How is mystery and suspense created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the short stories ‘The Engineers Thumb’,
‘The Beryl Coronet’ and ‘Charles Augustus Milverton’
In this essay, I will compare and analyse how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creates mystery and suspense in three short stories. In retrospect, mystery and suspense go together. If one of the two is present in a story, so is another. Both of these elements are evident in the three short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I intend to go into the intriguing world of this master of mystery and explore the methods used by the writer. I aim to analyze the stories and highlight common traits in the way in which he creates mystery and suspense. In order to fully grasp the essence of the stories, we must first know some background information about the writer and the period in which the characters involved in the stories lived. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle studied medicine in Edinburgh and graduated in 1881. He set up practice soon afterwards but unfortunately his patients were far and few between. He then turned to writing. In the duration of his stay in Edinburgh, he met Joseph Bell who was a professor at the University that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attended. Bell had an intriguing hobby of deducing people’s characters from their appearance. Bell became the model for the protagonist of the Sherlock Holmes stories, which were introduced in 1887. In these stories, Doyle portrays himself as Dr. Watson, a friend of Holmes who spends a great amount of time with him. The story of “The Engineer’s Thumb” starts in a way that is typical of many of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Dr Watson is recalling one of the numerous mysteries that he and his friend have solved and he explains which story he is going to tell and why he is going to tell the story. By telling us the reasons for telling the story, the author is provoking the interest of the reader. He also makes the story seem realistic thus gaining the readers belief, which is vital in a story because people prefer not to read stories that develop no sense of credibility. The reader feels that they must read on and find out more about the details offered by the writer. This method is simultaneously setting the story whilst gaining the reader’s attention. Another way he builds of the inquisitiveness of the reader is by showing the impacts of the event such as “The Engineers Thumb” and where he states the effect the case made on him.
“And the lapse of two years has hardly served to weaken the effect.”
This style makes the reader ponder what the event was that made such a considerable impact on Dr Watson. When the client is introduced, he appears to be visibly shaken and has a stump where his thumb used to be. It is obvious to the reader that something has happened. This provokes the reader curiosity to wonder about what has happened to this man. The rest of the story is spent explaining the events that lead up to the patient coming into the office with his thumb cut off. I call this “BABC” format “b” being the section where you are already in the turn of events. “A” is the beginning of the story, and “C” is continuing on form point “B” in the story. In other words, Doyle starts the story abruptly where the patient comes in. He then explains the events proceeding to that and he then describes the subsequent events. The solution to the story is always provided at “C”. Many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories conform to this style, as do many other short story writers. The reason this method builds up mystery is that the reader is entering the story where all the events have already taken place so the reader is often pondering about what events have occurred previously. He uses this method to build up the story on a large scale, the way that he builds up the...
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