The Red-Headed League

In The Red-Headed League he quickly deduces the real persona of Vincent Spaulding and in The Speckled Band he is fast to decipher the clues in Dr Roylott’s room. He is shown to have a vast knowledge of tattoos in The Red-Headed League; ‘I have made a small study of tattoo marks’. He is shown also to have an advanced knowledge of ‘turf matters’ in Silver Blaze when he explains how Silas Brown intended to ‘make a slight nick upon the tendons of a horse’s ham, and to do it so subcutaneously so as to leave absolutely no trace’.

Holmes is also conveyed as a good man, who restores moral values and appears, at first, to stand for true ethical virtues. In The Speckled Band Holmes voices the moral and philosophical standards of the time, that crime and evil must be eradicated, wiped-out and order must be restored to man-kind; ‘Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another’. Similarly, in Silver Blaze Holmes restores moral values in the washing away of ‘Boone’s’ make-up to reveal Neville St. Clair.


This is symbolic of the restoration of morality; the deceit is wiped away. Along with his immense knowledge and deep perception skills comes a certain air of arrogance and a condescending manner, which Conan Doyle uses to great effect to make Holmes a more three-dimensional character and make Holmes more believable and realistic. These attributes are present in The Red-Headed League when he appears to be arrogant when talking to Watson; ‘I shall keep piling fact upon fact on you, until your reason breaks down under them and acknowledges me to be right.

‘ Holmes patronises Jabez Wilson in The Red-Headed League. He laughs at him and ‘shoving him back into the chair’ shows blatant disrespect for the ‘average commonplace British tradesman’. This also shows the class structure in the Victorian era and the social attitudes at the time. Jabez Wilson is described as ‘obese, pompous and slow’. Holmes is shown to think of himself very highly and superior to others in The Red-Headed League; ”It saved me from ennui,” he answered yawning….

”My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence’. He also appears to be quite patronizing when he is asked how he is able to deduce the facts about Jabez Wilson; ‘beyond the obvious facts’. In the same way he comes across quite arrogant when he is talking to Dr Grimsby Roylott in The Speckled Band. He presents himself in a standoffish manner and rebuts all the questions and accusations that are thrown at him ‘your conversation is most entertaining’, although it is seen as necessary as Roylott is seen as the villain of the story.

Also in The Speckled Band Holmes places himself above the law and allows Roylott to be killed by the snake. Was this the right thing to do? It poses a question to the reader if this is in keeping to Victorian morality and standards. In contrast to this evidence in Silver Blaze he uncharacteristically shows his human side when he admits ‘I made a blunder…. which is, I am afraid a more common occurrence than anyone would think’. Conan Doyle could have included this flaw in Holmes in order to make him seem more realistic and human.

Conan Doyle also presents Sherlock Holmes as an intense, passionate individual who insists on only working with cases that ‘tended towards the unusual, even the fantastic’. He is a worker who is completely driven by infatuation towards his work and his cases. This is reinforced in The Speckled Band when he is asked what he would receive as a wage he replied, ‘My profession is its reward’. It is clear throughout Conan Doyle’s writings that Holmes is a profound soul who possesses an absolutely genuine fascination of somebody who is absolutely driven until he has solved a crime.

This sense is further strengthened with the reference to Holmes as a ‘predator’ and ‘hawk-like’ who is propelled by his love of the chase. Holmes also shows a unique method of working, he will deliberate almost as if he is asleep before acting. This is shown in both stories. In The Red-Headed League he appears to fall asleep when in fact he is merely thinking deeply of the case of Jabez Wilson; ‘I had come to the conclusion that he had dropped asleep…. when he suddenly sprang out of his chair with the gesture of a man who had made up his mind’.

This strange pattern of behaviour is shown again when they are in the theatre; ‘his languid, dreamy eyes were as unlike those of Holmes the sleuth-hound… as it was possible to conceive’ and once more in the cab his taciturn manner shows; ‘Sherlock Holmes was not very communicative during the long drive’. This side of his character is also shown in The Speckled Band when driving down to Stoke Moran; ‘My companion sat in front of the trap… buried in the deepest thought. Suddenly, however, he started, tapped me on the shoulder, and pointed over the meadows.

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