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Essay: Hybrid novels – ‘The Sign of Four’ and ‘Beach of Falesa’

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  • Published: 25 July 2022*
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The term “hybrid” can be defined as the mixing of genres and styles of writing. It is regarded as a blend of genres within one text. We see Gothic fiction, which is a style and genre that has elements of fear, death and gloom. It can even have romantic aspects like high intensity of emotions and nature. Detective fiction is a genre that looks to solve a crime, with the writer giving clues, challenging the audience, before finally revealing the answer through the characters and the storyline, at the end of the novel.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s works featuring Sherlock Holmes are today regarded as amongst the greatest detective fiction ever written. However, prior to these works “detective fiction was not a genre that was known or written. Sixty years ago, Edgar Allen Poe, made a vast amount of progress in introducing and making popular a detective novel, with Auguste Dupin. Doyle was very open about his admiration for Poe. Doyle was also writing gothic tales prior to writing the Sherlock Holmes series.

The sign of four is set in the suburbs of London, giving the reader ideas of another location in the final chapter where Jonathan Smalls relays his story. London is conveyed in an extremely gothic atmosphere, which only intensifies the sense of mystery and danger in the story. The city is shown as a broody, dull place, covered in “dense drizzly fog,” with the lamps reflecting only “splotches of diffused light.” The setting is reflective of the arrangement of the story. The barely visible London streets represent the mystery of the case at the heart of the novel. Holmes is trying to bring out the light to the unknown through his work. The city is described as having “monster tentacles.” This showcases the Victorian gothic idea of the monstrous and unknown, in turn characterizing the story of the treasure and those who wish to attain it as outside of the usual norms of society.

While the genre of detective fiction was not commonplace in the Victorian era, the story, in describing a “domestic interior, familiar to so many of its readers” could be seen as comforting. “221B Bakers street serves as a marker of domestic security in an unpredictable and sometimes frightening world”. We are told at the very beginning of the novel that Holmes is a drug addict,and injects himself in the drawing room that for millions of readers, has become the familiar home of the most famous consulting detective in the world.

Holmes, solving a mystery brought to him by Mary, allows the tale to be considered as within the detective fiction genre. The character of Mary and the backdrop of the dark streets of London especially the gloomy, castle-like Pondicherry Lodge; the search for lost treasure; and the exotic, Orientalist elements of the Indian islands link it to a gothic romance. Therefore, the sign of four could be considered as both a Gothic tale and a detective story. Doyle makes use of various conventions from the Victorian Gothic genre to further heighten the mystery. Doyle uses the elements of gothic fiction and allows them to serve several functions. He allows the usage of the gothic to heighten the tense atmosphere and he plays to the readers expectations.

With Pondicherry Lodge, the home of the deceased Major Sholto, Doyle intensifies the gothic horror aspect. It draws the reader deeper into the story, implying that there is more going on than meets the eye. These darker elements of the story build a sense of foreboding and danger. Pondicherry Lodge follows conventions of Gothic horror. Holmes, Dr Watson, Miss Morstan and Thaddeus Sholto arrive there at night, with only the moon to provide lighting. The house is situated inside a “very high stone wall” and is only entered by an “iron clamped door.” This feeling of being hidden away and kept in the dark, like the London setting discussed above, can be read as a direct representation of the story. Holmes and Watson, at this point in the story, are on the “outside” of the knowledge required to solve the mystery of the sign of the four, trying to figure out a way in. Once inside, Holmes leads his worried companions through the building by simply using a lamp. As they go deeper into the house, the sense of foreboding increases aligning with the gothic technique of slowly rising tension through the exploration and travelling of the passageways. Towards the end of this journey into the crevices of the home, Holmes discovers the body of Bartholomew Sholto, which has remained in a horrifying, smirking position. They find him in a laboratory, which seems to allude towards that of Frankenstein’s lab in the novel of the exact same name. Doyle has introduced elements from the Victorian gothic imagination into the setting of The Sign of the Four that requires Holmes’ skills and by introducing a sense of the uncanny.

Perhaps Doyle’s use of Victorian gothic ideas can explain the character of Tonga. Gothic convention usually dictates that the story needs a supernatural embodiment of evil. Though Tonga is a human, Doyle’s characterizations and descriptions of him make him just about human and envelop him with a strong sense of the uncanny. This is through his peculiar appearance; he is quite grotesque and strikingly short which sets him apart in contrast to the other characters. “Additionally, his mysterious story of where he came from and his use of blow darts as a lethal weapon alienate him from the standard culture of Victorian England. This seemingly plays on the Victorian fears of “the other,” which remains suspicious of what is not considered the norm and unknown.

There is also an association in the Victorian imagination between the “savage” and the practice of witchcraft and wizardry. There is a link between the Victorian fear of “the other” with the gothic nature of the supernatural. Elements of the gothic genre are blended with Doyle’s detective fiction to intensify the atmosphere of mystery. This played up to Victorian society.

The beach of Falesa can be considered a hybrid work, due to it being too short as a novel and far too long to be a shorter story. Its content and genres also allow it to be classed a hybrid novel, mixing realism alongside adventure. It even gives a place to supernatural. The writing style within the story however might not be classed to be of hybrid nature. This is because there is a first person past tense narrative. However, in certain areas such as when Uma tells Wiltshire about the legends in relation to the wilder part of the island, there is a shift in the realism that the narrative originally presented. Her voice is still mostly looked at through Wiltshire’s narrative, as it is often translated into “plain English”.

While the plot of “Beach of Falesa” uses supernatural elements such as the taboo around Wiltshire’s home and the islander’s undeniable belief in Tiapolo, Stevenson gives these a far more realistic perspective. Written in 1893, Wiltshire indented to take a more realistic approach when dealing with these texts, in order to move away from some of his earlier works that incorporated far less of realism. The beginning of the story immediately enshrouds the reader with the romantic elements of encountering the pacific island, and then soon after shows us a more realistic approach towards the problems of previous foreign traders. It is evident that Stevenson drew upon the travel writing and adventure traditions and the expectations of his readers, soon after showing them a harsher more realistic account of the seemingly beautiful island.

The novel also tries to make clear the hybridity within the novel. It is evident that Stevenson uses tongue and slang, Samoan ones. His story attempts to realistically approach pidgin English, which developed on the shorelines, between various networks. For lots of individuals this was the in the story Uma utilizes an English-based pidgin to speak with her better half Wiltshire. Stevenson’s endeavour to recreate pidgin English mirrors his dedication toward realism in the story. Wiltshire and Uma’s residential life is portrayed in a sensible manner. With Wiltshire talking in standard casual English; Uma utilizing basic structure of pidgin English; alternate points of view on the bible’s capacity to secure reflects both miscommunication and a typical perspective. the comprehension of home and abroad are both predominant in the beach of falesá as is the marriage of the hero john Wiltshire to the island local Uma. such associations were normal in the settlements or the south seas in a way that would not have been conceivable at home in light of the social differences. Despite the fact that the utilization of paint and other conjuring traps was not unfathomable in England at the time it could barely have been utilized to trick a whole society as occurs on the island. Wiltshire’s overall absence of worry for the lawful or different outcomes of plotting to explode case’s sanctuary in the wilderness where case overwhelms and captivates the locals. at the point when case stands up to Wiltshire and a battle follows Wiltshire murders case and winds up living cheerily on another island. such things can happen abroad with far less dangers and results than in England where plotting to explode a man’s development and executing him when he opposes would likely not go unpunished.

To conclude, both of these texts are for the most part, hybrid novels. They both bring in elements that have not been previously bought together, crossing the barriers of what would normally be expected by their audience. Each of these novels did something different, something that was not traditionally done. By bringing together these genres, it is reflective of the constant hybrid nature that each of these novels reflect. The contents of the novels are just as varied as the genres. While the writing style in beach of Falesa may not be considered a hybrid, it can still be considered a hybrid novel due to the genres


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