A Study in Scarlet

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Sherlock Holmes Character Analysis

The protagonist of the story, a consulting detective to the London police force (though they seldom give him credit for his help) who solves crimes while accompanied by his roommate John Watson. Though Holmes is highly intelligent, with sharp observational and deductive reasoning skills that allow him to understand a crime scene or deduce a person’s history just by paying close attention, he can also be cold, petty, and arrogant. Though Holmes is vastly knowledgeable about certain areas, such as chemistry and British law, he is equally ignorant about others, such as astronomy. As Watson explains, Holmes is occasionally completely apathetic toward his surroundings but at other times is highly energetic and theatrical, particularly when he has a complex case to solve.

Sherlock Holmes Quotes in A Study in Scarlet

The A Study in Scarlet quotes below are all either spoken by Sherlock Holmes or refer to Sherlock Holmes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Observation and Deduction Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of A Study in Scarlet published in 2001.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

Holmes is a little too scientific for my tastes — it approaches to cold-bloodedness. I could imagine his giving a friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, not out of malevolence, you understand, but simply out of a spirit of inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects. To do him justice, I think that he would take it himself with the same readiness. He appears to have a passion for definite and exact knowledge….Yes, but it may be pushed to excess. When it comes to beating the subjects in the dissecting-rooms with a stick, it is certainly taking rather a bizarre shape.

Related Characters: Stamford (speaker), Sherlock Holmes, John H. Watson
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

While catching up with Stamford, an old colleague, Watson becomes interested in an acquaintance of Stamford’s who has expressed a desire to find a roommate. Stamford, however, warns Watson about Sherlock Holmes’ eccentricities. To Stamford, Holmes is too “cold-blooded.” His remark that Holmes would poison a friend without hesitation for the sake of his “passion for definite and exact knowledge” is not unlike Holmes’ use of Watson’s name in a newspaper advertisement to draw the murderer to their home. Though he apologizes to Watson for doing so, he does not consult Watson beforehand and justifies his behavior with the greater probability that the murderer will arrive. Obsessed with murder cases and his “science of deduction,” Holmes does not seem to have any moral or social qualms about such matters, and seems not to know or care about what is usually considered acceptable in society at large.

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Let me see — what are my other shortcomings. 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. What have you to confess now? It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Holmes and Watson have just met and are gauging their compatibility as roommates by discussing their faults. Holmes’ comment that he “get[s] in the dumps” for days at a time is perhaps a reference to depression, drug use (which Watson dismisses in this novel but which is confirmed in later Holmes stories), or to Holmes’ deep dissatisfaction with everyday matters that do not concern the “scarlet thread” of murder with which he is obsessed. Though Holmes purports to confess “the worst” of himself, he does not — despite his keen observation skills — confess his arrogance, which emerges several times in the novel.

Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

Nothing could exceed his energy when the working fit was upon him; but now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or moving… 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.

Related Characters: John H. Watson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Holmes and Watson have just settled into their apartment. Watson, who has little to occupy himself, is fascinated with Holmes and closely observes him, noting how Holmes fluctuates for days at a time between periods of lethargy and energy. Watson dismisses his suspicion of drug addiction, as Holmes doesn’t seem the type, but later Sherlock Holmes stories such as “The Sign of the Four” confirm Holmes’ drug use.

Another explanation for Holmes’ extended periods of lethargy could be depression, which may be caused by the lack of interesting cases for him to solve. As he hints later on, he views murder as the “scarlet thread” in an otherwise “colourless skein of life” — that is, murder and the mystery surrounding it is the one truly interesting part of life. It is only when Holmes decides to take on Drebber’s murder case that he is able to shake off his lethargy and spring back into action.

I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order… It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

When Watson discovers with amazement that Holmes did not know that the earth travelled around the sun, Holmes explains his careful selection of knowledge with his famous brain attic theory — the idea that the brain can hold only a limited amount of information. Holmes claims to have “nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work.” Holmes’ ability to quickly access information related to his observations is key to his utilization of the “science of deduction.”

By comparing his own selective and organized acquisition of facts to the indiscriminate and disorderly intake of a “fool,” Holmes also implies, in his usual superior manner, that Watson’s intellect is inferior to that of his own.

Its somewhat ambitious title was “The Book of Life”, and it attempted to show how much an observant man might learn by an accurate and systematic examination of all that came in his way. It struck me as being a remarkable mixture of shrewdness and of absurdity. The reasoning was close and intense, but the deductions appeared to me to be far-fetched and exaggerated. The writer claimed by a momentary expression, a twitch of a muscle or a glance of an eye, to fathom a man’s inmost thoughts. Deceit, according to him, was an impossibility in the case of one trained to observation and analysis. His conclusions were as infallible as so many propositions of Euclid. So startling would his results appear to the uninitiated that until they learned the processes by which he had arrived at them they might well consider him as a necromancer.

Related Characters: John H. Watson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

One day at breakfast with Holmes, Watson spots a magazine article, “The Book of Life,” on the table and begins to read it. Initially unbeknownst to Watson, the article was written by Holmes and details the science of deduction, the means by which Holmes is able to discover information about people. Watson is skeptical, as the article combines sharp reasoning with “far-fetched and exaggerated” deductions. Later in the novel, Holmes also exhibits this “remarkable mixture of shrewdness and of absurdity,” but however seemingly far-fetched Holmes’ deductions are, he always proves to be right. Watson soon discards his skepticism in favor of a deep admiration of Holmes, thus forging the foundation of their relationship in this novel — Watson’s continual astonishment at Holmes’ skills. Just as Holmes in his article portrays the master of deduction as a “necromancer” (a magician or sorcerer) in the eyes of “the unitiated,” so he actively encourages his reputation as “conjurer” by dramatically withholding information about his deductions from Watson and the other detectives.

“There are no crimes and criminals in these days,” he said, querulously. “What is the use of having brains in our profession? I know well that I have it in me to make my name famous. No man lives or has ever lived who has brought the same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection of crime which I have done. And what is the result? There is no crime to detect, or, at most, some bungling villainy with a motive so transparent that even a Scotland Yard official can see through it.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

After Holmes explains to Watson his occupation as a consulting detective, he complains that there aren’t any crimes befitting his skills. Lamenting the inability to use his extraordinary intellect, Holmes displays his extraordinary arrogance, claiming that he is the best detective in history and that cases solvable by the Scotland Yard are beneath him. Importantly, Holmes also reveals his need for attention, his desire to “make [his] name famous.” Though in this scene, Watson perceives Holmes as conceited, by the end of their “study in scarlet,” Watson devotes himself to this very end, publishing his account of the case and Holmes’ skills as a form of literary justice for Holmes.

Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

“Gregson is the smartest of the Scotland Yarders,” my friend remarked; “he and Lestrade are the pick of a bad lot. They are both quick and energetic, but conventional — shockingly so. They have their knives into one another, too. They are as jealous as a pair of professional beauties. There will be some fun over this case if they are both put upon the scent.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

After receiving a letter from Gregson asking for assistance on a difficult murder case, Holmes gives Watson his opinion of both Gregson and Lestrade. Though Holmes finds all of the Scotland Yard police force to be incompetent, Gregson and Lestrade are slightly less so. Holmes summarizes the detectives’ relationship as one based on competition and casually demeans them as “professional beauties,” that is, women in the 19th century who were akin to socialites or models today. Though Holmes amuses himself at Gregson’s and Lestrade’s expense, he does not realize that he too engages in this petty competition with them throughout the case, when he repeatedly insults their inferior deduction skills and races against them to solve the case first.

“They say that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains,” he remarked with a smile. “It’s a very bad definition, but it does apply to detective work.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Holmes has just spent 20 minutes going over the crime scene, with Lestrade, Gregson, and Watson watching his inscrutable and eccentric examinations and mutterings to himself. Though Holmes seems satisfied with his observations, he does not initially inform his audience of his findings and instead chooses to highlight that he, unlike the detectives, has “tak[en] pains” by carefully combing over the crime scene, and that therefore he, unlike the detectives, is a genius. Holmes’ extreme thoroughness is at once a tool that he applies to his obsession with solving complex murder cases and a way for him to show off his skill and intelligence. His delay in sharing information about the case in favor of displaying his superiority is a behavior that recurs throughout the novel, suggesting that his need to prove his intellect is perhaps a driving factor in his obsession with murder.

Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

“I’m not going to tell you much more of the case, Doctor. You know a conjurer gets no credit once he has explained his trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all.”

“I shall never do that,” I answered; “you have brought detection as near an exact science as it ever will be brought in this world.”

My companion flushed up with pleasure at my words, and the earnest way in which I uttered them. I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty.
“I’ll tell you one other thing,” he said.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson (speaker)
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Watson and Holmes have just discovered that Constable Rance unknowingly let the murder, who returned to the crime scene, walk away. Though Watson has many questions about the case, Holmes does not want to divulge his findings, as pulling back the curtains for Watson would cause him to find Holmes “ordinary.” Holmes wants to be viewed as a “conjurer” or, as he mentioned in his magazine article, as a “necromancer” who astounds his audience. In this respect, Holmes ironically shows himself to be rather ordinary, as the desire to be special and thus to receive more attention is by no means uncommon. Watson finds that he is able to use this flaw to his advantage, flattering Holmes to his face while showing us, the readers, his vanity — which Watson misogynistically attributes to women and which causes Holmes to divulge more about the case.

I shall have him, Doctor — I’ll lay you two to one that I have him. I must thank you for it all. I might not have gone but for you, and so have missed the finest study I ever came across: a study in scarlet, eh? Why shouldn’t we use a little art jargon? 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.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

After discovering that the murderer returned to the crime scene, Holmes deduces that he returned to look for the lost wedding ring and decides to use the ring as bait to draw out the murderer. Excited by the imminent pursuit, Holmes rhapsodizes about murder, calling it a “scarlet thread” in the “colourless skein of life.” That Holmes finds “the skein of life” to be “colourless” suggests that he finds much of life dull and uneventful. Murder, by comparison, is a vivid “scarlet”—it is aesthetically interesting and pleasing to Holmes, and a puzzle that must be “unraveled.” Holmes’ attitudes toward murder and the rest of everyday life seem to correspond to his fluctuating periods of intense energy and apathy (as well as his perceived “cold-bloodedness”). Without murders to solve, Holmes listlessly lounges in the apartment. When he begins working on Drebber’s case, he becomes energetic and full of life once more. Like Hope, who is sustained by revenge, Holmes is sustained by his murder cases.

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Oh, bless you, it doesn’t matter in the least. If the man is caught, it will be on account of their exertions; if he escapes, it will be in spite of their exertions. It’s heads I win and tails you lose. Whatever they do, they will have followers. “Un sot trouve toujours un plus sot qui l’admire.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

Responding to various newspapers’ praise of Gregson’s and Lestrade’s involvement on the case, Holmes tells Watson that the detectives’ roles in the case will be irrelevant to how they are portrayed in print. Whether they catch the murderer or not, they will still be praised and admired. Holmes quotes the French poet Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, saying “A fool always finds a greater fool to admire him.” To Holmes, Gregson and Lestrade are both fools, and praise of them is unwarranted. Holmes, however, doesn’t seem to be against praise or admiration in itself (he himself continually seeks the admiration of Watson and the Scotland Yarders), but merely the praise of those he considers his inferiors.

Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

“It don’t much matter to you why I hated these men,” he said; “it’s enough that they were guilty of the death of two human beings — a father and a daughter — and that they had, therefore, forfeited their own lives. 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.”

Related Characters: Jefferson Hope (speaker), Sherlock Holmes, John H. Watson, John Ferrier, Lucy Ferrier, Enoch Drebber, Joseph Stangerson, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

After Holmes brings Hope to the Scotland Yard, Hope decides to make a full statement, as his aortic aneurysm could prevent him from telling his story at any time. Hope views his murder of Drebber and Stangerson as just, but his conception of justice is not the traditional European conception of justice as blind and impartial, but rather a more personal, vengeful “eye for an eye” form of justice that might be found in the American Wild West stories that Doyle favored as a child. To Hope, Drebber and Stangerson “forfeit” their lives because they are responsible for the deaths of Lucy and John Ferrier. Courtroom justice is inexistent or inaccessible in Hope’s Wild West, and he takes it upon himself as “judge, jury, and executioner” to carry out vigilante justice, despite the fact that the Mormons’ vigilantism was in large part responsible for the very deaths he was avenging. Hope further justifies his actions as a sign of his “manhood,” a patriarchal value with which he appeals to his captors (all men) but which he ironically does not realize helped to facilitate Lucy’s forced marriage to Drebber.

Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

“…It is an open secret that the credit of this smart capture belongs entirely to the well-known Scotland Yard officials, Messrs Lestrade and Gregson. The man was apprehended, it appears, in the rooms of a certain Mr Sherlock Holmes, who has himself, as an amateur, shown some talent in the detective line, and who, with such instructors may hope in time to attain some degree of their skill. It is expected that a testimonial of some sort will be presented to the two officers as a fitting recognition of their services.”

“Didn’t I tell you so when we started?” cried Sherlock Holmes, with a laugh. “That’s the result of all our Study in Scarlet; to get them a testimonial!”

“Never mind,” I answered; “I have all the facts in my journal, and the public shall know them.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson (speaker), Jefferson Hope, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

The case now solved, Holmes and Watson discuss the particulars of the case and the newspapers’ account of what happened. Though Holmes is not surprised, Watson is indignant that the newspapers praise Lestrade’s and Gregson’s supposed capture of Jefferson Hope and demean Holmes’ skill as “an amateur.” Though Holmes has been seeking recognition for much of the novel, he is uncharacteristically neutral when Watson declares his intent to publish his own account of the case from his journal. Watson’s publication would inform the public that it was actually Holmes’ superior detective skills and talent that were crucial to Hope’s capture, thereby attaining a form of justice for Holmes by giving him the credit he deserves.

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Sherlock Holmes Character Timeline in A Study in Scarlet

The timeline below shows where the character Sherlock Holmes appears in A Study in Scarlet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1: Mr Sherlock Holmes
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...glad to have a roommate, as he would rather not be alone. Though Stamford says Sherlock Holmes is “a decent fellow enough,” he appears wary, saying that Watson may not want... (full context)
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Arriving at the hospital’s chemistry laboratory, Watson and Stamford are approached by a jubilant Holmes, who declares to Stamford that he has discovered a precise method to detect hemoglobin. Stamford... (full context)
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Delighted, Holmes tells Watson he has found a place on Baker Street, and they begin to discuss... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2: The Science of Deduction
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The next day, Holmes and Watson inspect the apartment at No. 221B, Baker Street, and are so pleased with... (full context)
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Watson’s curiosity about Holmes deepens the longer they live together. He describes Holmes’ appearance as striking, as he is... (full context)
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Watson begins to spend his time trying to determine what Holmes does. He determines that his roommate is not studying medicine or any particular area for... (full context)
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Believing Holmes would be unwilling to discuss his profession yet still curious about the nature of his... (full context)
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In their first few weeks on Baker Street, Holmes and Watson have no visitors, leading Watson to conclude that Holmes was “as friendless a... (full context)
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...day, Watson gets up earlier than usual and sits down at the breakfast table with Holmes. On the table is a magazine article, “The Book of Life,” which proposes that through... (full context)
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Holmes explains that he uses his theories in the article on a regular basis for his... (full context)
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Now that Holmes has explained his reasoning, Watson finds his claims “simple enough” and compares him to Edgar... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3: The Lauriston Garden Mystery
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Watson is astonished that Holmes was right and asks how he deduced the man’s profession. Describing the thought process as... (full context)
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Holmes describes Gregson as “the smartest of the Scotland Yarders,” and remarks that he and Lestrade... (full context)
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As Watson has nothing better to do, he accompanies Holmes to Brixton Road. On the hansom ride there, Holmes chats about violins, refusing to theorize... (full context)
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...man’s body has no visible wound, there are splotches of blood all over the floor. Holmes deduces that it is most likely the murderer’s blood. After he examines the body, he... (full context)
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In the house’s hallway, Gregson tells Holmes that he sent out inquiries about Stangerson, but Holmes seems at once unsatisfied and superior... (full context)
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...but was unable to finish. While Lestrade is in the midst of explaining his hypothesis, Holmes laughs at Lestrade and proceeds to examine the room. Using a tape measure and magnifying... (full context)
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Though Gregson and Lestrade watch Holmes “with considerable curiosity and some contempt,” they eagerly ask for Holmes’ opinions. Holmes sarcastically claims... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4: What John Rance Had to Tell
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After the men leave Lauriston Gardens, Holmes mails out a telegram and they make their way to the home of the constable,... (full context)
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...ring came from, what the murderer wanted, and why he wrote “RACHE” on the wall. Holmes tells Watson that “RACHE” (written in Gothic script, which real Germans would use only for... (full context)
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...dirty children and lines of dirty laundry. The constable seems unwilling to talk, but once Holmes takes out a gold coin Rance readily tells him about his night shift. At around... (full context)
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Holmes asks if the man was carrying a whip, but Rance says no, and Holmes mutters... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5: Our Advertisement Brings a Visitor
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Holmes, who had attended a concert after questioning Rance, returns home late, his mood raised from... (full context)
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...last name is Sawyer, claims that the ring belongs to her daughter Sally Dennis. Following Holmes’ signal, Watson gives the ring to the woman, who thanks him and leaves. Soon after,... (full context)
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Watson expresses his amazement that an old woman could have outwitted Holmes, who exclaims, “We were the old women to be so taken in.” Holmes comes to... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6: Tobias Gregson Shows What He Can Do
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The next day, reports of the “Brixton Mystery” fill the papers, which Watson and Holmes read together at breakfast. Watson summarizes to the reader the findings of a few newspapers,... (full context)
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Moments later, Watson hears a multitude of footsteps on their stairs, and Holmes informs him that it is “the Baker Street division of the detective police force.” When... (full context)
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At this moment, Gregson approaches the apartment, seeking congratulations for solving the case. Holmes appears anxious until Gregson tells him that he has arrested Arthur Charpentier, a sublieutenant in... (full context)
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...question Madame Charpentier, who revealed that Arthur does not have an alibi for Drebber’s murder. Holmes congratulates Gregson on his theory that Arthur is the murderer, and Gregson, not realizing that... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7: Light in the Darkness
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Watson, Holmes, and Gregson are shocked at the news of Stangerson’s death. Holmes requests Lestrade’s account of... (full context)
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...death. Stangerson carried no papers except a telegram saying “J. H. is in Europe.” At Holmes’ prompting, Lestrade lists other objects in the room: a novel on the bed, a pipe... (full context)
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Claiming he will prove his solution to the case, Holmes asks Lestrade for the pills, which the detective happened to collect at the crime scene.... (full context)
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Holmes almost begins to doubt himself, but then “with a perfect shriek of delight” he cuts... (full context)
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...knocks at the door. It is Wiggins, leader of the “street Arabs,” who announces to Holmes that he has the cab downstairs. Holmes tells Wiggins to ask the cab driver to... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6: A Continuation of the Reminiscences of John Watson, M.D.
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...not resist any further and appears resigned to being arrested. Hope openly admires the way Holmes followed his trail. He calmly lets himself into his own cab, and at Holmes’ suggestion,... (full context)
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...believes that he is “just as much an officer of justice as you are.” When Holmes asks for the identity of the accomplice who retrieved the ring, Hope amiably tells him... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7: The Conclusion
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Hope, Gregson, Lestrade, Holmes, and Watson had all been told to appear before the magistrates on Thursday, but by... (full context)
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Responding to Watson’s astonishment that Holmes found the case “simple,” Holmes explains his lines of reasoning about the case from the... (full context)
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Holmes had already deduced that the man who walked Drebber into the house was both the... (full context)