A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet Summary and Analysis of Part I, Chapter V: Our Advertisement Brings a Visitor


When Holmes and Watson returned to the house, Watson laid down to take a nap as his mind was tumultuous after the events of the morning. He meditated on the grotesque visage of the dead man and almost thanked the murderer for ridding the world of such a clearly malignant man. Of course, he did recognize that "justice must be done, and that the depravity of the victim was no condonement in the eyes of the law."

Watson thought more of the poison which killed Drebber, and remembered that Holmes had sniffed the man's mouth. Holmes’ "quiet, self-confident manner" was comforting, however, and Watson looked forward to hearing about his conjectures after he returned from a concert. When Holmes came in he expressed his feelings that music was perhaps so moving because the human capacity to produce and appreciate music existed even before speech.

Watson confessed he was shaken by the events of the morning, even more so than his experiences in Afghanistan. Holmes agreed that this was understandable since "where there is no imagination there is no horror." Changing the subject, Holmes told Watson that he had placed an advertisement in the paper for the lost ring (under Watson's name as to not arouse suspicion) and told any claimants to come to the apartments between eight and nine that evening.

Holmes had a facsimile ring ready, and was confident that the man who showed up would be the murderer. It was clear that "this man would rather risk anything than lose the ring," and had pretended to be drunk when he returned to the street where he murdered Drebber and saw the policemen there. He might believe he lost the ring in the road and would be pleased to see the advertisement in the paper. There would be no reason to expect a trap.

Watson would meet with the man, keeping a pistol with him since the man would no doubt be desperate. Holmes took up his violin for a few minutes, and confided to Watson that he'd had a response to his American telegram and that his view of the case was the correct one.

The doorbell rang and the servant opened it; the two men heard a "clear but rather harsh" voice downstairs but were remarkably surprised when the owner of the voice turned out to be an old woman, not the violent murderer they'd expected! The woman explained that the ring belonged to her girl Sally, who had recently married a Tom Dennis, a steward aboard a Union boat, and had lost her wedding ring the last night. Holmes indicated to Watson to give her the ring, and the two men wished her well.

After she departed, Holmes announced that he would follow her because she was clearly an accomplice and might lead him to the murderer. Watson waited up for Holmes, perusing a book since he could not sleep. When Holmes returned his facial expression was a mixture of "amusement and chagrin," but the former won out and he began to laugh.

He told how he had followed the woman on foot for a while, and then jumped on the back of her cab when she hailed one to take her the rest of the way. When the cab stopped and Holmes jumped off, he heard the driver exclaim in anger because there was no longer anyone in the cab. The woman had jumped out at some point, aware that she was being followed.

Watson marveled that an old woman could elude Holmes like that, but Holmes exclaimed "Old woman be damned! We were the old women to be so taken in. It must have been a young man, and an active one, too, besides being an incomparable actor. The get-up was imitable." The man knew he was being followed and "gave me the slip." This proved that the murderer was not completely a solitary figure because he had friends who were willing to risk a lot for him.

After this tale Holmes remarked that Watson was looking tired, and encouraged him to go to bed. Watson agreed and turned in, but heard Holmes playing his violin late into the night as he tried to unravel the mystery.


More of the clues fall into place here, with Holmes realizing that the murderer was indeed quite clever and had accomplices to assist him in retrieving the ring, clearly his most important possession. The advertisement created to lure the murderer in does not provide the sort of success Holmes expected, as the old woman who turns up is certainly not the tall, florid-faced man. This old woman turns out to be a hale and clever young man in the garb of a crone, but he eludes the grasp of Holmes.

Watson's reflections on the murderer are very human and believable; he feels a measure of gratitude for the murderer for ridding the world of a man whose features bespeak so much malignancy and evil. This was a common theory at the time of publication –that there was actually a criminal human "type" that could be distinguished from the normal human type. Holmes comes out against this theory, telling Watson in another Holmes novel, The Sign of the Four, "I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money, and the most repellant man of my acquaintance is a philanthropist who has spent nearly a quarter of a million upon the London poor."

Holmes makes an interesting comment about Darwin's theory of music after he returns from a concert: "Do you remember what Darwin says about music? He claims that the power of producing and appreciating it existed among the human race long before the power of speech was arrived at. Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood" (42). Darwin's writings on music come from his Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (revised in 1885). He wrote that human beings' rhythm and cadence of language derived from their previously developed musical powers, and that musical sounds helped the development of language. Holmes and Watson develop their own relationship and alliance on their shared interest in music, not speech.

There are many other interesting elements present within this chapter. Holmes curses –"Old woman be damned!" (47) –for the first and only time in the printed canon. The old woman is a young man in disguise, but henceforth the trope of disguise will be taken up by Holmes himself. Holmes’ happy and hearty laugh is a strange and rare occurrence that serves to draw more confusion and complexity about his character. His traditional solemnity and reserve are rarely abandoned for levity. When Watson muses on how the law might even condone the murderer for eliminating the malicious Drebber, it is prescient in that this very perspective is embodied by Holmes’ tendency to sometimes condone crimes or let criminals walk free based on the circumstances of the case.

Finally, readers may wonder at the possible significance of Holmes’ little book, rendered in English as Of the Law Between Peoples, a treatise written by Richard Zouche and published in Leyden in 1651. The fact that the book is about the law bespeaks Holmes’ interest and activities, but this episode establishes Holmes as somewhat of a book-hunter. It is actually based on a find of the author's; Arthur Conan Doyle wrote of finding an inexpensive and interesting book that had an inscription marking it as from the library of Guliemli Whyte in 1672. Doyle was an author who frequently inserted elements of his own life into his work, as many of his biographies reveal.