The Hound of the Baskervilles | Study Guide

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Hound of the Baskervilles | Chapter 10 : Extract from the Diary of Dr. Watson | Summary

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Summary

On a dreary day Watson begins his diary excerpt by describing his sense of ever-present danger. As Holmes's surrogate he rejects the idea that his sense of foreboding might have a paranormal explanation, yet he cannot help but admit that the empirical realm offers no satisfying explanation for the fact that puzzles him: the howls that can be heard on the moor.

Barrymore discloses that he read the charred remains of a letter delivered to Sir Charles the day he died, revealing that Sir Charles was supposed to meet a woman with the initials L.L. at 10 pm the night of his death. This new twist in the mystery prompts Watson to write a letter to Holmes and to admit that he wishes he were there.

Although the next day is rainy and melancholy, Watson takes a stroll on the moor to ponder the case. He runs into Dr. Mortimer, who is looking for his lost spaniel. On a whim he asks about the initials from the letter they found, and Dr. Mortimer points him to Laura Lyons of nearby Coombe Tracey, who after an unhappy marriage was able to establish her typing business with Sir Charles's help.

From Barrymore Watson learns that Selden has seen the man on the tor among the stone huts and considers him a gentleman. Watson, on the other hand, wonders about the hatred that must live in the sinister soul of a man who is willing to hide in as inhospitable a place as the stone huts. He decides that his new mission must be to uncover the identity of the mysterious man on the tor.

Analysis

Watson abandons his foray into facts and instead shares his diary entries. Unlike reports that are by definition full of raw facts unfiltered by interpretation, diary entries are full of emotions unfiltered by reason. Watson shares his sense of ever-present danger, which, though caused by his recent unsettling experiences, seems inexplicable nonetheless. Without Holmes, Watson seems utterly lost in a mire of impenetrable observations and events. Grasping at straws, he decides that he must find the mysterious man on the tor, as he might well hold the key to the dark mystery at hand. As it turns out this is undoubtedly true, yet in a very different manner than Watson suspects.

His diary entries offer a rare glimpse into Watson's psyche, given that usually his narrative is focused outward, on the case at hand or on the man who solves them, Sherlock Holmes. Despite his inability to glean a working theory from empirical evidence, Watson shows himself to be a good student of Holmes. He deflects the many questions of an all-too-curious Dr. Mortimer by distracting him, just as Holmes himself would. Watson is proud of his cleverness, as it shows that he has learned to play cards without revealing his hand. Encouraged by this victory, Watson allows himself to imagine that he might just manage to outwit his master and track down the man on the moor before Holmes does. The competition between the two men, it seems, is on.

Ironically the very desire to out-Holmes Holmes by uncovering the mysterious man's sinister purpose shows that Watson does not have what it takes. He dismisses what in hindsight is the perfect clue as to the mysterious man's identity: he is a gentleman. Without realizing it Watson sets himself up for defeat.

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