Analysis Pages

Character Analysis in The Adventure of the Speckled Band

Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock Holmes is a private detective in Victorian London. As Doyle depicts him, Holmes is a genius capable of seeing the subtlest of clues and synthesizing them into elaborate theories and solutions. Holmes is also remarkably eccentric and prone to bouts of isolation, habitual vices, and sharp verbal declarations. Holmes proudly adheres to cold, deductive logic and distrusts human emotions, which he finds difficult to understand. Holmes is one of the most popular characters in English fiction as well as literature’s quintessential detective.

John Watson: John Watson Holmes’s best friend and assistant, as well as the narrator of the stories. He is a physician by training and veteran of the Second Anglo-Afghan war. Watson is intelligent and perceptive but lacks Holmes’s deductive genius. As narrator, Watson picks up many of the clues of a case and presents them to the reader, but does not reach for solutions. Watson is more of a gentleman than Holmes, possessing far greater social abilities.

Helen Stoner: Helen Stoner is a young woman who solicits Sherlock Holmes’s services at the start of “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” Helen explains that two years prior, on the eve of her twin sister’s wedding, her sister was mysteriously killed. Helen lives with her stepfather, Dr. Grimesby Roylott, whom she suspects was involved in the murder. In the time since Helen’s recent betrothment, she has begun to hear strange noises in the manor.

Dr. Grimesby Roylott: Dr. Grimesby Roylott is a medical doctor who lived and worked for many years in the British colony of India. He now runs Stoke Moran, the broken-down estate of his once-wealthy family. Dr. Roylott is given to violent rages and is rumored to have killed his butler. As a former resident of India, Dr. Roylott collects exotic species of Indian animals including cheetahs and baboons.

Character Analysis Examples in The Adventure of the Speckled Band:

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

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"“No, but I fancy that I may have deduced a little more. I imagine that you saw all that I did.”..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

As is standard in the Sherlock Holmes stories, Watson serves as the reader’s eyes and ears. Doyle shows us all of the details of the case that Watson sees. Thus, we are invited to share in Watson’s sense of wonder when Holmes draws a solution from very same pool of details available to us.

"before he roused himself from his reverie...."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Holmes likely solves the mystery in this moment of “reverie.” This pattern occurs in many Sherlock Holmes stories: Holmes pieces together a solution to the case before the story’s climax. In each story’s denouement, Holmes is already prepared with a lucid explanation. Holmes’s ability to crack the case before Watson and—in most cases—the reader is a large part of his mystique and appeal as a literary character.

"“Yes, sir, that be the house of Dr. Grimesby Roylott,” remarked the driver...."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Notice the way Doyle uses improper, vernacular grammar here to indicate the driver’s lower social standing. This gives the world of the story some verisimilitude and shows Holmes’s and Watson’s comparatively high level of refinement and education.

"It was a perfect day, with a bright sun and a few fleecy clouds in the heavens...."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Passages of narrative exposition such as this show us the differences between Watson and Holmes. Holmes is perpetually focused on the details of the case, and he is depicted in this scene as “buried in thought.” Watson, by contrast, has a taste for simple pleasures, such as the beauty of a country landscape on a bright day. These tastes can only be revealed in his narration, since Doyle keeps the dialogues with Holmes case-oriented.

"And now, Watson, we shall order breakfast,..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

The mention of breakfast is quite humorous. Its everydayness stands in stark contrast to the bizarre case that has just unfolded. The point is that such excitement is all in a day’s work for Sherlock Holmes.

"“But I have heard that the crocuses promise well,” continued my companion imperturbably...."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Despite Holmes’s often severe manner, he has sharp wit. Here he sarcastically goads on Roylott for two reasons. First, he does not wish to reveal any case information. Second, he hopes to gain an upper hand on the man. Seeing that Roylott is a fearful, quick-tempered brute, Holmes employs a calm, belittling demeanor to indicate that he is unthreatened.

"Ah yes, I recall the case; it was concerned with an opal tiara. I think it was before your time, Watson...."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Throughout the Sherlock Holmes stories, Holmes makes reference to at least 80 cases never told in full. The Farintosh case here is just one of them. Conan Doyle uses these untold cases to flesh out Holmes’s world and backstory. These passing references make Holmes seem all the more seasoned.

"The left arm of your jacket is spattered with mud in no less than seven places. The marks are perfectly fresh...."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Doyle uses these moments of impressive but unimportant deduction at the story’s beginning to introduce both Holmes’s client, and the reader, to Holmes’s intellectual feats. His final solutions are more credible if the reader already understands what he is capable of.

"and in admiring the rapid deductions, as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded on a logical basis..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

In the character of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle attempted to create someone guided by pure reason and deduction. Time and again, Holmes expresses his distaste for emotionally driven actions. Doyle based Holmes’s character on his medical school professor, Joseph Bell, whom he studied under at the University of Edinburgh. Doyle admired Bell’s extremely logical methods of treatment. In a letter he sent to Bell in 1892, Doyle wrote, “It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes ... round the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man.”

"“You have been cruelly used,” said Holmes...."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

This is shows that Dr. Roylott is a menace to his stepdaughter Helen, adding to Roylott's violent characterization and emphasizing that Helen is in urgent need of protection, which only Holmes and Watson can provide.

"ON GLANCING OVER my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Dr. Watson is always represented as a great note-taker. It characterizes him as an especially methodical, conscientious, and disciplined man of science. Dr. Watson has to refer to his notes in order to refresh his memory of the case he is about to describe. This implies that Watson is writing the story at a later date when he is no longer sharing rooms with Holmes.

"and are feared by the villagers almost as much as their master..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Dr. Roylott is the type of man who would make many enemies, including the local blacksmith, but they would all be afraid of him or his cheetah or baboon.

"Of course he must recall the snake before the morning light revealed it to the victim..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Dr. Roylott must have known that the snake would stay there because the weather was cold and the bed was the warmest place in the room. The text refers repeatedly to the unusually cold weather. It is early April when Helen Stoner comes to consult with Holmes, and it had been December when her sister Julia had become engaged.

"Your presence might be invaluable..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Watson's presence is necessary for the possibility that there might be an encounter with Dr. Roylott, who would be quite capable of trying to harm both of them if he found them inside his home. Watson is carrying a revolver at the request of Holmes, and Roylott, like any typical country resident of the times, would surely have means of protection.

"his huge form looming up beside the little figure of the lad who drove him..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

The driver, a young boy, is not the same person who drove Holmes and Watson to Stoke Moran earlier. Doyle specifies this to show that it is highly unlikely that Roylott has heard anything about two men from London visiting his home that day. Roylott's verbal abuse of the poor boy gives further evidence of his savage character.

"This incident gives zest to our investigation..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

The introduction of Roylott at this point in the story is to create tension—to give "zest" to the investigation. The threat of Dr. Roylott appearing at any moment while Holmes and Watson are examining his house supplies the tension and sense of adventure in the investigation. If Roylott was good at tracing his stepdaughter's trip to consult Holmes, he could be astute enough to lay in wait for him and Watson somewhere near Stoke Moran—or even inside that large portion of the building that is never used. Roylott and his characterization supplies the danger, the zest, and the adventure.

"He must guard himself, for he may find that there is someone more cunning than himself upon his track..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Roylott could conceivably try to force Helen to tell him why she went to see Sherlock Holmes, but Roylott would be risking showing his worry and guilt. Holmes is here suggesting that Roylott will say nothing to Helen in the hope that he has frightened Holmes into backing away from his affairs, in which case Helen might not learn that her stepfather followed her to Baker Street. Holmes implies that Roylott knows that Helen has a powerful contact who has connections with Scotland Yard and that she could go back to Holmes again if her stepfather mistreated her.

"You are Holmes, the meddler..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Dr. Roylott shows that he knows a lot about Sherlock Holmes, which explains why, when Roylott traces his stepdaughter's movements to 221B Baker Street, he knows that she had come to the residence of the famous detective. Roylott assumes that her visit must be connected to the death of Helen's sister Julia two years earlier. When Roylott calls Holmes "the Scotland Yard jack-in-office," he is both being insulting (jack-in-office meaning an insolent authority figure) and inadvertently revealing his fear that Holmes might get the police to reopen the investigation into Julia's mysterious death. With Holmes on their side, Scotland Yard could be a much more potent force to reckon with. Dr. Roylott’s following of Helen to Baker Street shows that he is not only angry and suspicious but frightened.

"and sent for medical aid from the village..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Note the peculiarity of Roylott, who was a doctor himself, sending out for medical aid.

"and she stabbed with her finger into the air in the direction of the doctor's room..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Evidently Julia was trying to indicate that the "speckled band" had come from Dr. Roylott's room and that he was responsible for her dying condition. 

"I have no one to turn to—none, save only one, who cares for me, and he, poor fellow, can be of little aid..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Here, the visitor refers to her fiancé because her problem has arisen from the fact that she is engaged to be married. However, she says that her fiancé is unable to help her.

"A lady dressed in black and heavily veiled..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

No explanation is given by Watson or Helen Stoner of why she is wearing mourning attire when her sister has been dead for two years. Perhaps she chose to wear the mourning dress because it would discourage any stranger from making unwelcome advances. On the other hand, she might be wearing black because it gave her a disguise. Although she would not have to worry about concealing her identity in London, she might have wanted to avoid being recognized by people in her own neighborhood.

"a huge man had framed himself in the aperture..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

The fact that Roylott was able to trace his stepdaughter to Baker Street so quickly proves that he is very intelligent as well as physically powerful and aggressive. Although this is his only confrontation with Sherlock Holmes, his wicked and dangerous personality will haunt the story until he dies in agony with the speckled band wrapped around his head.

"It is probable that he will be away all day, and that there would be nothing to disturb you..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

It is "probable" but not certain that the dangerous Dr. Roylott will be "away all day." The uncertainty of Roylott’s whereabouts make the inspection of the rooms at Stoke Moran much more tense. The owner might return and catch Holmes and Watson invading his domain, which, based on Roylott’s characterization would lead to a violent confrontation.

"Five little livid spots, the marks of four fingers and a thumb, were printed upon the white wrist..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Recall earlier in the story when Sherlock Holmes leaned forward and patted Helen sympathetically on the forearm. He obviously noticed that she was trying to conceal something with the sleeve of her dress, and he wanted to get a closer look. Here is physical proof that Dr. Roylott is an exceptionally powerful and dangerous man. This increases the tension and conflict between Holmes and Roylott.

"bending forward and patting her forearm..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

This is unusual behavior for Sherlock Holmes, who shuns displays of emotion. He is probably doing it because he wants to look at her forearm. This will be important to the story later.

"and it was only by paying over all the money which I could gather together that I was able to avert another public exposure..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

This part of Helen Stoner's description of the incident with the local blacksmith shows that she has a little money of her own and didn't have to ask her stepfather for money when she wanted to come to London to see Holmes. If she were obviously in a nervous and frightened state and asked him for money, he would have guessed that she wanted to go somewhere to ask for help or advice, and he might have refused to let her go.

"even he to whom of all others I have a right to look for help and advice looks upon all that I tell him about it as the fancies of a nervous woman. He does not say so, but I can read it from his soothing answers and averted eyes..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

This passage shows that Helen Stoner is engaged but that her fiancé is unable and unwilling to help her with her problem, thereby explaining why she has come all the way to London to seek help from Sherlock Holmes.

"come to an entirely erroneous conclusion which shows, my dear Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data. The presence of the gipsies, and the use of the word ‘band,’ which was used by the poor girl, no doubt, to explain the appearance which she had caught a hurried glimpse of by the light of her match, were sufficient to put me upon an entirely wrong scent..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Doyle had Sherlock Holmes have an erroneous theory about the case so that the readers would remain in the dark until the true facts were revealed. Holmes explains to Watson that it was the discovery of the dummy bell-rope, the ventilator, and the fact that the bed had been fastened to the floor that made him change his theory. He says, "The idea of a snake instantly occurred to me.”

"he suffered a long term of imprisonment..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Prison is a hardening and embittering experience. Helen makes it clear here that Roylott returned from prison a different man, indicating how profoundly he was affected by his time there.

"Imagine, then, my thrill of terror when last night, as I lay awake, thinking over her terrible fate, I suddenly heard in the silence of the night the low whistle which had been the herald of her own death..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

This explains why Helen Stoner has come to see Sherlock Holmes now. It is not a matter of investigating her sister's death but of saving Helen from the same fate.

"Pray be precise as to details..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

This interjection reminds the reader that Holmes is listening intently and taking note of all the details. Watson, of course, is also listening intently.

"for he is a man of immense strength, and absolutely uncontrollable in his anger..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Dr. Roylott adds an element of danger and suspense to what would otherwise only be a puzzle.

"the local blacksmith..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

A blacksmith would be a powerful man because of the type of work he did. The mention of the man's occupation makes Dr. Roylott seem all the more formidable.

"I would not miss it for anything..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Parallel to the motivations of the readers, Watson usually gets involved in Holmes' cases out of curiosity.

"allowing this brute to trace her..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Dr. Roylott is both a very intelligent—he must be to be able to trace his stepdaughter to Baker Street in such a short time, especially in a big city like London—and a very violent man. Holmes fears that Roylott will result to violence as a punishment for Helen visiting Baker Street.

"working as he did rather for the love of his art than for the acquirement of wealth..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

In many of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Holmes becomes involved with people who are unable to pay him his usual fee as a private detective. Although Holmes sometimes works for wealthy and aristocratic clients and receives large rewards, Holmes is often more interested in solving problems and aiding in the preservation of law and order than in making money. Because it has become generally known to the English public that Holmes assists anyone who is in need of his services, he frequently receives callers who are not typical of the kind of people who employ private detectives. In "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" his motive is sympathy for a young woman who is terrified because her life is apparently in danger.

"To determine its exact meaning I have been obliged to work out the present prices of the investments with which it is concerned. The total income, which at the time of the wife's death was little short of £1100, is now, through the fall in agricultural prices, not more than £750. Each daughter can claim an income of £250, in case of marriage. It is evident, therefore, that if both girls had married, this beauty would have had a mere pittance, while even one of them would cripple him to a very serious extent..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

This spells out exactly what is at stake for Dr. Roylott. He would have been reduced to an income of only 250 pounds per year if both girls married, and he could not have maintained that big, heavily mortgaged house.

"In a fit of anger, however, caused by some robberies which had been perpetrated in the house, he beat his native butler to death and narrowly escaped a capital sentence..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

This is an indication of Dr. Roylott's vicious temper, which will be important later in the story. 

"my profession is its own reward..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

This substantiates what Watson says about Holmes in the opening sentence of the story: "... for, working as he did rather for the love of his art than for the acquirement of wealth, he refused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic." Holmes occasionally received very large rewards for his services and was therefore free to pick and choose the cases he accepted. 

"No, but I observe the second half of a return ticket in the palm of your left glove..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Holmes is showing off.  He knows how she traveled because of the state of her clothes and the ticket stub.  He deduces from observing, in order to know what kind of situation he is in.

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