Baskerville Hall forms the gateway between the aristocratic, orderly world of the Baskerville family—who are far more at home in sleek, urban London—and the untamed, even dangerous world of the moor. Through this liminality, the unruliness of the moor comes to infest the tidy world of the hall with its primitive ideas about ghostly, cursed hounds and the crude greed that drives the murder plot. That is, the moor contributes nothing good to life at Baskerville Hall: it only detracts from it and enables murder and secrecy. This negativity shows Doyle’s clear preference for city life, which—though cramped and frantic—he finds far more appropriate for modern man.
Perhaps the most bizarre pieces of evidence for this claim comes not from Baskerville Hall or the moors, but rather in the form of Sherlock Holmes, who finds himself only able to think when in the close atmospheres of confined quarters. Holmes is at once the most brilliant man in the story (and possibly the story’s world, if the dialogue of Dr. Mortimer is to be believed) and a firm believer in science and rationality. Doyle is a firm believer that these are the best qualities for a modern man. Yet, Holmes is only able to really utilize his abilities when surrounded by smoke and cramped into his apartment. He claims that he’s even gone to the lengths of confining himself to a box when his small flat proved too expansive. These cramped, smoked-filled conditions necessary to Holmes’ process were the very essence of London-life during both Holmes and Doyle’s time. They exist in strong juxtaposition to the expansive, empty space of the moors.
The moors, of course, provide plenty of evidence, too. They are, put simply, quite dangerous. To navigate the moors, one has to have specialized knowledge, lest they find themselves mired in quicksand. Even animals, who have a natural instinct about the wild (and twice as many legs with which to navigate it), find themselves often lost in these pits. Indeed, even Jack Stapleton, the one character who has the knowledge necessary to navigate the quicksand, is killed by the moors when he attempts to navigate them in the fog. In contrast, while London streets may be dangerous, that’s only because of the people there. The streets themselves won’t swallow a person whole the way the moor can. What’s more, the moors enable a level of secrecy that’s impossible in London. When Holmes and Watson are being trailed in the London streets, they discover it immediately. Though their shadow manages to escape them, the mechanization of London life allows the detectives to find the cab driver that the shadow hired and thus discover more about the man himself. By way of comparison, both Selden and Holmes manage to stalk the moors virtually unseen for weeks. Indeed, Stapleton himself manages to hide a monstrous dog there, and enact his complex murder plot, all without being seen or suspected. This would be entirely impossible in London, where someone is always around and all the land is developed.
It’s important that, though Baskerville Hall has been a liminal space for some five centuries, it seems to have had little impact on the moor itself (whereas the moor has infiltrated it handily). What seems wanting is money—which, at the story’s end, Sir Henry Baskerville has in spades. This influx of capital will allow the hall to become a glorious and modern place, which the moor’s residents in turn hope will serve as an example for both its current residents and any newcomers inspired to move there by the moor’s shifts in fortune. That is to say, Sir Henry hopes to infiltrate the moor in order to convert it into an entirely urban space, replicating the London atmosphere of which he’s so fond, in this way destroying its liminality altogether.
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The Superiority of Urban Life Quotes in The Hound of the Baskervilles
I find that before the terrible event occurred several people had seen a creature upon the moor which corresponds with this Baskerville demon, and which could not possibly be an animal known to science. They all agreed that it was a huge creature, luminous, ghastly, and spectral.
Really, Mr. Holmes, this exceeds anything which I could have imagined […] I could understand anyone saying that the words were from a newspaper; but that you should name which, and add that it came from the leading article, is really one of the most remarkable things which I have ever known.
In a very few hours the brown earth had become ruddy, the brick had changed to granite, and red cows grazed in well-hedged fields where the lush grasses and more luxuriant vegetation spoke of a richer, if damper climate.
I remembered the case well, for it was one in which Holmes had taken an interest on account of the peculiar ferocity of the crime and the wanton brutality which had marked all the actions of the assassin.
The Mire has him. Two in two days, and many more, perhaps, for they get in the way of going there in the dry weather, and never know the difference until the Mire has them in its clutch. It’s a bad place, the great Grimpen Mire.
There is the death of the last occupant of the Hall, fulfilling so exactly the conditions of the family legend, and there are the repeated reports of…a strange creature upon the moor. Twice I have heard […] the distant baying of a hound.
One cannot always have the success for which one hopes. An investigator needs facts, and not legends or rumors. It has not been a satisfactory case.