Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League" as a Detective Story



"The Red-Headed League" is one of the 54 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle famous for its detective storyline and art of expression of the same. It first appeared in The Strand Magazine in August 1891, with illustrations by Sidney Paget. Conan Doyle ranked "The Red-Headed League" second in his list of his twelve favorite Holmes stories. It is also the second of the twelve stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which was published in 1892.
“The Red-Headed League” is narrated from the first-person perspective of Dr. Watson, who participates in all aspects of Sherlock Holmes’ case. What makes this narrative style especially clever is that Doyle creates a narrator who sees and hears the same information that Holmes does and who can relay the information systematically to readers, but who cannot interpret it.




Set in 1890, a London business man named Jabez Wilson, a man with red hair, comes to consult Holmes and Watson. He tells them that his young assistant, Vincent Spaulding, some weeks ago had shown him, and urged him to respond, to a newspaper want-ad offering work to only red-headed male applicants. The next morning, Wilson had waited in a long line of fellow red-headed men, was interviewed and was the only applicant hired, because none of the other applicants had hair to match Wilson's red locks.
Wilson, whose business mainly operates in evenings, was well-paid, receiving four pounds a week for several weeks; the work was obviously useless clerical work in a bare office. Finally one morning, a sign on the locked office door inexplicably announced that "THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED."

Wilson then went to the landlord, who said that he'd heard of Duncan Ross, the person who formed the league. The landlord did remember the tenant with scarlet hair and gives him a card which directs Wilson to an artificial knee company. Wilson ends the story with how frustrated he is losing the four-pounds-a-week.

Holmes and Watson laugh a little over the ridiculous situation, but Holmes assures him that by Monday they would have the case solved. After Holmes' client, Wilson, leaves (having given the detective a description of Spaulding), Holmes decides to go and see Spaulding, whom Holmes notices has dirty trouser knees. Holmes then taps on the pavement in front of the pawnbroker's shop. With the case solved, he calls Police Inspector Jones and Mr. Merryweather, a director of the bank located next door.
The four secrete themselves in the bank vault and confront the thieves, John Clay and his helper Archie. Under the alias of Spaulding and Ross, they had contrived the 'Red-Headed League' rigmarole to keep Wilson out of his shop while they dug in the basement, in order to break into the bank vault next door. Back at Baker Street, Holmes explains to Watson how he solved the case.

As we find here, the story begins with exposition, as the case is presented to Holmes. While Holmes investigates the case, forms a theory, and prepares to test this theory, the action rises. The climax comes when Holmes’ theory is demonstrated to be correct because a criminal who would have otherwise escaped detection has been apprehended. Holmes’ explanation to Watson, which fills in missing information and provides a sense of closure because all loose ends have been tied up, serves as the story’s denouement, or falling action.

The movement and meaning of a detective story most often come through the mental and physical operations of the detective, rather than through intricate structures of symbols and images. However, the detective himself can be seen as a concrete symbol of abstract traits the author values, such as intelligence, imagination, curiosity, and unselfishness. Giving humanity to the abstraction are Sherlock Holmes’ character quirks, such as his sense of humor, pipe-smoking (along with a cocaine habit, mentioned in several other stories), musical tastes, and fluctuation between the poetic and energetic poles of his “dual nature.” All these faculties are present in “The Red-Headed League” to place it one of the great detective stories written by him.


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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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