The Hound of the Baskervilles | Study Guide

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Hound of the Baskervilles | Chapter 3 : The Problem | Summary

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Summary

Intrigued, Holmes asks for more details. Dr. Mortimer explains that the footprints were at a distance from the body, which suggests that the hound never approached. He further explains that the locals have seen and heard a hound roaming the moor. In light of the curse he fears for the safety of the deceased's nephew and sole heir, Sir Henry, and wants to send him back to Canada, although Devonshire County desperately needs the Baskervilles to keep investing in the local economy.

Sherlock Holmes requests 24 hours to think about the facts of the case. When Watson returns later that night, he finds Holmes in a cloud of smoke that suggests he stayed up thinking. Holmes came up with two questions: First, who or what was Sir Charles waiting for? The fact that he was waiting is undisputed, since he was lingering at the gate long enough for ashes to fall from his cigar twice. And second, who or what spooked him? The fact that something spooked him is undisputed as well, given his facial expression indicated fear and the change in the shape of his footprints indicates that he was running from something.

Analysis

Since Sherlock Holmes believes that there is no curse and no hellhound, the curious appearance of the hound's footprints is all the more intriguing. However, he does not simply jump to conclusions but carefully considers the evidence Dr. Mortimer presented. He digs deeper than the townsfolk who believe in the legend of a spectral hound and deeper than the local police and medical examiner who believe Sir Charles died of natural causes on his nightly stroll. Postulating two critical questions from an analysis of observable evidence, Holmes finds the spin that will solve the puzzle: Sir Charles was waiting for someone or something, and while he was waiting, someone or something scared him so much that he ran away, and the physical exertion led to his heart attack. He brings the mysterious circumstances of Sir Charles's death into the realm of the real by hypothesizing that Sir Charles likely faced an actual, physical threat.

The background information offers some insight into the real and mundane circumstances of the story. Devonshire County is deep in the countryside, populated mostly by simple and uneducated townsfolk who believe in the legend of the Baskerville curse. Sir Charles was a benevolent philanthropist, and his death will leave a financial hole unless the heir picks up where Sir Charles left off. The Baskerville family tree includes only Sir Charles and his two brothers, both of them dead, and only one of them leaving an heir. Sir Henry, nephew of the deceased, is the sole heir who bears the responsibility for the upkeep of Baskerville Hall and the estate.

All of this information may seem random and superfluous at first glance, yet it firmly grounds the story in the empirical reality of the outgoing 19th century and comments upon the complex and difficult circumstances of rural society. This chapter completely dispels the ominous foreboding of the Baskerville curse, suggesting that while there is a mystery that needs to be solved, it likely is not otherworldly at all.

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