Analysing narrative voice in an extract

Notes asking questions on narrative voice when analysing an extract pinned on a noticeboard being looked at by young man.


In this extract, taken from Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel A Study in Scarlet, the narrator Dr. Watson shares his impressions of Sherlock Holmes with the reader. What is the effect of the narrative voice in this extract?

As the weeks went by, my interest in him and my curiosity as to his aims in life, gradually deepened and increased. His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination. His hands were invariably blotted with ink and stained with chemicals, yet he was possessed of extraordinary delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observe when I watched him manipulating his fragile philosophical instruments. The reader may set me down as a hopeless busybody, when I confess how much this man stimulated my curiosity, and how often I endeavoured to break through the reticence which he showed on all that concerned himself. Before pronouncing judgment, however, be it remembered, how objectless was my life, and how little there was to engage my attention. My health forbade me from venturing out unless the weather was exceptionally genial, and I had no friends who would call upon me and break the monotony of my daily existence. Under these circumstances, I eagerly hailed the little mystery which hung around my companion, and spent much of my time in endeavouring to unravel it.

A Study in Scarlett, Arthur Conan Doyle

  • The character of Sherlock Holmes is presented to the reader through the eyes of Dr. Watson and our impression of his character is controlled by his judgement.
  • The choice of vocabulary shows Dr. Watson’s admiration of Holmes. His eyes are “sharp and piercing…” and he is a “…man of determination…”
  • The choice of a bird simile to describe Holmes' appearance, “his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision…”, shows that the narrative voice is keen to focus on the character’s intelligence.
  • The first person narrator, Dr. Watson, addresses us directly - “The reader may set me down as a hopeless busybody…” This makes the reader feel more involved in the story and feel a warmth for the honesty of the narrator.
  • Our affection for the narrator is further developed by his confession of having “…no friends who would call upon me…” We, as the readers, feel as if we are being invited into this world, sharing the thoughts and feelings of the narrator.
  • We share his interest in the mystery of Holmes’s character - “…I eagerly hailed the little mystery which hung around my companion…” The use of the adverb ‘eagerly’ gives Dr. Watson an enthusiasm that endears him to the reader.
  • The narrative voice of Dr. Watson establishes the reader’s fascination in the character of Sherlock Holmes - “…my interest in him and my curiosity…” The use of the personal pronouns here deepens our connection with Watson, the reader also feels a sense of curiosity. This effect would not have been achieved with the use of the third person perspective.
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