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The Book Club

Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study In Scarlet

1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes, penned and created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of the most famous and intriguing literary figures in the genre of detective fiction. “A Study In Scarlet” not only marks Holmes’s introduction, it also signifies the start of a long-term friendship and partnership with John Watson. More importantly, it is in this story that readers are gradually exposed to Holmes’s methods of deduction and investigation, as we observe and learn through the eyes of Watson. Like many authors of detective-protagonists of the twentieth century, through the use of extensive characterisation and literary techniques of suspense et cetera, Conan-Doyle has the ability to keep the tension pervasive, always having readers on their toes.

2. A Study In Scarlet? As Holmes explains to Watson, “there’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it”.

3. The “Holmesian” Analyst (I). When Holmes is presented with the murder of Enoch Drebber, he analyses the tracks “a hundred yards” from the destination, before combing the crime scene meticulously like “a pure-blooded, well-trained foxhound” using his “tape measure” and a “large round magnifying glass”.  Evidently, Holmes was crafted in such a manner that readers are convinced – right from the beginning – that he has already figured out the characteristics of the murderer.

4. The “Holmesian” Analyst (II). Furthermore, when he first meets Watson, he comments “you have been in Afghanistan, I perceive”, beginning with a bravura showcase of his confidence in deduction. The significance of this modus ponens is furthered when he proclaims that “from a drop of water … a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other”. As ludicrous as the assertion may sound, “Holmesian” deduction is often backed up by straightforward, practical principles, complemented by amassed evidence and possible explanations. It becomes clear that Holmes will be able to solve the mystery eventually, as his rational and inferential investigative process grants him credence to cement a resolution with evidence.

5. The story; and its twist. Divided into two sections – and a mix of the “howcatchem” and “whodunit” styles – the first section traces how Holmes and Watson attempt to track the murderer down, and ends with a cliff-hanger as a seemingly unrelated cab driver is arrested. The second revolves around the complexities of the murder, and how the killings were motivated by love and revenge; a break from the modern addiction with senseless bloodbaths and excessive violence. Poetic justice runs through significantly.

6. Quote-mania. Quite honestly, the book itself is filled with quote-worthy comments by Holmes on his methods and presentations, that at times the plot itself seems overshadowed by Holmes’s intellect and mastery. For instance, as he speaks to Watson: “in solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backward … These are fifty who can reason synthetically for one who can reason analytically” and “It is a capital mistake to theorise before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment”.

7. The “framed” experience, and Watson’s position in Holmes’s world (I). Quite interestingly, Holmes’s endeavours are presented through the perspectives of Watson. It has generally been agreed that his narrative allows the reader to admire Holmes’s intellect and investigative process. Watson’s functional role is unfussy and straightforward, and his quiet disposition and unassuming enthusiasm contrasts with the dramatics and dynamism of Holmes, and hence serves as a suitable companion and acquaintance.

8. The “framed” experience, and Watson’s position in Holmes’s world (II). Watson’s uncomplicated lingo reads clearly like a medical practitioner’s case notes, and hooks the reader right from the first sentence, “in the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London…” He introduces himself, and provides a preamble for Holmes, who erupts in excitement during his experiment on blood corpuscles. Watson’s calculated and patient narrative sets the motion for inevitability; “nothing showy, no tricks”.

9. Desire and greed. The insatiable greed of Drebber and Stangerson, despite their relative wealth and prestige, ultimately led to a persistent sense of guilt that coerces them to move continuously to evade their pursuant, who eventually metes out their deaths. The plot, while geographically distant, makes perfect sense.

10. My favourite quote, which in my opinion remains extremely pertinent particularly in terms of our education system and pedagogies. (In the context of Watson lamenting that Holmes is quite one-dimensional in his mastery of knowledge in general) “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it”.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


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