The Criminal Body
Ronald R. Thomas writes about England’s national needs and interests in the 1890’s and how the literary detective was able to enlighten the nation with the truth about criminals and foreigners. As xenophobia was rising in the country, there was a lot more hostility towards foreigners who were conveniently being described as criminals based on anatomical observations. Havelock Ellis was able to identify who was a criminal with a system he used to study the anatomy of the body based on characteristics of the human body. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle reiterated and expanded on many of the interpretations of Ronald R. Thomas and ideas of Havelock Ellis during the Victorian Era.
The first point that Thomas claims in his essay is that “the common assumption shared by [Ellis and Doyle] is that the criminal is indeed scientifically desirable and recognizable” (662). To support his claim that specific physical characteristics of a person can reveal his or her identity as a criminal, Thomas uses the plot of both “A Study in Scarlet” and “The Sign of Four” and writes, “The criminal is determined by the detective to be a foreigner by the bodily traces that the suspect leaves at the scene of the crime (a blood stain and a footprint, respectively)” (661). Thomas’s examples provide instances where Sherlock Holmes uses Ellis’ ideas of the study of physiognomy to discover who a criminal was.
Additionally, Thomas could have also explored the idea that not only do the Sherlock Holmes stories provide examples where the criminal is scientifically describable and recognizable, but they provide examples where Holmes uses his detective eye and knowledge of anatomy to identify criminals and victims ...
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... cry, and one which is used between Australians (106).” Holmes used a map to determine that the murderer is from the Australian city, Ballarat. Holmes utilized his knowledge of another ethnicity and was able to determine that Mr. John Turner, of Australia, was the murderer. Making Turner the foreign criminal in “The Boscombe Valley,” supports Ellis’ ideas because it was important to create separation between Europeans and non-Europeans, as imperialism was taking rise in England during this time. Creating a physiologically identifiable foreigner, who coincidentally was also a criminal was extremely important in promoting national security during this imperial time. Ultimately, Doyle not only incorporated Thomas’s claims about Ellis’ connection of physiognomy with race, but he expanded on Ellis’ ideas and defined the criminal body as being one of a foreign ethnicity.
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