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The HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE WORLD OF VICTORIAN ENGLAND
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson enjoy one of the most iconic friendships in literature. But what makes the relationship so appealing that a hundred years later we are still fascinated with them? How do they epitomize the philosophic ideal of friendship? What do the permutations of the relationship and the characters say about the culture in which they were created? And most importantly, what, if anything, does our connection to their friendship say about us and our culture?
Holmes and Watson reflect the conflicting aspects of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character and culture. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in 1859, in the middle of the Victorian age, when the emotional excess of the Romantic Rebellion against the critical cynicism of the Enlightenment Rationalism was at it's climax, and he spent his life conflicted between a devotion to the reason and science - as represented by his detective stories, nonfiction, and Sherlock Holmes - and the appeal of the romantic and mystical - as represented by his historical fiction, and interests in the occult. The conflict continues to this day in our culture.
Where did the idea of the titular hound come from? For centuries, inhabitants of England have told tales of a large black dog with malevolent flaming eyes called the "Black Shuck". According to the legend, the beast varies in size and stature from that of simply a large dog to being the size of a calf or even a horse.
The name Shuck derives from the Old English word scucca, meaning "demon", or possibly from the word shucky, meaning "shaggy" or "hairy".
It's possible Sir Athur Conan Doyle borrowed from this country folklore for The Hound of the Baskervilles?
The Place and Time
In Victorian England, everything was better than ever, and
improving all the time-- well, so the heads of state, heads of factories, and heads of local, newly-apportioned counties and burroughs would have you believe.
For everyone else, things weren't so sunny. During the beginning of the Victorian Age, so named for HRM Queen Victoria, who ruled from 1837 to 1901 in England, things for the average person in England were about as bad as they'd been since the time of the Norman conquest. The populations of the cities had exploded, doubling from the years 1803-1828, and along with the boom in number came a slew of disease, caste-system unrest, and general un-wellness in the general ranks of the common folk.
To shed some light on why things had gotten so precarious, here are a few things to consider:
- At the time of Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne, there was no regional government in cities like London, no police force, and no system besides the crown soldiers for enforcing the law
- There was no formal sanitation system; everything (interpret as you will) went into the Thames river. Cholera, Dysentery, and other horrid water-borne diseases killed thousands yearly.
- Until the Reform Act of 1832, no one but a white, landed male of the peerage could vote to represent a specific area.
All this meant that the average young-to-middle-aged man in London at the turn of the 19th century had a pretty bleak future unless they were able to marry into or inherit money. The natural product of this kind of environment in any society is crime, which wasn't helped by the lack of a formal police force; it wasn't until 1829, just before the onset of Victoria's reign, that the Metropolitan London Police was established under the Home Secretary Robert Peel, the first extramilitary force in England to be sanctioned and paid by the crown to enforce laws and keep the general peace. Until that time, the only police forces in the city had been the Marine Police, set to protect the port and the quays and docklands in London against the alarming level of theft and other crime that plagued the areas. The Police, which came to be called Peelers (after Peel himself) or Bobbies, did little to ameliorate the plague of crime other than to fill the local jails with petty criminals and immigrants. Not only was the crime in London a problem for the local government, it made it incredibly dangerous to be a member of society, particularly after dark. It was remarked in an anecdote from the time by a London dock-worker that a man walking from the East dockland to the West had a better chance of falling into the Thames than of making the journey unaccosted by thieves-- though it could be argued that alcohol may be playing a part in the story there as well.
Battle of Maiwand
Doctor Watson, companion of Sherlock Holmes, was wounded in the Battle of Maiwand (as described in the opening chapter of
A Study in Scarlet where w
e see Holmes's first ever demonstration of his observational and deductional prowess
Holmes proclaims with utter certainty, "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive." And Watson replies with, "How on earth did you know that?"
The Battle of Maiwand on July 27, 1880 was one of the principal battles of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Under the leadership of Ayub Khan, the Afghans defeated two brigades of British and Indian troops under Brigadier-General George Burrows, though at a high price: between 2,050 and 2,750 Afghan warriors were killed, and probably about 1,500 wounded. British and Indian forces suffered 969 soldiers killed and 177 wounded. The battle deeply dampened morale for the British side.
A Brief History of PTSD
Exposure to traumatic experiences has always been a part of the human condition. Attacks by saber tooth tigers or twenty-first century terrorists have likely led to similar psychological responses in survivors of such violence. Literary accounts offer the first descriptions of what we now call posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For example, authors including Homer (The Iliad), William Shakespeare (Henry IV), and Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities) wrote about traumatic experiences and the symptoms that followed such events.
The PTSD diagnosis has filled an important gap in psychiatry in that its cause was the result of an event the individual suffered, rather than a personal weakness. PTSD became a diagnosis with influence from a number of social movements, such as Veteran, feminist, and Holocaust survivor advocacy groups. Research about Veterans returning from combat was a critical piece to the creation of the diagnosis. War takes a physical and emotional toll on Servicemembers, families, and their communities. So, the history of what is now known as PTSD often references combat history.
Early Attempts at a Medical Diagnosis
Accounts of psychological symptoms following military trauma date back to ancient times. The American Civil War (1861-1865) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) mark the start of formal medical attempts to address the problems of military Veterans exposed to combat. European descriptions of the psychological impact of railroad accidents also added to early understanding of trauma-related conditions.
The thought that physical injury led to PTSD-like symptoms was supported by European reports of "railway spine." As rail travel became more common, so did railway accidents. Injured passengers who died had autopsies that suggested injury to the central nervous system. Of note, Charles Dickens was involved in a rail accident in 1865 and wrote about symptoms of sleeplessness and anxiety as a result of the trauma.
Victorian morality is a distillation of the moral views of people living at the time of Queen Victoria's reign (1837 - 1901) and of the moral climate of Great Britain throughout the 19th century in general, which contrasted greatly with the morality of the previous Georgian period. Victorian morality can describe any set of values that espouse sexual restraint, low tolerance of crime and a strict social code of conduct. Due to the prominence of the British Empire, many of these values were spread across the The term "Victorian" was first used during The Great Exhibition in London (1851), where Victorian inventions and morals were shown to the world. Victorian values were developed in all facets of Victorian living. The morality a
nd values of the Victoria
ns can be classed under Religion, Morality, Elitism, Industrialism and Improvement. These values take root in Victorian morality, creating an overall change in the British Empire.
Historians now regard the Victorian era as a time of many contradictions, such as the widespread cultivation of an outward appearance of dignity and restraint together with the prevalence of social phenomena such as prostitution and child labor. A plethora of social movements arose from attempts to improve the prevailing harsh living conditions for many under a rigid class system.
The term Victorian has acquired a range of connotations, including that of a particularly strict set of moral standards, often hypocritically applied. This stems from the image of
Queen Victoria-and her husband, Prince Albert.
Two hundred years earlier the Puritan movement, which led to the installment of Oliver Cromwell, had temporarily overthrown the British monarchy. During England's years under Cromwell, the law imposed a strict moral code on the people (such as abolishing Christmas as too indulgent of the sensual pleasures).
When the monarchy was restored, a period of loose living and debauchery appeared to be a reaction to the earlier repression. The two social forces of Puritanism and libertinism continued to motivate the collective psyche of Great Britain from the
Restoration onward. This was particularly significant in the public perceptions of the later Hanoverian monarchs who immediately preceded Queen Victoria. For instance, her uncle, George IV, was commonly perceived as a pleasure-seeking playboy, whose conduct in office was the cause of much scandal.
Victorian prudery sometimes went so far as to deem it improper to say "leg" in mixed company; instead, the preferred euphemism "limb" was used. Such ideas even pervaded seemingly unrelated aspects of daily life: there is a myth, started by Frances Trollope's "Domestic Manners of the Americans," and later applied to the British, that furniture such as tables were covered with embroidery and tablecloths so that table legs were hidden from view, but no historical evidence suggest that this was actually practiced. Those going for a swim in the sea at the beach would use a bathing machine.
However, historians Peter Gay and Michael Mason both point out that we often confuse Victorian etiquette for a lack of knowledge. For example, despite the use of the bathing machine, it was still possible to see people bathing nude. Another example of the gap between common preconceptions of Victorian sexuality and historical record is that, contrary to what might be expected, Queen Victoria liked to draw and collect male nude figure drawings and even gave one to her husband as a present.
Victorian erotica also survives in private letters archived in museums and even in a study of women's orgasms. Some current historians now believe that the myth of Victorian repression can be traced back to early twentieth-century views, such as those of Lytton Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, who wrote Eminent Victorians.
In the same way, throughout the Victorian Era, movements for justice, freedom, and other strong moral values opposed greed, exploitation, and cynicism. The writings of Charles Dickens, in particular, observed and recorded these conditions. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels carried out much of their analysis of capitalism in and as a reaction to Victorian Britain.
Religious morality changed drastically during the Victorian Era. When Victoria took the throne the Anglican Church was very powerful-running schools and universities, and with high ranking churchmen holding offices in the House of Lords. The Church's power continued to rule in rural areas throughout the Victorian Era; however that was not the case in industrialized cities. In the cities those against the Church were many and
dissent was rampant. The dissenting sects were against what the Anglican church was using its power for. The Church demanded obedience to God, submissiveness and resignation with the goal of making people more malleable to the will of the Church.
The Church aimed to appease the will of the elite and cared little if at all about the needs and wants of the lower, peasant class. Thus emerged Methodism, Congregationalism, The Society of Friends (Quakers) and Presbyterianism. The Methodists and Presbyterians in particular stressed personal salvation through direct individual faith in Jesus Christ's sacrificial death and resurrection on the behalf of sinners, as taught in the New Testament Gospels and the writings of the Apostles Peter, James and Paul. This stress on individualism is seen throughout the Victorian Era and becomes even more developed in Middle Class life.
The "Crisis of Faith" would hit religion and the citizens' faith like a brick. The Crisis of Faith was brought about in 1859 with Charles Darwin's work On the Origin of Species; his theory was (in the basic form) that the Natural World had become what it was through gradual change over eons. He stated that natural selection and survival of the fittest were the reasons man had survived so long. His theory of evolution based on empirical evidence would call into question Christian beliefs and Victorian values.
People whose lives became totally uprooted felt the need to find a new system on which to base their values and morality. Unable to completely lose faith, they combined both their religious beliefs with individual duty -- duty to one's God, fellow man, social class, neighbor, the poor and the ill.
The Elite and Middle Class Values
Upper Class Values
The Victorian Era began with the elite in total control of society and its politics. The Elite class was made up of 300 families which were firmly established as the traditional ruling class. However, the development of new types of values, such as individualism, introduced changes throughout the Victorian Era. The idea of the self-made man became dominant in the middle class. Similar to the American Dream, the idea is that, if they work hard enough, all men can become wealthy.
The Upper Class (the Elite) valued history, heritage, lineage and the continuity of their family line. The Elite believed that they were born to rule through divine right and they wanted this right to continue. The Elite had a paternalistic view of society; seeing themselves as the father of the family of society. Noblesse Oblige was their belief that it was the Elite's duty to take care of society. The Elite hoped to continue tradition and the status quo, through institutions such as the law of primogeniture (first born son inherits everything). The Elite intended to stay on top and wealthy. However, when a financial crisis threatened their position, they adapted and opened up their ranks to the wealthiest of the middle class, allowing them to buy a place within the ranks of the Elite.
The Elite were landed gentry and so did not have to work but enjoyed a life of luxury and leisure. While the Elite continued enjoying their traditional values, Victorian Values changed and the Elite began to recognize the middle class.
Middle Class Values
The Victorian Era was a time when the middle class grew rapidly in influence. The middle class valued progress, Laissez-faire politics, sportsmanship, business competition, religious piety, hope, honesty, decency, charity, cozy domesticity (family), materialism, class consciousness, self-respect and deferential conformity to reasonable traditions. The middle class came to dominate life because of the new enthusiasm it generated among the growing population. The middle class was stratified based on earnings. Upper middle class businessmen were respected as self-made men and with their new found wealth they were able to buy their way into the unhappy tolerance of the elite. The new middle class was often overtly materialistic and enjoyed showing off its wealth through houses filled with such things as expensive furniture, wall coverings, paintings, thus reflecting a behavior known as conspicuous consumption. Stiff competition became a normal facet of life not reserved for business, but in all of society; the winner would be the person who could keep up with the Joneses. In this way the Victorian Era laid the foundation for the modern mass consumption economies of the western world. At the same time, the growing Middle Class's appetite for personal improvement to match its new wealth would lead to an explosion in the sale of self-help
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