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English Literature   >   Conan Doyle: The Sign of Four


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Conan Doyle: The Sign of Four

In this course, Dr Christopher Pittard (University of Portsmouth) explores Arthur Conan Doyle's second Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of Four (1890). We begin by providing a broad introduction to the novel, exploring how the novel came to be commissioned by Lippincott's Magazine, Doyle's decision to reuse the character of Holmes from a previous novel, and his engagement with contemporary ideas about criminality and inheritance. In the second module, we think about Holmes' deductive method, focusing in particular on the first chapter of the novel – 'The Science of Deduction' – and considering the extent to which Holmes' method is as scientific as he thinks it is. In the third module, we explore the historical events that form the background of the novel, focusing in particular on the Indian Rebellion of 1857, before turning in the fourth module to consider the extent to which The Sign of Four might be described as an imperial Gothic novel. In the final module, we provide a close reading of the climactic scene of the novel – the boat chase down the Thames in Chapter 10 – focusing in particular on the character of the Andaman Islander, Tonga.


In this module, we provide a broad introduction to Doyle's The Sign of Four (1890), focusing in particular on the commissioning of the novel, the character of Sherlock Holmes, the concept of inherited criminality as expressed by Cesare Lombroso and Francis Galton, and the narrative structure of the novel.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Pittard, C. (2018, August 15). Conan Doyle: The Sign of Four - Introduction [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Pittard, C. "Conan Doyle: The Sign of Four – Introduction." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,


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Dr Christopher Pittard

Portsmouth University