A Study in Scarlet

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A Study in Scarlet
First edition in annual cover, 1887
AuthorSir Arthur Conan Doyle
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesSherlock Holmes
GenreDetective fiction, crime, mystery, novel
PublisherWard Lock
Publication date
1887 in annual (1888 in book form)

A Study in Scarlet is a detective mystery novel written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It introduces his new characters, the detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend, Dr. John Watson. They became two of the most famous characters in literature.

Conan Doyle wrote the story in 1886, and it was published the next year. Holmes describes the story's murder investigation as his "study in scarlet": "There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it".[1]

The story and its main characters attracted little public interest when it first appeared. It was published in Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887. Only 11 complete copies of the Annual exist now, and they have considerable value.[2] Although Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories about Holmes, A Study in Scarlet is one of only four full-length Holmes novels. The novel was followed by The Sign of the Four, published in 1890.

A Study in Scarlet was the first work of detective fiction to have the magnifying glass as an investigative tool.[3]

Original illustration of Holmes with magnifying glass

Plot[change | change source]

1881 Dr John H Watson having received a medical degree is attached to the British army war in Afghanistan; however after being badly wounded and stricken with fever, he is sent back to England with a half-pay pension for a year. Finding that he must move to cheaper lodgings, he makes the acquaintance of Sherlock Holmes -an eccentric student of chemistry and crime; this however is a sideline-Holmes real profession is that of a private consulting detective-with an extraordinary memory for both observation and knowledge Holmes can deduce both a persons profession and where they have been. Detective Gregson of Scotland Yard letters Holmes to consult him on a murder case. Holmes and Watson go to the scene of the crime-Holmes deduces that the victim Enoch Drebber had been poisoned; that the murderer smoke cigars; was over six feet tall and had a florid complexion, and that the cause of the murder was a woman. Despite a false start, Holmes tries to trap the killer with a fake ring advertisement but fails. The second murder is of secretary Joseph Strangerson who was stabbed in his hotel room. One clue is a small pillbox containing two pills-one harmless and one a poison. Holmes has a cabman try to lift his trunk-and arrests the cabman Jefferson Hope by name as the killer. Taken to Scotland Yard, Hope- who is dying from a weak heart- confesses: over twenty years before he was engaged to marry the daughter of a wealthy farmer in Salt Lake City Utah; however Strangerson killed the father and Drebber forced the girl to marry him; she died within a month of a broken heart; Hope vowed revenge and after many years traced Drebber and Strangerson to Cleveland Ohio; the now wealthy Drebber had Hope imprisoned; when Hope was released he found that Drebber and Strangerson fled to Europe-; St Petersburg Russia; Cobenhagen Denmark; Paris, France and then to London. Hope got himself hired as a Cabman so he could spy out his query. Drebber and Stragerson split up; the drunken Drebber gets himself thrown out of his boarding house for trying to court the landlady's daughter. Hope takes Drebber in his cab to the murder scene and confronts Drebber with his real identity. He then forces Drebber to take a pill while he eats the second one. Drebber dies looking at his wives wedding ring; Hope then goes after Strangerson and offers him the same choice-Starangerson tries to strangle Hope who stabs him. Hope decides to earn a little more money to go back to America even though he admits he has nothing left to live for having accomplished his revenge, when he hears a Baker Street Irregeler [a gang of boy spies employed by Holmes] inquire for him by name for a cab job. That very night Hopes heart bursts in his cell; after Holmes and Watson read about it in the newspaper Watson begins to write for the public an 18-year career of Holmes consulting work.

References[change | change source]

  1. Conan Doyle A. A Study in Scarlet, Chapter 4.
  2. "bestofsherlock.com, Beeton's Christmas Annual 1887: An Annotated Checklist and Census". Bestofsherlock.com. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  3. Sweeney, Susan Elizabeth (2003). "The magnifying glass: spectacular distance in Poe's "Man of the Crowd" and beyond". Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism. 36 (1–2): 3. doi:10.1111/j.1754-6095.2003.tb00146.x. S2CID 161345856.