A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet Quotes and Analysis

"Oh! A mystery is it?" I cried, rubbing my hands. "This is very piquant. I am much obliged to you for bringing us together. 'The proper study of mankind is man,' you know."

Watson, 12.

This quote is uttered by Watson after his negotiations with Holmes are completed and the two decide to become flatmates. It actually derives from Alexander Pope's Essay on Man, which stated "Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; the proper study of mankind is man." This in essence is what Holmes does for a living, although Watson is the one who utters these words. Holmes watches men and observes their every move, utterance, and physical characteristics. He is able to conclude the most detailed information from the minutest scraps. Of course, since this novel is told through Watson's eyes, he and the reader are observing and studying Holmes, who is a very particular and peculiar man. He is never completely accessible to the reader or to Watson, the man who gets the closest to them throughout their adventures. The enigmatic nature of Holmes is what has made him such a fascinating and enduring literary creation.

"On these occasions I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion."

Watson, 13.

Holmes' drug use has been a point of contention for numerous readers and scholars. In this novel it is only hinted at; Watson rejects it as being impossible because of Holmes' otherwise rectitudinous manner and his penchant for cleanliness and irreproachable behavior. Nevertheless, the evidence found within this book suggests that Holmes perhaps is addicted to some substance, most likely opium or cocaine. Cocaine and morphine were legal during Holmes' time, so he was not breaking the law if these were his choices. Opium was illegal, however. When Holmes and Watson detail their shortcomings to each other, Holmes explains to Watson that "I get in the dumps at times, and don't open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I'll soon be right" (11). This may be referring to bouts of depression or to the side effects of drug usage.

"Quite so. I have a kind of intuition that way. Now and again a case turns up which is a little more complex. Then I have to bustle about and see things with my own eyes. You see I have a lot of special knowledge which I apply to the problem, and which facilitates matters wonderfully. Those rules of deduction laid down in that article which aroused your scorn, are invaluable to me in practical work. Observation with me is second nature."

Holmes, 20.

Here Holmes is explaining to Watson his theory and manner of working as a consulting detective. He has intuition but also remarkable powers of observation that he applies to cases brought before him both by ordinary citizens looking for enlightenment and by the law, which occasionally needs its own illumination, albeit quite begrudgingly. The article that Holmes mentions and that garnered so much initial skepticism by Watson articulated his working method. Holmes is remarkable because his methods, so foreign to investigators at the time, are now engrained in the disciplines of criminal and forensic science. His immense powers of observation and his tactics are very prescient and thus influential. Along with Collins and Poe, Doyle virtually began the detective novel genre.

I have seen death in many forms, but never has it appeared to me in a more fearsome aspect than in that dark grimy apartment, which looked out upon one of the main arteries of suburban London.

Watson, 28.

London itself is a character in Doyle's Holmes novels (as it is in many other works from the late 19th century). London is vast and complex, a teeming and sometimes unstable amalgam of people from all walks of life. The disparity between rich and poor was conspicuous. The population boom led to even closer and more problematic living situations. It was often a lonely, anonymous city where the tension between private and public often manifested itself in crime. In this quote London is likened to a pulsating heart whose arteries stretch out through the various streets and byways of the city. The people moving through the city, giving it life and vitality, are the same as blood rushing through arteries. The body as a metaphor here is found several other places in the novel; the body is also an explicit site for violence as evinced in the corpses of Drebber and Stangerson. Lucy's body is (most likely) a site for rape. The body can be injured and violated, just as the city as a body can be violated by crime.

"There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it."

Holmes, 40.

This famous line from the novel is compelling and poetic. It infuses the scientific, rational method of solving a crime with romance and allure. This was the mix of rationality and enchantment that so entranced readers when the Holmes novels were published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Holmes exemplifies reason and deductive powers based on observation. He is pragmatic, preferring not to draw conclusions until he observes the facts of the case. He is a remarkable chemist and well-versed in other sciences. His abilities are rooted in his sight and vision. This consulting detective is a paragon of modernity. However, he is also an eccentric and a dilettante. The Holmes stories have a veneer of magic to them -an ability to beguile and intrigue their readers with the mixture of science and wonderment. Thus, this quote marries sheer reason and practicality (the need to find out the results of a murder) with poetry (Holmes' vivid invocation of blood and thread).

"Stangerson too!" he muttered. "The plot thickens."

Holmes, 57.

"The plot thickens" is one of Holmes' more famous statements. He also uses it on page 44 when he is discussing with Watson the information he was cabled back from Cleveland. Many other phrases are associated with Holmes, whether from the books or the movies. "Elementary, my dear Watson" is another one of these phrases, although it is never uttered as such in any of the published works. Sherlock Holmes is indeed one of the most famous characters in literary history; he has been perceived as a real person and Doyle fictitious. He has spawned hundreds of adaptations in film, radio, television, literature, and the stage. The Guinness World Records says that Holmes is the most-portrayed character in history. There are multiple societies that exist to pour over every minute detail of the Holmes universe. There are very few comparable characters that have excited such interest during their time and in the subsequent years.

"It is a mistake to confound strangeness with mystery. The most commonplace crime is often the most mysterious because it presents no new or special features from which deductions may be drawn. This murder would have been infinitely more difficult to unravel had the body of the victim been simply found lying in the roadway without any of those outré and sensational accompaniments which have rendered it remarkable. These strange details, far from making the case more difficult, have really had the effect of making it less so."

Holmes, 63.

This quote offers more insight to the way Holmes' mind works. He explains to Watson that all the little details of this case (the word RACHE, the ring, the poison, the empty house, the drunk man in the street) offer plenty of evidence and are not merely just odd elements. As for the strange choice of the word "outré," Doyle scholar Owen Dudley Edwards writes that it is a word Holmes makes his own, "adding to its customary sense of exaggerated, excessive, unusual, shocking, extraordinary, or (most revealingly of all in German) ubermodern, a sense of the grotesque, not merely of the outrageous but the outraged, an event distorted beyond nature.” Once again, the Holmes stories were notable and popular for their combination of the rational and the sensational. There is a murdered man here, but the murder is far from commonplace. The fantastic elements make the story more compelling and add to the respect given to Holmes for his ability to solve such crimes.

"We are of those who believe in those sacred writings, drawn in Egyptian letters on plates of beaten gold, which were handed unto the holy Joseph Smith at Palmyra. We have come from Nauvoo, in the State of Illinois, where we had founded our temple. We have come to seek a refuge from the violent man and from the godless, even though it be the heart of the desert."

A young Mormon man, 77.

Nauvoo was the final Mormon headquarters east of the Mississippi. This quote is inaccurate, however, as the Mormons actually left from Kanesville (now Council Bluffs, Iowa). Joseph Smith had a series of visions at Palmyra, New York, which informed him that he was God's choice to restore the Church of Christ on earth. He claimed to have received gold plates with the details on Christ's chosen people; this was then translated and became the Book of Mormon. Smith was later shot by a mob in Carthage, Illinois. Ferrier is correct when he identifies them as the Mormons, although they most often went by the Latter Day Saints. This is the introduction of a new set of antagonists/villains to the story. Part II concerns the background to the murders, explaining how Jefferson Hope came to murder Drebber and Stangerson. Doyle's choice to present the Mormons in an unflattering light would garner some criticism.

"After the lapse of time that has passed since their crime, it was impossible for me to secure a conviction against them in any court. I knew of their guilt though, and I determined that I should be judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one. You'd have done the same, if you have any manhood in you, if you had been in my place."

Jefferson Hope, 113.

Jefferson Hope, the murderer of Drebber and Stangerson, proves to be somewhat of a relatable character. Even after Holmes' investigations reveal that he is intelligent, industrious, well-connected, and not particularly cold-blooded or greedy, the telling of Hope's tale and rationale for the murders throws an even more sympathetic light upon him. This quote exemplifies the man's entire reasoning for his actions; he knew that he had to take the law in his own hands. Clearly the legal system could do nothing for him, and God Himself has not intervened. Hope is the only person who can avenge the murders of John and Lucy Ferrier.

On the very night after his capture the aneurism burst, and he was found in the morning stretched upon the floor of the cell, with a placid smile upon his face, as though he had been able in his dying moments to look back upon a useful life, and on work well done.

Watson, 122.

Jefferson Hope, despite being deprived of his one true love, is an incredibly lucky man. He is able to enact revenge upon the two men who ruined his life. He spends a minimal time in jail and never has to go through a trial. He achieves the ultimate catharsis through his telling of his tale. He dies in a peaceful fashion, completely vindicated in his murders. What is so interesting about his fate is that it is challenging to the reader's moral compass. Hope seems to be the hero, and Drebber and Stangerson are the villains. Hope has a righteous cause, while the two Mormon men are clearly evil and vindictive. Even Drebber's facial features denote a man of depravity and brutality. Hope's description of why he killed the two men, combined with the manner in which he killed them (poison for one, stabbing only in self-defense) makes the reader sympathize with him and begin to countenance the idea of murder. It is a provocative stance for Doyle to take, making this particular Holmes story not only compelling but thought-provoking.