Tension and Atmosphere in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in 1859. His mother Mary Doyle regularly read to him which is where he began his own love of books. Some years after graduating from college in 1876 he began writing. His first Sherlock Holmes book was “A Study in Scarlet”, written in 1887. “The Hound of the Baskervilles” was written in 1902. The plot of this story focuses on a hound, supposedly trying to kill off the Baskerville family. Holmes himself is a very clever and interesting character. He manages to identify the tiny details that most people would not be able to spot. Although in the rest of the series Sherlock Holmes is the main character, Dr. Watson, Holmes’s assistant, is the main focus in this book. “The Hound of the Baskervilles” consists of a series of dramatic events. Each one of these events is exciting and some are quite scary. This leads you into the story, continuously making you want to know what is going to happen next. Early in the book, it is possible to spot the ways in which Conan Doyle creates tension and atmosphere. The opening of the story presents Holmes and Watson, discussing a walking stick that has been left behind by a visitor. They have not met this visitor as he visited when they were out. We, as readers, do not know anything about him at this point. Conan Doyle is withholding information from us in order to create tension. This works because it makes us think that there is something mysterious going on, and we want to read on further, in order to find out what it is. The walking stick has a name engraved on it, but we do not know who “James Mortimer” is or why he was there in the first place. Conan Doyle uses unanswered questions as a technique to make us want to read on to find out the answer. In chapter two, Holmes finds out about the legend of the hound from a manuscript that Dr. James Mortimer shows to him. This creates tension because we immediately think of the hound; is it real? Mortimer convinces Holmes and Watson that the last of Baskervilles, Sir Henry, is in grave danger after the last heir to Baskerville Hall died in suspicious circumstances on the moor. Before Sir Henry arrives at Baskerville Hall, Holmes and Doctor Watson decide to investigate the scene first. Holmes finds what looks like a hound’s footprint on the moor. At this point, we are undecided about whether the hound is only a myth or a reality, although we are beginning to believe in it a bit more than we did before, as there seems to be some proof of its existence. Later, Conan Doyle introduces a mysterious new character, which creates further tension. When Dr. Mortimer waits for Sir Henry outside Waterloo station, Holmes and Dr. Watson watch them from a hotel window and see a taxi driver looking suspicious. Holmes then sees the taxi driver look in the general direction of Sir Henry and appears to be watching them. Holmes and Dr. Watson unsuccessfully try to catch the taxi driver. There is a brief chase, but the taxi driver manages to get away. This character is introduced without revealing too much information. This is a great example of how Doyle always leaves the reader with questions that they hope to find the answers to later. Further into the story, in chapters six and seven, the tension continues to build, with another series of events. Soon after they arrive in Devonshire, Dr. Mortimer and Dr. Watson find out about an escaped convict who is loose on the moor. However, “It isn’t like any ordinary convict”. They are told that this murderer “would stick at nothing”. This builds up tension by telling the reader that he is not like any ordinary criminal. He is being presented as more dangerous than most other convicts are. “Stick at nothing,” suggests he could also be more violent. At this point, Conan Doyle creates a ‘red herring’ by falsely leading the readers to believe that this convict could be the murderer of Sir Charles Baskerville....
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