The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle was born into poverty and an alcoholic father with a history of psychiatric illness. With help from members of his extended family, however, Doyle was able to achieve an excellent education and eventually earned a doctorate in medicine. He would practice medicine in various forms for much of his early adult life. While in medical school, Doyle took up writing as a hobby. By 1886, he had created the character of Sherlock Holmes. The character was a great success with the public, and Doyle soon found himself a wealthy man. However, he felt that Holmes had backed him into a corner, making it impossible for him to write on other topics—such as his interests in spiritualism or the historical novel. By 1893, Doyle had decided to kill Holmes off. There was such a backlash against this, however, that he was forced to bring the character back to life in The Hound of the Baskervilles, which would go on to become Holmes’ best-known and best-loved novel. A man of diverse interests, Doyle participated heavily in politics and was knighted by King Edward VII for his writing on the Boer War, whereupon he became Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He had five children between two wives, but none of these children had children of their own. Thus, Doyle has no direct descendants today. He is often referred to today as Conan Doyle, as though his name were a compound. While this was the name he preferred to be called, Conan was simply his middle name and not a part of his full surname. 
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Historical Context of The Hound of the Baskervilles

Detective fiction is a direct result of the advent of detective agencies in the real world. Police forces did not always exist in the iconic way that they do today. In fact, England did not have something resembling a modern police force until 1749, when the Bow Street Runners were formed. Previously, private citizens were expected to take a much more active role in policing their communities, catching criminals and bringing them before the courts of their own accord. The Bow Street Runners were the first individuals paid by the government and commissioned to deal with such tasks professionally. The Runners were superseded by organizations such as the Metropolitan Police Service, founded in 1829, and others, which slowly took the form of modern police departments. In the meantime, however, there was a rise of private detective agencies that worked alongside early police forces. The first of these was founded in 1833 by an ex-criminal named Eugène François Vidocq. He used exceptionally modern, empirical techniques in his work, including the use of plaster to cast molds of footprints, undercover officers, and even ballistics. The idea of a scientifically-minded expert going head-to-head with expert criminals intrigued the public and inspired writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Honoré de Balzac, and Victor Hugo. 

Other Books Related to The Hound of the Baskervilles

While the adventures of Sherlock Holmes are probably the best-known examples of early detective fiction, they certainly weren’t the only ones or even the first. The idea of the mastermind detective had enflamed the imaginations of many popular authors. Charles Dickens’ Inspector Bucket, an important character in his 1853 novel, Bleak House, is as brilliant and peculiar as Holmes. C. Auguste Dupin was another exceptionally popular fictional detective, created by Edgar Allan Poe for his short stories, including “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” published in 1841. Wilkie Collins’ 1868 novel, The Moonstone, is generally considered to be the first full detective novel. The kind of mastermind criminals Doyle favored also inspired a great deal of early film, such as Louis Feuillade’s Fantômas (1913) and Les Vampires (1915) serial films and Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922).
Key Facts about The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • Full Title: The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • When Written: 1901-1902
  • Where Written: Surrey County, England
  • When Published: 1901-1902
  • Literary Period: Late Victorian/Edwardian
  • Genre: Detective fiction, crime fiction, serial fiction, novella
  • Setting: London, England, and Devonshire County, England
  • Climax: Sherlock Holmes uncovers Jack Stapleton’s plot to kill Sir Henry Baskerville and shoots Stapleton’s monstrous hound dead just seconds before it can accomplish the murder.
  • Antagonist: Sherlock Holmes
  • Point of View: Third-person limited

Extra Credit for The Hound of the Baskervilles

Holmes is Dead. Long Live Holmes! Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes off in the 1893 short story “The Final Problem.” When the public revolted against this, Doyle brought Holmes back with The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1901-1902. However, it wasn’t until his 1903 short story, “The Adventure of the Empty House,” that Doyle explained how Holmes was still alive. Therefore, avid readers of Holmes stories would have read The Hound of the Baskervilles not having any idea whatsoever how Holmes was in it!

One Big Puppy. Watson describes Stapleton’s gigantic hound as a mixture of bloodhound and mastiff. Male bloodhounds can grow to 110 pounds, while male English mastiffs can tip the scales at a jaw-dropping 230 pounds, while standing nearly three feet tall at the shoulders. The mastiff was a common working dog in the English countryside, where they were valued for their immense strength and protectiveness, so readers of Doyle’s time would have been well aware of just how large and formidable the Baskervilles’ hound was. Interestingly, the bloodhound has a quite relevant nickname: the “sleuth” hound (sleuth is another name for detective). It’s so-named because of its uncanny ability to track down its targets—an ability the dog shares with Holmes himself.