The Hodgson’s and Knight’s Essays on The Adventure of the Speckled Band
The essays by John A. Hodgson and Stephen Knight use differing approaches to look at one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales – The Adventure of the Speckled Band. While Hodgson examines the methodology of the work, its “… narrative, deduction, and plot” (Hodgson, back cover copy), Knight sees the works “…culturally, emphasizing social, historical, ideological, and gender issues” (Hodgson, back cover copy). Put simply, Hodgson examines Doyle’s works and their overall success through a critical literary analysis perspective, while Knight opts to examine Doyle’s work within it’s focused sociocultural framework.
The Hodgson’s Analysis
Hodgson begins his analysis by outlining what he believes are the traditional and necessary qualities of both the overall mystery story and the detective character. To Hodgson, it is crucial that detective fiction abides by realism, instead of falling victim to aggrandizement and fabrication (Hodgson, 335-336). Hodgson believes that a good detective character should be scientific and able to solve the case because of his own intelligence (Hodgson, 337). In addition, he finds it key that the detective is able to relate to the criminal in some sense, allowing for the detective to understand the mindset of the criminal and solve the case (Hodgson, 339). Hodgson argues that Doyle manipulates these precedents in The Adventure of The Specked Band in order to revamp how detective fiction is read and how truth can be interpreted.
In his essay, Hodgson argues that Doyle’s use of flawed logic, which goes against the traditional structure of other detective stories, allows for the rules of the genre to be rewritten. He cites The Adventure of The Speckled Band, of which he says “… [the story] commits a literary crime by breaking the laws of its genre, it nevertheless works also to detect this crime and to resolve it – which is to say, it remains true to its genre. … ‘The Speckled Band’ is, then, something like a critical work masquerading as a literary one: it is not about detecting a crime, but about defining a crime-detecting genre” (Hodgson, Pg. 345). Hodgson admits that Doyle does utilize some of the traditional elements of detective stories, but goes above and beyond by blending together what Hodgson describes as two different levels of crime: the one committed by Roylott in the actual plot of the story and the one committed by Doyle against his audience (Hodgson, 345-346). The crime here is that Doyle seeks to deliberately confuse his audience with the incorporation of the non-existent snake, forcing them to overlook the literal plot of The Adventure of The Specked Band and understand the deeper discourse of the piece (Hodgson, 345). Hodgson writes, “…the detective story is a veritable game between two players, the author and the reader… We, in turn …must read its literal clues figuratively, recognizing them as features not of an actual scene, but of a textual one” (Hodgson, Pg. 340 – 343).
The Knight’s Analysis
While Hodgson was incredibly critical of the literary structure of Doyle’s story, Knight instead focused on Doyle’s ability to embody the fears and morals of Victorian society within the characters of his works. Knight chalks up his capability to do so as the reason why the character of Sherlock Holmes was so wildly successful. He writes that Doyle composed fiction “… the old-fashioned way; his imagination created issues that were of importance in his period. One of the reasons he was able to imagine such effective fables of anxiety and comfort for his audience was that he was himself one of them” (Knight, Pg. 372). Knight agrees with Hodgson in that proper detective character is one who utilizes science and rational thought (Knight, 369). However, Knight also believes that certain eccentricities are needed to distinguish the detective from other more average characters, which is why Holmes partakes in drug usage and the arts (Knight, 369).
Knight goes on to discuss the manner in which Doyle was able to incorporate Victorian values into his works. As seen in The Adventure of The Speckled Band, the bourgeois family was often the target of crimes within Doyle’s stories, with the crime often being committed by a member of this class. These crimes were often committed as a result of two fears: financial greed and oppression of women. Financial greed was incredibly disgraceful in this era, as it contradicted the more favored concept of individualism that was rationalized through reason (Knight, 371). Without reason and self-control, financial endeavors would bring unwanted disorder to the lives of members of the middle class, which is why Doyle manipulated this fear (Knight, 372). Knight emphasizes oppression of women due to their sexual power in his analysis. He states that order of the bourgeoisie relied heavily upon this imbalance in power, for when it is recognized, it can completely dismantle the basic social order (Knight, 374 – 375). Women are painted as dangerous creatures in Doyle’s stories, which is why Knight believe Doyle chooses to have both his detective and sidekick character remain relatively romantically distant from female characters (Knight, 378).
In the end, Hodgson is obsessed with the integrity of literary structure, but comes to appreciate that there can be more than one story to solve within a detective story, particularly in The Adventure of The Speckled Band. Knight, alternately, appreciated the accurate reflection of societal fears of Doyle’s time. Though neither essay indicates why the writers chose the approaches they did, I believe that Hodgson and Knight were impressed with and valued Doyle’s writing ability.
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