Historical Context in The Adventure of the Speckled Band

Doyle published “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” in an 1892 issue of London-based magazine The Strand. At this time, crime fiction was a new genre, one whose conventions Doyle was defining with each new Holmes story. In 1892, England was under the reign of Queen Victoria, who created an age of unprecedented wealth and worldwide imperial control. The jewel of the British colonies was India, a region that plays an important role in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.”

Historical Context Examples in The Adventure of the Speckled Band:

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"The idea of a snake instantly occurred to me, and when I coupled it with my knowledge that the doctor was furnished with a supply of creatures from India, I felt that I was probably on the right track. The idea of using a form of poison which could not possibly be discovered by any chemical test was just such a one as would occur to a clever and ruthless man who had had an Eastern training...."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

Throughout “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” Doyle weaves a theme of the exotic as sinister. Specifically, there is a sense that the British colony of India—which would have loomed large in the mind’s of Doyle’s Victorian readership—is associated with a certain kind of wickedness, or at least wildness. The serpent itself embodies the subcontinent while being freighted with all of the sinister connotations of the snake. This idea of India as a place that inculcates wickedness is bolstered by Dr. Roylott himself. When he is first introduced, Ms. Stoner says, “violence of temper approaching to mania has been... intensified by his long residence in the tropics.” The historical backdrop of British colonialism is impossible to ignore, particularly because it contributes so directly to the macabre nature of the story.

"he would give these vagabonds leave to encamp upon the few acres of bramble-covered land..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

In Victorian England, Gypsy communities were looked down upon for their unconventional social mores and itinerant lifestyles. As Victorian scholar George K. Behlmer has noted, many English people viewed Gypsies as “an intolerable affront to the values of modern civilization.” Doyle’s readers may not have been surprised by Helen’s descriptions of Gypsies as vagabonds or as “wretched.”

Behlmer, George K. "The Gypsy Problem in Victorian England." Victorian Studies 2, no. 2 (Winter 1985): 231.

"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.”

"It was early in April in the year '83..."   (The Adventure of the Speckled Band)

First published in 1892, the events in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” and Conan Doyle’s writing of it are close to contemporaneous. This time was the height of both the Victorian era in England and British rule over India, a fact important to the story’s plot.