The Hound of the Baskervilles | Study Guide

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Hound of the Baskervilles | Chapter 9 : Second Report of Dr. Watson | Summary

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Summary

Two days have passed. Watson's second missive home reports that the room in which Barrymore disappeared directly overlooks the moor. Watson theorizes that Barrymore has an affair with a country girl, which would explain both his nightly endeavors and his wife's tears. Watson and Sir Henry plan a stakeout.

Sir Henry meets Beryl Stapleton for a rendezvous. Watson follows him and observes that Beryl seems to resist his romantic overtures. Just as Sir Henry moves in to kiss her, her brother arrives and reacts with anger. Stapleton's reaction seems uncalled for given his sister is single and Sir Henry is a good catch. Later that evening Stapleton arrives at Barrymore Hall and apologizes for his outburst, inviting them to Merripit House for dinner.

On the second night of their stakeout, Watson and Sir Henry follow Barrymore into the room overlooking the moor and confront him. When Barrymore refuses to provide an explanation, Watson grabs the candle and waves it to prove that Barrymore is signaling someone. A faint yellow light far out in the moor responds. Summoned by the commotion, Mrs. Barrymore shows up and reveals that the escaped convict is her younger brother, Selden, and that they are signaling him when they are ready to deliver food or clothes to him.

Watson and Sir Henry head toward he faint light to catch the convict and bring him to the authorities, but he manages to escape. As they return to Baskerville Hall, Watson notices the silhouette of a tall man on top of a tor.

Analysis

The plot thickens as this second report to Sherlock Holmes presents several unexpected plot twists, illustrating the constant tug and pull between mysterious events and their surprising yet mundane explanations. While Watson was right to suspect that Barrymore signaled someone out on the moor, he was wrong in suspecting that he betrayed his wife; on the contrary his signaling was to support his wife's desire to help her younger brother.

Clearly things are not what they seem. Watson's description of the escaped convict's facial features suggest that he is evil personified, yet Selden is not only a dangerous killer but also someone's beloved younger brother. And Barrymore's supposed adultery turns out to be the exact opposite, proof of his utter loyalty to his wife. All of this demonstrates that it is quite possible to interpret facts in many different and sometimes misleading ways.

A closer reading of Watson's supposedly unbiased report reveals that it is quite tinged by Watson's attitude toward the world in general and Baskerville Hall in particular. Watson's surprise over Beryl Stapleton's disinterest in Sir Henry although he is such a good catch speaks of the sense of entitlement of the upper classes, further developing the theme introduced with Sherlock Holmes's attitude toward Cartwright and the cabbie in earlier chapters.

In addition Sir Henry's consternation that a commoner could think him not attractive enough for marriage is eerily reminiscent of his ancestor Sir Hugo, who didn't hesitate to use violent force to convince the woman he wanted to succumb to his will. While within the story this suggests that there is something to the Baskerville legend after all in that decadence and debauchery may follow them like a curse, it is also Doyle's commentary on the social hierarchy of Victorian England, criticizing how the upper classes show little respect to those beneath them.

Seen in this light Frankland's many lawsuits defending his rights against the entitlement of the upper classes no longer seem frivolous nor comical. Instead they are an expression of the growing emancipation of the lower classes, demanding equal rights and the respect that goes with them.

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