Victorian fear

In this novel, a number of Victorian fears are presented. We see the fear of 'the other' or 'foreignness' presented through the character of Tonga, who is depicted as savage and inherently evil. Conan Doyle also shows fear of darkness - much of the novel is set at night-time when murder, theft and betrayal occur. The Victorian preoccupation with social class and the fear of overstepping social boundaries is also evident and is represented by Watson's concerns about Miss Morstan's potential inheritance.

How does Conan Doyle show this?EvidenceAnalysis
Fear of othernessThe character of Tonga represents a Victorian fear of otherness.This savage, distorted creature.Tonga is presented as less than human. He is 'savage', 'distorted' and murderous, supporting the Victorian belief that other races were somehow inferior and dangerous.
Fear of the underclassThaddeus Sholto keeps himself separate from other social classes and surrounds himself with elegance."I have a natural shrinking from all forms of rough materialism. I seldom come in contact with the rough crowd."Thaddeus embodies the fear of mixing with uncivilised people and surrounds himself with art.
Major John Sholto lives in fear of discoveryConan Doyle shows how greed leaves Sholto in a permanent state of fear.He was very fearful of going out along, and he always employed two prize-fighters to act as porters at Pondicherry Lodge.Sholto lives under a self-imposed house arrest as a result of his greed and fear of being discovered.
Fear of social inequalityWhen he discovers that there will be no suspicion of an ulterior motive, Watson admits his love for Miss Morstan."Thank God!" I ejaculated from my very heart. Watson shouts out in joy and relief when he discovers that there is no inheritance and therefore no 'golden barrier' between him and Miss Morstan.

Analysing the evidence


How important is fear to this novel?

  • Sherlock Holmes is seen as the antidote to fear. He has a scientific and rational approach to solving mysteries.
  • Fear drives Major John Sholto to go into hiding and to cover up the death of Captain Morstan.
  • Watson's fear of appearing dishonourable prevents him from declaring his love to Miss Morstan sooner.