The Hound of the Baskervilles | Study Guide

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Hound of the Baskervilles | Chapter 2 : The Curse of the Baskervilles | Summary

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Summary

Dr. Mortimer pulls out a manuscript, which, as Sherlock Holmes correctly deduces from the shape of the letters, was written in the early 18th century. The manuscript recounts the legend of the Baskerville curse. Sir Hugo Baskerville, a lecherous and belligerent drunkard who was lord of Baskerville Hall hundreds of years earlier, lusted for a local peasant girl. When she rejected him, he kidnapped her and locked her in a room. She escaped and raced across the moor at night. Sir Hugo released his hounds and followed by horse. Behind them both raced a monstrous hound. When Sir Hugo's drinking buddies caught up, they discovered the girl dead of fright and the hound tearing at Sir Hugo's throat. Since then, so the legend goes, the hellhound haunts the Baskervilles. Sherlock Homes dismisses the legend as a fairy tale.

Dr. Mortimer then shares a newspaper article about the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, a well-liked philanthropist. The article states that he was found dead of an apparent heart attack while walking in Yew Alley on his estate. Though Sir Charles walked Yew Alley every night before bedtime, Dr. Mortimer states that that night he lingered at a gate opening upon the moor. He could tell because of the amount of cigar ash found by the gate.

Dr. Mortimer admits that that he withheld information from the police. Sir Charles was in his care because he suffered from anxiety over the legend, and when he examined the body he noticed that Sir Charles's facial features were distorted in horror. Yet the real reason why Dr. Mortimer doubts that Sir Charles died of natural causes is that he discovered the footprints of a giant hound near the body.

Analysis

This chapter introduces some of the Gothic themes pervading the novel: a family curse, a paranormal force personified in a hellhound, and a mysterious death. Sherlock Holmes's dismissive reaction to the legend of the Baskerville curse relegates the idea of the supernatural to the realm of pure fiction. In other words the legend must not be taken literally, but as a story with a certain effect on its readers. To Holmes there is no curse and no hellhound.

The newspaper article lists the clues that lead to the conclusion that Sir Charles died of natural causes, supporting Holmes's approach. Dr. Mortimer, however, is not so sure because the newspaper article cannot account for the fact that Sir Charles lingered at the gate overlooking the moor, nor for the look of horror on his face. Dr. Mortimer thinks that his death was not the result of a simple heart attack. The huge footprints of a dog that Dr. Mortimer found near the body seem to prove the paranormal interference Holmes so zealously rejects.

The discovery of the hound's footprints suggests that neither explanation of Sir Charles's death quite hits the mark. The two poles are set: the truth must lie somewhere between fact and fiction, between observable evidence and supernatural force. Clearly Dr. Mortimer has come to the right place, for no one other than Sherlock Holmes with his superior intellect, common sense, and logical reasoning could possibly get to the bottom of this.

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