The Hound of the Baskervilles | Study Guide

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Hound of the Baskervilles | Chapter 15 : A Retrospection | Summary

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Summary

Back in London Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer visit Baker Street as they prepare for a voyage meant to help Sir Henry restore his calm. As they talk about the events that brought them all together, Holmes explains how he solved the case. Stapleton was the son of Rodger Baskerville, the youngest of the three brothers. He married Beryl Garcia of Costa Rica, and together they fled to England to escape conviction for embezzlement. He started a school up north, and eventually ended up in Devonshire when the school folded. Realizing that he had a stake in the inheritance, he befriended Sir Charles, who confided in him, telling him of the legend and his weak heart. Stapleton hatched a devious plan.

When his wife refused to help him, he enlisted Laura Lyons. He courted her, promised her that they'd get married but instead used her to lure Sir Charles out to the gate.

Realizing that there was another heir, Stapleton had to come up with a plan to get rid of him. He took his wife to London and spied on Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer, but he failed to notice that his wife sent a warning to Sir Henry. He stole the boot so he could train the dog on Sir Henry's scent. He needed to steal the second boot when he realized that the first had never been worn.

Holmes also explains his own deceit. When Watson sent a description of the neighbors, he suspected the Stapletons right away because the warning to Sir Henry had smelled of perfume. His own investigation yielded the necessary clue and revealed that they were married. Out of fear Beryl Stapleton was trapped in an abusive marriage, yet she could no longer support her husband when she saw the hound and realized that he was going to kill Sir Henry.

One question remains: If successful in getting rid of Sir Henry, how would Stapleton have claimed the fortune without giving his identity away and thus causing suspicion? Holmes declares that it is impossible to speculate what a man might have done in the future.

Analysis

In stark contrast to the fast-paced suspense in the preceding chapter, this last chapter exudes orderly peacefulness. In a single scene Sherlock Holmes wraps up the case and reveals what happened behind the scenes and why. He offers facts and detailed background information, once again illustrating his superior skills. Not only did he conduct excellent research and interpret his findings correctly, he also had the right hunch from the start. His perceptive powers of observation told him from the beginning that the person who wrote the warning was a woman—the letter smelled of perfume.

Beryl Stapleton's role takes on a rather interesting significance. Her Costa Rican beauty adds an exotic flair to the story, which speaks of Doyle's fascination and firsthand experience with other cultures. Many of his characters have traveled far to make their fortunes like Sir Charles or have lived in faraway lands like Sir Henry. Yet even after their return they remain representatives of British culture, and abide by the rules of conduct and traditions of the empire. Characters like Beryl Stapleton, however, are representatives of an exotic culture that brings disarray and mayhem to the order the British crave. When Holmes saves the beautiful Costa Rican woman from her abusive husband, he claims the superiority of the British ways.

Although the reveal feels a little repetitive at times, it offers the comfort of closure by neatly wrapping up all loose ends. That is, all but one: Stapleton's body is never found, and Holmes declares that there might have been possibilities for him to claim the fortune without disclosing his identity. Given that The Hound of the Baskervilles was written after Doyle himself had killed off Sherlock Holmes by sending him into a ravine, it is quite possible that he intended to bring Stapleton back as well. After all, the novel insists often that he was a formidable opponent, cunning and dangerous like no other.

In this light, considering The Hound of the Baskervilles was written in response to fan pressure, Sherlock Holmes's absence throughout more than half the novel takes on an interesting significance. Holmes's absence assigns far more page time and a much greater role to Watson. Perhaps this was an attempt to write the Sherlock Holmes mysteries his fans so craved without bringing back Sherlock Holmes himself.

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