Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-5d6d958fb5-rfz7g Total loading time: 0.188 Render date: 2022-11-28T18:16:54.152Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": false, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

12 - Nice, Amiable People!

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2021

Andrew Glazzard
Affiliation:
Royal United Services Institute
Get access

Summary

The Sign of Four was Conan Doyle's second attempt at rewriting Wilkie Collins's landmark detective novel The Moonstone. His first, published between A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, was The Mystery of Cloomber (1888), a short novel that Doyle later came to regard as mere apprentice work. It is certainly derivative: its setting in a coastal village in south-west Scotland is strongly redolent of Stevenson, with an atmosphere recalling that of some of Doyle's favourites, such as ‘The Pavilion on the Links’ (1880). Technically, though, it follows Collins in its use of multiple narrators presenting their testimony, some of which takes the form of legalised witness statements and other official documents. But the influence of Collins is even more apparent in The Mystery of Cloomber's characters, plot and orientalist tropes. Like The Moonstone, it features a fugitive soldier haunted by a dark secret from his days of Indian service, a trio of mysterious Indians determined to fulfil a sacred trust, and a climactic scene at a sinister and remote watery location. All of these elements appear again in one form or another in The Sign of Four, albeit with the Indian trio becoming warlike and pragmatic Sikhs rather than mystical Hindus or Buddhists, and acquiring an Englishman to become a multiracial quartet. Furthermore, The Sign of Four adds further elements drawn from The Moonstone, including a wronged heiress, a cursed treasure and a killer gaining access to the victim via a trapdoor in the roof.

In terms of literary history, the most significant common factor in the three novels is their imperialist contexts, specifically Britain's wars in India. The primal scene of The Moonstone takes place during the Siege of Seringapatam at the end of the Fourth Anglo- Mysore War (1798–9): the siege provides an opportunity for the wicked Colonel John Herncastle to commit murder and then make offwith an enormous diamond which, unbeknownst to him, has great mystical significance. The genesis of the curse in The Mystery of Cloomber is a great imperial defeat: Britain's disastrous experiences in Afghanistan, now dubbed the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–42), during which Doyle's brutal General Heatherstone kills a Buddhist priest trying to stop the vengeful slaughter of a troop of defeated Afridis.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Case of Sherlock Holmes
Secrets and Lies in Conan Doyle's Detective Fiction
, pp. 125 - 137
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2018

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×