My Sherlock Holmes course finished up The Hound of the Baskervilles earlier this week--we're about to watch the Rathbone/Bruce adaptation--and, as usual, a lot of the discussion centered around the novel's reworking of Gothic tropes. This time around, I realized something about the following exchange from chap. 3:
"I could not call you in, Mr. Holmes, without disclosing these facts to the world, and I have already given my reasons for not wishing to do so. Besides, besides --"
"Why do you hesitate?"
"There is a realm in which the most acute and most experienced of detectives is helpless."
"You mean that the thing is supernatural?"
"I did not positively say so."
"No, but you evidently think it."
"Since the tragedy, Mr. Holmes, there have come to my ears several incidents which are hard to reconcile with the settled order of Nature."
"I find that before the terrible event occurred several people had seen a creature upon the moor which corresponds with this Baskerville demon, and which could not possibly be any animal known to science. They all agreed that it was a huge creature, luminous, ghastly, and spectral. I have cross-examined these men, one of them a hard-headed countryman, one a farrier, and one a moorland farmer, who all tell the same story of this dreadful apparition, exactly corresponding to the hell-hound of the legend. I assure you that there is a reign of terror in the district, and that it is a hardy man who will cross the moor at night."
"And you, a trained man of science, believe it to be supernatural?"
"I do not know what to believe."
Holmes shrugged his shoulders.
"I have hitherto confined my investigations to this world," said he. "In a modest way I have combated evil, but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task. Yet you must admit that the footmark is material."
"The original hound was material enough to tug a man's throat out, and yet he was diabolical as well."
"I see that you have quite gone over to the supernaturalists. But now, Dr. Mortimer, tell me this. If you hold these views why have you come to consult me at all? You tell me in the same breath that it is useless to investigate Sir Charles's death, and that you desire me to do it."
For readers of Victorian and Edwardian Gothic, this exchange should ring some bells. Nineteenth-c. Gothic frequently pits the skeptical professional man--the doctor, the lawyer, eventually the professor--against incursions of the supernatural. The professional man is usually an empiricist, but is also someone confident of his ability to control and reorganize his surroundings, whether through drugs or through language. To survive, the professional must undergo a conversion experience of sorts to the reality of ghosts, goblins, and whatnot, and then take the appropriate (evasive) action. (Or, as I put it some time ago, "When the paintings move, so should you.") If The Hound of the Baskervilles were straight-up Gothic, then Dr. Mortimer's going "over to the supernaturalists" would be the correct response to the situation, whereas Holmes would be heading for certain death. However, Doyle also makes the doctors insufficient to the task of figuring out the trick; Watson, who resists the supernatural explanation by dint of "common sense," falls prey to his own Gothic prose (practically reversing the original trope--instead of failing to control that which is beyond control, the doctor constructs the supernatural atmosphere for himself and nearly gives in to that).