Hound of the Baskervilles

by: Arthur Conan Doyle

Class

1

The address, you observe, is printed in rough characters. But the Times is a paper which is seldom found in any hands but those of the highly educated. We may take it, therefore, that the letter was composed by an educated man who wished to pose as an uneducated one, and his effort to conceal his own writing suggests that that writing might be known, or come to be known, by you.

Holmes observes to Dr. Mortimer that the anonymous letter Sir Henry Baskerville has received is constructed out of letters cut from the Times, a newspaper of the upper class in London. To Holmes, this detail indicates that the person behind the letter is educated. Class plays an important role in the novella, as the characters are often defined by their assumptions, and assumptions others make about them, relating to class. Here, Holmes makes a correct assumption about the letter writer based on class.

2

“A touch, Watson—an undeniable touch!” said he. “I feel a foil as quick and supple as my own. He got home upon me very prettily that time. So his name was Sherlock Holmes, was it?”

When Holmes finds out the man he’s been pursuing has left his own name as an alias with the cab driver, Holmes seems charmed and expresses as much to Watson. Holmes believes he has found a worthy adversary, and the notion appears to excite him. At first, Holmes did not appear interested in the case, as the circumstances involved pursuing a superstition and the case involved common folk who live on the moor. However, this turn of events entices Holmes to keep on the trail of a villain who seems to be of the same level of intellect as him.

3

It is extraordinary how credulous the peasants are about here! Any number of them are ready to swear that they have seen such a creature upon the moor.

Mr. Stapleton shares this point with Watson as they discuss the curse of the hound. Stapleton disparages the “peasants” who live on the moor, saying they’ll believe anything. The setting of The Hound of the Baskervilles is turn-of-the-century England, when Victorian rationalism and an espousal of faith in reason thrived. At this time, people believed that only the uneducated and unenlightened believed in superstition. In the novella, the divide between Londoners and commoners who live on the moor exists as both geographical and intellectual.

4

Oh, they are ignorant people. Why should you mind what they call it?

Watson doesn’t want to admit to Sir Henry Baskerville that the cry they both just heard on the moor sounds like the cry of the hound, based on the reports from people living on the moor. Here, Watson tries to circumvent Baskerville’s question by calling the residents of the moor “ignorant,” a statement that reflects the classist views of Holmes and the entire intellectual class. In the end, Watson and Holmes prove their beliefs to be correct, a detail reflecting and supporting the time’s widely held assumptions about class and intellect.

5

To do so would be to descend to the level of these poor peasants who are not content with a mere fiend dog, but must needs describe him with hell-fire shooting from his mouth and eyes.

In his diary, Watson brushes off the peasants’ belief in the superstition about the Baskerville hound as indulgent fancy. Watson believes there must be a rational explanation for the sounds he hears on the moor. Interestingly, in the end, the peasants and Watson and Holmes are partly correct: There is a hound terrorizing people on the moor, but the hound is real, not a ghost. The reality of the hound ends up challenging the beliefs of all the characters and dividing them across borders of class and intellect.