is by describing all details of characters and setting. Where it is not narrated, Sherlock Holmes describes clues and explains them, for example: “The marks are perfectly fresh, no vehicle save a dog cart throws up mud that way”. His rule to finish the story was; the culprit must be discovered by logical deductions not by accident, coincidence or confession. The speckled band clearly sticks to this one because Dr Roylott (the culprit) is found out by following clues leading them to the ventilator shaft in Julia Stoner’s old room.
Throughout the speckled band there are 3 narrators, they are Dr Watson, Helen Stoner and Sherlock Holmes. Dr Watson firstly introduces Sherlock Holmes and then Mrs. Helen stoner. Mrs. Helen stoner then explains the story of her sister’s death and background of Dr Roylott’s family. Dr Watson then narrates until near the end of the story, also filling in gaps of information. Dr Watson narrates most of the story because it is “his story”. The first line of the story is: “in glancing over my notes of the seventy odd cases”. This quote shows that he is telling the story from memory and is not happening at the time, which is why he narrates the majority of the story.
The story takes place in just 2 settings; Holmes and Watson’s hotel and the ancestral house of the Roylott family. The story starts in the hotel where miss stoner comes and explains her story. Most of the story, however, takes place in the Roylott house, which is always described as a desolate and gloomy place. “The manor house is, as I have already said, very old, and only one wing is now inhabited”. This quote shows the house is old and dilapidated, giving a strong impression. In the grounds if the houses there are exotic animals roaming around the garden, including a cheetah and a baboon. This, and the fact that miss stoner’s sister was killed in the house, adds to the sense of danger.
As Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson and Helen stoner come up to the ancestral mansion, there is a more detailed description of the house. “In one of these wings the windows were broken…while the roof was partly caved in, a picture of ruin”. This quote shows that the house is in a very bad state which gives the reader a very different image in their minds. The investigation happens at night, with Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes roaming through the grounds changes the setting and adds tension to the scene. Arthur Conan Doyle shows the tension in the language by describing the atmosphere and using descriptive language to add to the tension. He also includes the use of short sentences, he also changes the dialogue: “he whispered”. This quote shows that the characters are getting nervous and need to be stealthy.
In the day of Sherlock Holmes, reading books, newspapers and magazines was on the whole, done by the middle classes. Some short stories were published in short instalments called periodicals in “The Strand Magazine”. For the people that read it was popular family entertainment which the whole family could enjoy while one person read out loud. It gave the family the pleasure of a puzzle and the satisfaction of a solution; this is why detective stories were so popular in Victorian times. Writing detective stories was an art form which Arthur Conan Doyle developed exceptionally well. As an example of how popular he was in Britain, especially around London, when he was killed off in his last story black armbands were worn in the city as a sign of mourning and respect. But his death was not to stay like that for long, as he was brought back to life in one final story by popular demand. This brings the question to mind: was Sherlock homes the starting point of the modern day craze for celebrities and their current affairs?
This leads us to modern day detective stories which have changed a great deal since the time of Arthur Conan Doyle, which are now not only in books but on television and movies. With nearly every household in Britain and many other countries having a television, detective stories are much more readily available than in Victorian times, the reason being that there were many poor people then. there are many films which are detective stories in many different ways, even most horror movies are like detective stories in that the characters are trying to find out what is happening/ who is doing what. The general structure has changed because now broadcast detective stories can end in cliff-hangers or the criminal not being caught or punished. They also have to include more tension and be faster paced because they have to fit a crime, setting, suspects, investigation and solution in around an hour long slot.
As a modern day reader I felt that the story was still interesting and kept you wondering how the suspects might have done it (Dr Roylott). I think this is quite good for a story that is quite old and that it has “aged” well. I sometimes found the language a bit strange but not too hard to understand, it helps because you learn a wider range of old-fashioned vocabulary. I found the more tense scenes (the midnight roam) more enjoyable because you were waiting to find out what had happened and how it was done.
All this shows why Sherlock homes and sidekick Watson were successful in stories. It was all the dramatic details and the way Sherlock Holmes was very scrupulous and could deduce a lot of theories from not much evidence, and the way he allowed the reader to unravel the mystery. And then came the satisfaction at the end, which all fits with the typical detective structure and followed the Victorian reader’s expectations. This is what made the Sherlock Holmes stories so popular, so much in Victorian times as in present day. So is the good use of suspense and tension in the language, your typical hero, victim and villain, all that you need to make an ever-popular detective story? The answer is simply that if they are written together well then it should make for a good story.