The Red-Headed League

by

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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John Clay / Vincent Spaulding Character Analysis

John Clay, the antagonist of the story, is a criminal mastermind in London. Sherlock Holmes even describes Clay as the fourth-smartest man in the city, and were it not for his criminality, Clay might even be a respectable figure. Clay has royal blood (his grandfather was a duke) and is extremely well educated, having studied at Eton and Oxford. This heritage makes him pompous and refined—even when he’s arrested, he requests that the police officer address him as “sir” and remember to say “please.” At the story’s opening, Clay works as Jabez Wilson’s assistant under the alias of Vincent Spaulding. This job, coupled with his brilliant creation of the Red-Headed League job opening, allow him to lure Wilson out of the house. With Wilson out of the way, Clay is able to dig a tunnel from Wilson’s property to the bank’s cellar. Although Clay plans on robbing the bank with his accomplice, Archie, and escaping undetected through the tunnel, Holmes intervenes in the nick of time, and both criminals are captured.

John Clay / Vincent Spaulding Quotes in The Red-Headed League

The The Red-Headed League quotes below are all either spoken by John Clay / Vincent Spaulding or refer to John Clay / Vincent Spaulding. 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:
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bantam Classics edition of The Red-Headed League published in 1986.
The Red-Headed League Quotes

“I should not wish a smarter assistant, Mr. Holmes; and I know very well that he could better himself and earn twice what I am able to give him.”

Page Number: 267
Explanation and Analysis:

It was instantly opened by a bright-looking, clean-shaven young fellow, who asked him to step in.

Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:

“I am sure that you inquired your way merely in order that you might see him.”

“Not him.”

“What then?”

“The knees of his trousers.”

“And what did you see?”

“What I expected to see.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John Clay / Vincent Spaulding
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:
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John Clay / Vincent Spaulding Character Timeline in The Red-Headed League

The timeline below shows where the character John Clay / Vincent Spaulding appears in The Red-Headed League. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Red-Headed League
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
...asks him further questions about the assistant, and Wilson explains that his name is Vincent Spaulding. Wilson can’t tell how old Spaulding is, but he knows that Spaulding is extremely bright,... (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Wilson then explains that it was in fact Spaulding who showed him the advertisement for the Red-Headed League in the newspaper, and who encouraged... (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
When Wilson and Spaulding arrived for the job interview on Fleet Street, the whole neighborhood was packed with red-headed... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
...will solve his case, but first asks a few further questions about the assistant, Vincent Spaulding. When he hears that Spaulding has a “splash of acid upon his forehead,” Holmes sits... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
...walk away, Holmes tells Watson that the man who answered the door was Wilson’s assistant, Spaulding. Holmes remarks that Spaulding is the “fourth smartest man in London.” Holmes explains to Watson... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
...could save 30,000 pounds this evening, and that Jones could catch a master criminal, John Clay. He explains that Clay is the grandson of a royal duke, and has attended both... (full context)
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
...Through this “gaping hole” appears a “clean-cut, boyish face.” The boy, later revealed as John Clay, hoists himself up through the hole and calls down to his accomplice, Archie, to see... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
...Detective Jones fails to catch hold of him. Holmes addresses the captured boy as John Clay, and tells him that he has “no chance at all.” Clay answers “with the utmost... (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
Jones pulls out a pair of handcuffs, and Clay balks at the idea of Jones touching him with his “filthy hands.” Haughtily, Clay declares... (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
...out of the shop for several hours a day. He was suspicious of Wilson’s assistant, Spaulding, because he was happy to be paid half wages, and so correctly assumed that he... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
...meters away from the property, which was likely the target. Holmes then wished to observe Clay’s knees, so he knocked on the door to take a look at Clay. The knees... (full context)