Writing English Coursework


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Writing English Coursework: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Short Stories

In this English coursework essay, I will be studying in depth one of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories, “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”. This is from his collection of short stories, “the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”. I will be comparing this story with five other short stories, all from the same collection as “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”. The stories are “The Red-Headed league”: “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”; “The Man with the Twisted Lip”; “The Blue Carbuncle” and “The Engineer's Thumb”.

All these six stories were originally published between 1891 and 1893, in the Strand Magazine. This illustrated monthly magazine was founded by Sir George Newnes in 1891 and became prominent for its publishing serialisations and short stories. The style of stories in the Strand were mostly all fictional, with Conan Doyle's “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes” pretty much dominating the magazine. As stated in “The Story of The Strand Magazine”, it was “prominent for its superior but middlebrow fiction”. This shows the main style of the Strand magazine was to print fictional short stories. The stories were mostly adventure stories, that appealed to the audience because of the suspense and tension that built up until the plot was revealed at the end. At the time its biggest reader base was the growing educated middle class, who had the leisure time to read magazines like the Strand. The magazine was produced during a publishing boom of what has been collectively called “railway magazines”. This means The Strand will have been boosted in its amount of readers, until it ceased publication in 1950.

The different types of reading audiences that have enjoyed the stories vary quite a lot. The main reason these stories took off so much is by them being read on trains by businessmen or just general people whilst they were travelling. In the late 1800s, trains were the main source of businessmen travelling around. However, many other audiences read the stories, for example children and the working class liked to read the fictional stories.

Conan Doyle's purpose in writing “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” was probably because he wanted to write something that would really get people intrigued, and excited about the conclusions to his stories. The general appeal of detective stories is to get the reader guessing at who committed the murder, or whatever the case is. Conan Doyle builds up the suspense and is extremely good at keeping the reader guessing, and making them read on. In the Speckled Band a characters says, “For pity's sake tell me the cause of my sister's death”. What the character says almost epitomises what the audience is thinking. This shows that the writer of detective stories always try to keep the reader on a tender hook, which is why the stories appeal so much. Conan Doyle also uses this type of thing in the titles to his stories as well. The Adventure of the Speckled Band suggests that there will be an adventure involving something mysterious and intriguing, the Speckled Band. It is the same with The Mystery of the Red-Headed league and the man with the Twisted Lip, because words like “Red-Headed league” are very random and uncommon, suggesting they are mysterious.

In all the Sherlock Holmes stories, Conan Doyle uses the historical context to entertain his readers, and because there are different generations of audience it has consequences of how they react to the stories. For example, a reader in the early 1900s would react differently to things than a modern day reader. Because the stories were written in the late 1800s, many things were different to the modern day. Transport, dress and the language spoken by the characters have changed since the stories were written. The Boscome Valley Mystery provides us with the quote, “flying westward at 50 miles an hour”. This would be realistically fast and exciting to a 19th century reader, but to a modern audience it wouldn't be terribly fast compared with the trains we travel on now. It would give the modern audience an interesting comparison in transport technology from now and then. Furthermore, a character in the Speckled Band is described as “having a black top-hat” This is what businessmen in that period often wore, so would relate to a 19th century reader, but would be of historical interest to a modern audience. The language used is also of historical content. Holmes often says, “pray take a seat”, which wouldn't be used in modern terminology. This is something a 19th century audience would relate to because it would be used in their day, but would be of historical interest to a modern reader as words like that aren't used any more. 

Another related post on Much Ado About Nothing: http://custom-paper-writing.com/blog/much-ado-about-nothing-coursework.html.

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