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2 - The Roylotts of Stoke Moran

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2021

Andrew Glazzard
Affiliation:
Royal United Services Institute
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Summary

Dr Grimesby Roylott, the wicked stepfather in ‘The Speckled Band’, is one of Conan Doyle's most grotesque, gothic villains. Like several other evildoers in the Holmes stories – Jonathan Small in The Sign of Four, Colonel Barclay in ‘The Adventure of the Crooked Man’ (1893), Colonel Sebastian Moran in ‘The Empty House’ – Roylott has gone bad in the East. Having established a medical practice in Calcutta, he narrowly avoided execution after beating his servant to death in a fit of rage: his stepdaughter Helen Stoner tells Holmes that ‘[v]iolence of temper approaching to mania has been hereditary in the men of the family, and in my stepfather's case it had, I believe, been intensified by his long residence in the tropics’ (175). After serving a prison sentence in India, he returned to England ‘a morose and disappointed man’ (175), and attempted to put his medical knowledge to good use by establishing a new medical practice in London. But following the death of his wife in a railway accident at Crewe – an event that the alert reader will surely suspect may not have been entirely accidental – he abandoned his business and retired with his two stepdaughters to the ancient family seat at Stoke Moran in Surrey. There, Roylott has inflicted his violent temper on his neighbours in a series of brawls, while creating a safari park among the decaying grounds and collapsing seventeenth-century mansion of his inherited estate: ‘He has a passion also for Indian animals, which are sent over to him by a correspondent, and he has at this moment a cheetah and a baboon, which wander freely over his grounds, and are feared by the villagers almost as much as their master’ (176). At the climax of the story, we discover that Roylott has another tropical creature in his collection: a swamp adder, the weapon used to murder Helen Stoner's twin-sister Julia two years before the story begins, and which Roylott intended to use against Helen – only to be fatally bitten himself after Holmes causes the snake to return back to its master's bedroom through the ventilator which was its route to the scene of the crime.

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The Case of Sherlock Holmes
Secrets and Lies in Conan Doyle's Detective Fiction
, pp. 20 - 29
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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