The Sign of the Four - Sample exam question

The question

How does Conan Doyle present the character of Sherlock Holmes in this extract?

Write about:

  • how Conan Doyle presents Holmes in this extract
  • how Conan Doyle presents Holmes later in the novel

The extract

"Why should you, for a mere passing pleasure, risk the loss of those great powers with which you have been endowed? Remember that I speak not only as one comrade to another, but as a medical man to one for whose constitution he is to some extent answerable."

He did not seem offended. On the contrary, he put his finger-tips together and leaned his elbows on the arms of his chair, like one who has a relish for conversation.

"My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, - or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world."

"The only unofficial detective?" I said, raising my eyebrows.

"The only unofficial consulting detective," he answered. "I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection."

From Chapter 1

Before you go on to the next page, make some initial notes on the extract.


  • What is Holmes like in this extract?
  • Which words or phrases show us that he is an intelligent character?
  • How does this portrayal of Holmes compare to the other times when we meet him in the story?