The story's villain (Dr. Grimesby Roylott) does not want his stepdaughters to marry, as he would have to give them their inheritance. The stepfather wants to keep "ownership" of the women, and when it appears they will "leave him" for another man by getting married, he plots to kill them. It also comments on the close relationship between marriage and money. After all, it was still difficult for women to be financially dependent.
- Is this merely a plot device, or a critique of patriarchy in the Victorian era?
“The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is filled with examples of otherness and fear of foreign things. It starts out with the parents: Helen’s mother, Mrs. Stoner, married Dr. Roylott while they were living in India (294). This is one of the first facts we get about Dr. Roylott and it continues to come up throughout the mystery. Dr. Roylott’s association and fascination with India is never forgotten.
After Mrs. Stoner’s death, Dr. Roylott shut himself up in the mansion and has “no friends at all save the wandering gypsies…wandering away with them sometimes for weeks on end” (295). The gypsies, presented in this story as people who are not white, English, Christians, are originally suspected by Helen in the death of her sister. Helen believes Julia was referring to “the spotted handkerchiefs which so many of them wear of their heads” when she screamed about “the speckled band” as she was dying (298).
At the heart of this story are the murder of Julia and the attempted murder of Helen. While Dr. Roylott is the man who organized these events, it was an exotic animal he owned that that carried out the actual murder. It is mentioned a few times that Dr. Roylott “has at this moment a cheetah and a baboon, which wander freely over the grounds and are feared by the villagers” and the two sisters (295). Holmes suspected a snake owned by Dr. Roylott was responsible for Julia’s death when he combined the suspicious ventilator and fake bell-rope with his “knowledge that the doctor was furnished with a supply of creatures from India” (310).
- How does this story address the issues of xenophobia and Postcolonialism/the Other? Think specifically about Dr. Roylott-his "Eastern" training, fascination with Indian animals and the gypsies that live outside the house.
- How important is the fact that the deadly weapon was not only an animal, but an animal from a foreign country, instead of Dr. Roylott himself?
Dr. Roylott is killed with his own weapon and as Holmes puts it, "Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another" (309). Roylott is a victim of karma, but he is not only being punished for killing his niece. It also seems he is being punished for meddling with dangerous (foreign) animals.
The story ends with Holmes saying "I am no doubt indirectly responsible for Dr. Grimesby Roylott's death, and I cannot say that it is likely to weigh very heavily upon my conscience" (311). He admits he indirectly caused Roylott's death but he doesn't feel guilty about it, presumably because Roylott brought it on himself and deserved it. It is also important that Holmes is a private detective and does not work for the government, as his actions may have been different if he had.
- Did Roylott deserve to die? Should Holmes have prevented his death and arrested him? What does this say about Holmes as a character, and his vision of justice?
- Was Roylott merely being punished for killing his niece, or for his interest in foreign affairs as a whole?
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