The Speckled Band Essay
The Speckled Band
Both ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ and ‘The Speckled Band’ share some of the characteristics of murder mysteries. Explain the similarities and differences between the two stories and say which story you think is more compelling to read. ‘T he Speckled Band’ was written in 1892 during Queen Victoria’s reign over Britain. At the time the aristocratic society was paranoid about crime and rumours and myths about murderers such as ‘Jack the Ripper’ did not help.
The squalid chaos of a city (London) that hadn’t changed much since Tudor times, with it’s dark narrow alleyways and badly lit streets created a haven for murderers, rapists, prostitutes and petty thieves. The arrival of a ‘super sleuth’ character was obviously going to appeal to the literary clique. Sherlock Holmes was the solution to all their problems although in reality the Police Force was failing badly. In contrast ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ was written in a completely different era – post-war, Elizabethan Britain, a period where attitudes and the Police Force had developed considerably from Conan Doyle’s Victorian London.
The nation’s feeling had changed and had become more tolerant of women and including them more in a previously male world. However, the ‘perfect housewife’ was still many women’s idea of life. This is reflected in Mary Maloney, the ‘stay at home’ idealistic wife and her devotion to her husband who, does not return this and wants to leave her for another woman. In ‘The Speckled Band’ the mood is of heightened tension and curiosity as Dr Watson’s daily routine is interrupted by the arrival of Miss Stoner, the stepdaughter of Dr Grimesby Roylott of Stoke Moran.
She tells them of the demise of her sister Julia, the low whistle, the gypsies and the wild animals that the Doctor keeps. Holmes then receives a visit from Dr Roylott who threatens Holmes and Watson not to ‘meddle in my affairs’. Holmes and Watson then immediately travel to Stoke Moran, heedless of the Doctor’s warning, and go to see Miss Stoner in the family home. When they arrive, Holmes tells Miss Stoner about Dr Roylott’s visit: ‘… good heavens… he is so cunning that I never know when I am safe from him… ‘ and they go and explore the manor.
They learn that Miss Stoner is now sleeping When they are in Miss Helen Stoner’s room, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson find no reason for her to be moved out of her room. Whilst in Miss Julia Stoner’s room, there Holmes finds clues as to the cause of her death but does not tell Watson or Miss Stoner what he thinks. Holmes then tells Miss Stoner to spend the night in the local Inn while he and Dr Watson try to catch Dr Roylott. When Dr Roylott sets the Swamp Adder through the ventilator and down the bell rope Holmes beats it back and it bites Dr Roylott killing him.
‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ is very different as the atmosphere is relaxed and contented with the six-month pregnant Mary Maloney waiting patiently for her husband to come home. She is sewing and has a whiskey and soda ready for Patrick Maloney’s homecoming and all of this amounts to the feeling of peace. In ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ Mary Maloney, Patrick Maloney’s wife, is waiting for him to come home from work. He tells her that he wants to leave her for another woman, she then goes to make dinner and pulls out a leg of lamb. Mary Maloney then hits her husband with the lamb and kills him.
She then goes down to the grocers to give herself an alibi. She then comes home and rings the Police who conduct the investigation but end up eating the evidence: the leg of lamb. However some of the ways that Roald Dahl uses to describe Mary Maloney act as a warning as to what might happen: ‘… curiously tranquil… ‘ this suggests that there is something odd about her as being tranquil is not normally tranquil. Also, ‘… there was a slow smiling air about her… ‘ this has mysterious connotations and implies that there is something more to Mary Maloney than the reader first thinks.
Dr Roylott is a very violent and psychotic character who has heated fits of rage: ‘Don’t you dare to meddle with my affairs… I am a dangerous man to fall foul of… ‘. He is a physically huge man who uses intimidation to force people to do things. When Dr Roylott hears of Miss Helen Stoner’s proposed marriage, she suddenly dies, this indicates that because his late wife (and the girl’s mother) left them money to be given to them when they got married. Dr Roylott is on a very small income and if the girls got married then he would be broke.
Also he is a huge broad man who is very strong and capable of bending Holmes’ iron poker. Conan Doyle makes it very obvious from the start that Dr Roylott is capable of murder and our suspicions are correct, he is the only character in the story who would murder. Dr Roylott is not successful because although he manages to kill Julia Stoner but before he can dispose of Helen Stoner Sherlock Holmes solves the case and accidentally kills Dr Roylott. Dr Roylott is not very believable in this day and age because the Victorian’s view of a murderer was a shifty looking character either very small and rat like or large and vicious.
However nowadays we know that murderers can be anyone. Because of the Victorian’s etiquette rules and views, a female killer in Conan Doyle’s books would have caused a stir. However in Lamb to the Slaughter women were allowed a much freer role and so the idea of them becoming murderers was ‘accepted’ by the readers. In both of the stories the villains (Dr Roylott and Mary Maloney) control the people around them, Dr Roylott controls people by threatening them with physical violence whereas Mary Maloney uses subtle emotional actions to convince the Police that she’s innocent.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 12 October 2017
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