The third of the four crime novels featuring the famous detective Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was serialised in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902. It is set largely in Dartmoor in Devon, and tells the story of murder and attempted murder committed by a fearsome, supernatural, huge and glowing hound.
Here is an analysis of 7 key characters of the book – Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, Sir Henry Baskerville, Dr James Mortimer, Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore, Jack Stapleton and Laura Lyons – touching on their roles in the novel, and what they each represent.
Who is Sherlock Holmes in the Hound of the Baskervilles and what does he represent?
World-renowned brilliant intellectual and problem-solver Sherlock Holmes conducts his detective work alongside his sidekick Dr John Watson. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, in spite of his posturing, Holmes quickly reveals that he has a somewhat fragile ego. At the beginning of the novel, Mortimer describes him as the second best detective in Europe, to which Holmes asks who could possibly be first. Nonetheless, he consistently commands attention, being praised by Watson for his ingenuity and problem-solving skills, frequently identifying clues that normal people might miss.
In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes purposefully pretends that he has sent Watson alone to investigate the mystery at Baskerville Hall as a way of maintaining his distance. This ultimately allows him to secretly conduct his own research which later on proves essential to solving the crime. Holmes’ brilliance comes at a price, however: his logic means that he is utterly unable to understand art, and can come across as aloof and arrogant. Conan Doyle uses Holmes as a representation of pure, almost machine-like logic that is also quite unemotional.
Who is John Watson in the Hound of the Baskervilles and what does he represent?
Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick Dr John Watson is both an apprentice and a live-in friend. Always on hand to stroke Holmes’ ego, he’s equally adept at investigating clues and helping Holmes solve mysteries. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the pair fulfil each other’s needs, since Holmes needs Watson’s eyes and ears, while Watson feels empowered by Holmes’ brilliance and problem-solving.
In the novel, Watson serves as the story’s narrator, presenting the plot through a series of diary entries and reports written to Sherlock. He is intuitive, but lacks Holmes’ rationality; instead, he is more emotional and even romantic. He shows tender concern for those placed in his care, such as Sir Henry Baskerville, who Holmes has ordered him to follow at all times. For instance, Henry asks Watson to leave him alone so that he can court Beryl Stapleton: however, Watson nonetheless follows him, but at a distance, effectively respecting both Baskerville and Holmes’ wishes. These traits allow him to extract information from key characters
Who is Sir Henry Baskerville in the Hound of the Baskervilles and what does he represent?
The late Sir Charles’ nephew and heir to Baskerville, Henry is a 30-something who had been living in America until the news of his uncle reached him. Upon hearing of the strange circumstances of his uncle’s death, Henry enlists the help of Holmes and Watson to investigate, and despite ominous warnings about the danger of the supposed Hound of Baskerville, he moves into the hall and quickly demonstrates that he refuses to be afraid.
He is described as upstanding and gentlemanly, and though he initially fires Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore for assisting the convict Selden, he later re-employs them after giving them a chance to explain themselves. He even donates his old wardrobe to Mr. Barrymore. By the end of the novel, he is as strained and worn out as his uncle was before he died.
Who is Dr James Mortimer in the Hound of the Baskervilles and what does he represent?
Dr. Mortimer is a house surgeon who left his practice in London to set up a clinic in the Devonshire moors, near Baskerville Hall. A scientific man, he is fascinated by Sherlock Holmes and his mind, but equally believes in the superstitions surrounding the supposed Hound of Baskerville.
He is observant, discovering unnoticed footprints left behind by a dog at the scene of Sir Charles’ death. He is also considerate, sharing information with Holmes and Watson in a delicate manner so as not to upset the locals.
Who are Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore in the Hound of the Baskervilles and what do they represent?
Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore work as a team, and work for the Baskerville family, as they have done for centuries. They nonetheless worry that the new, young master, Sir Henry Baskerville, will make demands of them that they won’t be able to uphold. When Henry and Watson catch them using lanterns to send signals to the escaped murderer Selden, Mr. Barrymore nobly refuses to explain himself because it would incriminate his wife.
Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore’s primary purpose throughout the novel is to provide information about Baskerville Hall’s past and the stories of its past inhabitants, since Sir Henry Baskerville has not been there since he was a small child. They also work as red herrings since they act suspiciously when trying to cover up Selden’s murder.
Who is Jack Stapleton in the Hound of the Baskervilles and what does he represent?
Sir Charles Baskerville’s nephew and Sir Henry Baskerville’s cousin, Jack Stapleton inherited his father’s reportedly immoral behaviour after inheriting a large amount of money, returning to England and marrying Beryl Stapleton. He used the money to open a school which then failed under infamous circumstances, after which the couple changed their name and assumed the identity of brother and sister.
This identity change marks the beginning of Jack’s plans to commit murder as a way of inheriting Baskerville Hall and its accompanying fortune. An active etymologist and botanist, Stapleton is able to use his knowledge of the land and moor to mark out a safe path across the marshy parts of the moor, where he hides his terrifying hound. His knowledge of science also allows him to access phosphorous. A man willing to do whatever it takes to gain the Baskerville fortune, he is eventually unmasked as the murderous villain of the story.
Chapters of The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 1
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 2
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 3
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 4
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 5
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 6
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 7
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 8
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 9
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 10
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 11
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 12
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 13
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 14
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Chapter 15
For a broad summary of the novel and its key themes, click here.