The Adventure of the Yellow Face is an 1893 short story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and featuring the characters Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. The story was initially written as a commission for Strand Magazine, with original illustrations by Sidney Paget. Sidney Paget was a frequent illustrator of Doyle’s work. It is one of 56 short stories following Holmes’ and Watson’s adventures, and it is the third work in “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.”
At the point of The Adventure of the Yellow Face’s publication, Holmes was an established character in British culture. Short stories featuring the character have seen publication since 1891, and people devoured any story with a mention of him. Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Scotland in 1859. He went to school to eventually become a doctor. All the while, writing and publishing short stories and academic articles. Doyle’s start occurred when he wrote A Study in Scarlet and submitted it to Ward Lock and Co. The company bought all rights to the story for only 25 pounds. Conan Doyle later disassociated himself from Ward, as he felt the company exploited him and underpaid him for his work. Doyle would publish his Holmes stories in Strand magazine after that.
The Adventure of the Yellow Face is remarkable in that it is one of few stories in which Holmes’ powers of deduction are proven wrong. Holmes makes an erroneous deduction in his investigation. However, Holmes is eventually able to correct course, which he demonstrates in a quote, spoken by Watson, “where he failed, it happened too often that no one else succeeded... Now and again, however, it chanced that even when he erred, the truth was still discovered.”
The Adventure of the Yellow Face is one of Doyle’s more sentimental stories. It has a delightful ending in which Doyle brings all plotlines to their satisfying conclusion. The story is also known for its treatment of race. It shows a marriage between a black man and a white Englishwoman. Although interracial marriage has always been legal in England, its public acceptance cannot claim the same. Initially, it is kept a secret, but the race of the man had nothing to do with the secret. It was kept a secret because of the feared reaction of the new husband to a child. However, this depiction of African-Americans in Doyle’s story does contrast with his racial caricature of a black man in the much later “The Adventure of the Three Gables.” That was much more stereotype-based, as opposed to the moderate portrayal in The Adventure of the Yellow Face.
The impact of The Adventure of the Yellow Face can still be felt today. It is one of the more popular Holmes stories, and its themes of race and marriage are still relevant. It continues to be an important work within the canon of Sherlock Holmes. It is also an important work in terms of Arthur Conan Doyle’s life, as it was the first story to be published in Strand magazine and the first to feature Sidney Paget's illustrations. The Adventure of the Yellow Face is a testament to the skill of its author, and to the lasting impact of his work. It has held up as a popular story for over a century, and will likely continue to do so for centuries more.