In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Chapter 12 is the chapter in which Holmes and Watson discover the murderer responsible for the deaths of each of the Baskervilles. Sir Conan Doyle uses a variety of techniques, carefully manipulating the structure, characters and setting to generate a feeling of suspense for the reader. In this essay, I will further elaborate on each of these techniques and give examples of where and how he creates suspense.
There are a variety of structure characteristics that encourage suspense, including plot twists, rising/falling tension, change of pace, cliffhangers, resolutions and clues. Chapter 11 ends as a cliffhanger, leaving us to anticipate whom the Watson’s mysterious visitor is. Chapter 12 opens with a release of tension as we find out. A casual conversation takes place between the two detectives, beginning with,
“I was never more glad to see anyone in my life.” (128, p.5).
When Watson says this, the readers instinctively know that the stranger is indeed no stranger, and perhaps a friend of Watson. This releases the tension greatly. Throughout the rest of the chapter, Doyle gently allows each mystery and fact to unfold, leaving part of the pairs’ research complete. When all tension is released, Conan Doyle is able to start building it again from scratch by gently introducing new clues that leave the reader’s brain to fill in the blanks for itself. This gently slows the pace of the development of the plot and causes the reader to become suspicious and analyze each new statement made by each character with a critical eye, assuming that it is a valuable clue. The suspense reaches its absolute climax when Watson and Holmes find what appears to be the body of Sir Henry. The reader goes is shocked. When Holmes learns that it is not the body of Sir Henry, but instead the body of Selden, the convict, all tension is released. This sudden plot twist is what grabs the audience’s attention and alerts them that there is still an unsolved mystery.
An important aspect of Holmes and Watson’s relationship is highlighted when Holmes sneaks up on Watson in the hut. It shows the slightly arrogant part of his personality, the characteristic that drives him to constantly put Watson down.
“My dear fellow, you have been invaluable to me in this as in many other cases,” (129, p.17)
Considering the amount of effort Watson has put into his research, he takes this as quite an insult. The fact that Holmes stoops as low as exposing his close friend to danger in order for him to boost his ego raises the question of the legitimacy of their ‘friendship’, and how much Holmes really thinks of Watson as a friend. Watson, however, considering the circumstances reacts rather calmly than he should to this statement, and this is what informs the readers that the tension has been released.
“I was still rather raw over the deception which had been practiced upon me, but the warmth of Holmes’s praise drove my anger from my mind.” (130, p.7).
The relationship between Sir Henry and Ms. Stapleton suddenly becomes even more elaborate when Watson is informed that Ms. Stapleton is in reality Mr. Stapleton’s wife, as opposed to his sister. I personally found that when Doyle decided to insert this fact, I did not feel in a state of suspense but rather in a state of concern for Sir Henry. By putting him in a complex situation, Doyle gets the readers to assume that the worst is going to happen.
One common way that almost every author uses to generate suspense is by creating a setting. The tone of atmosphere and lexical fields are often what bring the readers up onto their toes. Pathetic fallacies reinforce the state of mind that the author is intending you to feel. When reading Chapter 12, the first technique I noticed Doyle used to create suspense was his use of lexical fields. They occur most in descriptive paragraphs, to help set the tone of the atmosphere. When Holmes is explaining how he solved many of the minor mysteries to Watson, Doyle is purposely trying to release the suspense. He uses lexical fields with words that fall into the category of ‘reassuring’. By incorporating words from this category into Holmes’ speech, it makes him seem as though he has everything under control.
For example, the first two pages of Chapter 12 are dispersed with words such as “evidently”, “assure”, “recognize”, “no doubt” and “fairly full knowledge” are the sorts of encouraging and positive words used throughout. As Doyle begins to introduce new facts into their research or a discovery is made, the lexical field darkens, and words such as “harm”, “weapon”, “deception”, “murderous”, “terrible” etc, begin to appear all over the page. Although it may be subconscious, the reader’s mind connects the dots and can make an educated prediction that something wicked will soon occur. Although pathetic fallacies usually appear in rather clichd situations, they prove very effective and still succeed in creating a sense of uncertainty and tension. An example of this is clear just before Holmes informs Watson of Stapleton and his ‘sister’s’ true identity.
“The sun had set and dusk was settling over the moor.” (131, p.2)
This line sets the tone of the outdoors. The reader does not assume it, but this setting of atmosphere initiates that something terrible is going to happen or be discovered.
“In that impassive, colourless man, with his straw hat and his butterfly-net, I seemed to see something terrible – a creature of infinite patience and craft, with a smiling face and a murderous heart. ” (131, p.12)
These are the thoughts that are going through Watson’s head after Holmes tells him of Stapleton’s crimes. By now, the previous setting of the outdoor scenery, influences the reader’s predictions of what will happen next in the story. Because the setting was described as ‘dark’, the reader assumes that the consecutive events will also be ‘dark’.
Because of our advantage of having this knowledge of the techniques used, we are more attuned to how we are being manipulated throughout the chapter to feel suspense. Despite the fact that many think the book is clichï¿½ and that Doyle has overused his techniques to the point that they are useless, I strongly disagree and find that these techniques are very effective and have been used in the appropriate context. By tampering with character relationships/emotions, creating appropriate settings and by constructing a story structure that undergoes plot twists and cliffhangers, suspense is undoubtedly created for the reader.