The Sign of the Four and Sherlock Holmes: From the Novel to
The purpose of the following lesson is to facilitate a discussion of the
novel and its larger connections to culture, Doyle's and our own.
The discussion will pick up where we left off on Day One, with a question
and answer session about the "reading" that we elaborated together.
Next, we'll spend some time discussing the novel from others' perspectives--first,
by soliciting students' responses and, second, by considering the three
critical essays on Holmes. Finally, we will explore some images of
Holmes in contemporary popular culture; more specifically, we'll sample
manifestations of Holmes on the Internet. The progress of the lesson,
then, will be from text of the novel, to intellectual or "legitimate" responses,
to the many "illegitimate" uses (Holmes as commodity and marketing gimmick,
pastiches and comic books, and others) that continue to proliferate in
culture. Ultimately, we should have considered the question "What
is the cultural work done by 'Holmes'?" from several angles.
The novel; a brief quiz; essays (excerpts) by Jann, Moretti, and Priestman;
printouts from several webpages devoted to things Sherlockian
Activities and Procedures
1) Pass out five questions and give 5-7 minutes for completion.
To be used in discussion below.
Review of Thursday's Discussion
2) Ask for responses to last week's analysis of the "domestic"
and the "exotic."
Point out how the novel seems also to cancel "romance" through appeal to
"science," while actually incorporating many of the romance's qualities.
To use Jameson's term, there seems to be an "ideology of form" at work
Last piece of textual evidence for this reading: inconsistent explanations
for John Sholto's fortune.
Other Readings of the Novel and/or Holmes
3) Look at quiz together. Solicit answers for the significance
of the items and refer to passages in the novel where those characters/items
What are the ideological subtexts to these elements of the book?
Athelney Jones: 44-45
the sign of the four: 113
Baker Street Irregulars: 66-67
a blow-pipe: 68
a respectable master-mariner: 76
4) Ask for other details of novel that are suggestive or problematic.
How are these connected to larger issues of representation? If no
response, give example of city scenes--Watson on crowded streets (19),
Holmes on the sweet morning air (58), Holmes on crowd of dock-workers (84).
5) Impressions of whole novel? Was this first Holmes narrative
you've read? Did it meet expectations or surprise you? Does
the character of Holmes have the impact you expect?
6) How do the three critics you read for today read Holmes?
Do these readers see things in common? Where do they agree and disagree?
Which piece do you find the most insightful or valuable for your own understanding
Does one piece better exemplify "cultural studies" methods than the others?
According to these critics, what does "Sherlock Holmes" seem to signify?
Holmes on the Net
7) Do you think Holmes still means the same things in contemporary
popular that our critics detect inVictorian society? Perhaps we can
find some "clues" on that fast-growing outlet for popular culture and/or
commercial interests, the Internet.
8) Pass out samples gathered from "top" (or first) 30 webpages--one
sample for every two students.
FYI. The number of webpages returned to the query "Sherlock Holmes"
at Hotbot (a WWW search engine): 20, 529.
9) Spend five minutes analyzing in pairs what was handed out (allowing
students to exchange once from pile of extras if they don't like what they
got). Key questions to consider: What does "Sherlock Holmes"
signify in the representation you have? How does this text use Holmes?
How does it relate the "Victorian" world of "Holmes" to the present?