Narration in Detective Fiction

Topics: Narrative, Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle Pages: 6 (2247 words) Published: March 18, 2014
Professor Rebecca Wiggington
Essay 1

Detective fiction is a genre of literature that relies on anxiety, intrigue, and mystery to captivate its audience. These elements of the genre are extremely sensitive to the means of narration because the way the reader is presented with the information directly influences the way in which he interprets the information. It is vital to the success of the genre to foster novel and innovative ways to deliver the story because the readers of detective fiction are always attempting to outsmart the novel and unearth its secrets. Therefore authors must be constantly striving to evolve the narration of the story and keep the element of surprise on the authors’ side. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle present two disparate ways of narrating a detective fiction novel. Collins uses multiple first person sources in an attempt to put the reader in the detective’s shoes, while Doyle employs a single first person narrative that allows a limited view into the workings of the detection. These methods influence both the process of detection and the degree to which a reader can participate in the detection of the novel. In Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Speckled Band, the process of detection is hardly affected by the narration. Because the narrator, Dr. John Watson, is not a detective but rather a sidekick, he does not proffer much information pertaining to the detection of the mystery. Watson is merely a bystander who provides occasional aid to the eccentric Holmes. The process of detection is occurring nearly exclusively in the mind of Sherlock Holmes, which the reader is not granted access to. Therefore the only way the narrator influences the process of detection in Doyle’s story is when he converses with Holmes as to the mystery of the speckled band murder, and even then Holmes usually conceals his deductions from the audience, waiting for more evidence before he discloses his theories. Although this dismisses the process of detection during the course of the book, it builds anxiety as well. When Watson and Holmes are waiting in the bedroom, the reader completely sympathizes with Watson when he says, “How shall I ever forget that vigil? Far away we could hear the deep tones of the parish clock, which boomed out every quarter of the hour. How long they seemed, those quarters! Twelve struck, and one and two and three, and still we sat waiting silently for whatever might befall” (Doyle, 1892). The reader in this situation is just as anxious as Watson because they do not know what Holmes already does, and fear of the unknown trumps fear of venomous snakes. The narrator of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Speckled Band plays a minimal role in the process of detection in the story due to his lack of detection in the course of the tale. Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone was said to be the seminal book in detective fiction. This novel used an entirely different narrative in order to captivate its audience. A total of eleven separate narrators were used to tell this story. Their accounts are given in a temporal fashion, which affords a nice linearity to the novel. This means that the detection in the novel follows a timeline, which helps the reader truly understand how the events unfolded. Unfortunately, the use of so many narrators does not offer a connected sequence of thoughts. The narrators obviously do not think alike, nor are they all aware of the same information. This disallows conformity in the writings of the narrators, which can be confusing as the novel progresses. With so many threads, it is hard to keep track of characters and items temporally and spatially. However, this also confers an advantage to The Moonstone because it keeps the mystery of the theft well-concealed amongst all of the impertinent material in the book. Collins and Doyle, while differing stylistically in...

Cited: Collins, Wilkie. The Moonstone. New York, New York: The Heritage Press, 1959. Print.
Conan Doyle, Arthur. Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Speckled Band. (1892): n. page. Web. 12 Feb. 2014. .
James, P.D. "Talking About Detective Fiction." (2003): n. page. Web. 12 Feb. 2014. .
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