Blog 3: Sample Blog Post 2

Written by Ashley Robinson on . Posted in Sample Blogs

Holmes and his Addiction

In their article, “Addiction, Empire, and Narrative in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four,” Christopher Keep and Don Randall relate the second Sherlock Holmes novel to a variety of topics relevant during the Victorian era. Among these, the authors discuss the image of the British Empire, how their drug exportation affects this image, what Sherlock Holmes represents with regard to this, and the overall impact of addictive substances on the British colonial holdings. Keep and Randall accomplish this mighty task with for major punctures, humorously referred to as punctures.

The first puncture, as the authors state immediately, serves to “connect addiction to the policing of otherness that occurs through the science of deduction” (Keep and Randall 209). In layman’s terms, Keep and Randall aim to reveal what Holmes’ drug use says about his character. Keep and Randall use quotes from the book to describe Holmes’ cocaine use as necessary to keep his mind exalted during the periods of intense boredom when there is not a case to solve. More importantly, the paragraph begins references to influences of the Orient on London. This specifically occurs when the authors discuss Watson’s interchangeable understanding of opium and cocaine. Although vastly different in origin and composition, the doctor speaks of them as if they both hail from Britain’s eastern holdings (Keep and Randall 308-211).

The second puncture addresses the image of the British Empire. Keep and Randall claim that the references to the India mutiny bring up the intense challenge to the colonial authority of the British Empire accompanied by the brief uprising. The references, according to the authors, furthermore dramatize the orientalness of parts of London, exacerbated by Holmes and Watson’s trip to an undesirable oriental neighborhood of the great city (Keep and Randall 211-214).

Tonga as portrayed in an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes' The Sign of Four

Tonga as portrayed in an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes’ The Sign of Four

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The third puncture relates the character Tonga and his grotesque body to the racial makeup of London. Essentially, each of the characters associated with the orient have some sort of grotesque facial or body feature. The author describes the character as having a mix of features present in both animals and cocaine addicts, thus continuing the connection between cocaine and the Middle East (Keep and Randall 214-216).  Lastly, the fourth puncture discusses the ending of The Sign of Four. The authors make claims that because the savage, Tonga, and the Agra treasure continue to lie at the bottom of the River Thames they will forever remain a part of the city. More metaphorically, the Middle Eastern influences from the empires colonial holdings will forever remain.  The authors go even further in their comparison of the river Thames as a gateway between the great city of London and the empire (Keep and Randall 216-219).

To read this article for yourself visit the following link: “Addiction, Empire, and Narrative…”.

Christopher Keep and Don Randall’s article makes several great points with regards to the underlying meaning of The Sign of Four. Imperialism and its effects on society was a huge topic of discussion during the Victorian Era. With British holdings approaching one fourth of the world, the issue was even more important to the citizens of the empire. The series of punctures described by Randall and Keep each bring out excellent points. In the first, the paragraph describing Holmes drug addiction, the authors do a fair job creating their point. One can easily imagine Sherlock Holmes’ mind being in such need of excitement that the great detective would stoop to using cocaine as an alternative. The point regarding Watson and his description of cocaine and heroin as being similar is even more brilliant. This paragraph resonates because it is entirely true. During the Victorian Era, drugs were viewed as a poison from the East, no matter if the particular drug actually originated in Canada. The same can be seen in modern society in the treatment of those from the Middle East, especially since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Overall, the points made are excellent and contribute to the overall idea of the article.

During the third puncture, the authors bring up another great point involving Tonga, the little savage from the story. This one remains memorable due to its use of character symbolism, my favorite tool for literary analysis. Their point about the grotesque facial features is an excellent one. Described with “a great misshapen head” and “glow[ing]…eyes” (qtd from Keep and Randall 214), Tonga can easily creep out any reader. This is why the symbolism works. The mix of features between and animals and cocaine addicts is perfectly reasonable. The similarities further the connection between cocaine addicts and the empire’s oriental holdings.

My favorite, and by far the best argument presented is the last puncture. Keep and Randall remark upon the symbolism of the river Thames and more importantly, what lies at the bottom. During the final moments of the novel, Tonga joins the Agra treasure at the bottom of the Thames. This, the authors claim, represents the everlasting presence of the Orient in Britain (Keep and Randall 216). This symbolism works perfectly because the mud of the river claims both Tonga and the treasure forever. These things will never move from their final resting places, therefore they represent the continuous presence of the East. The author’s extrapolation of this symbolism works as well. The River Thames serves as the main entryway to London. Therefore, a pertinent symbol of the Empire’s oriental holdings lying at the bottom of this entryway perfectly represents an entryway into the Middle East.

Apart from the decent points created in the series of punctures, this article has a severe flow problem. To the reader, most of the points get bogged down in a mass of quotes and summaries of other works. One also gets the distinct feeling of a lack of overall thesis. The excellent points brought up during the article do not seemed to ever be connected in a clear manner. Yet, the nice quality of the individual points almost negates this shortcoming in Keep and Randall’s article.

Although this article makes several good points about the individual symbolic pieces in The Sign of Four, it has several shortcomings with regard to the thesis. The individual punctures, at times, do little to back up the thesis of the article. Keep and Randall’s article is certainly worth reading for the individual points which allow a greater understanding of symbolism in The Sign of Four.

Article by N. Herringer 

Blog 3: Sample Blog Post

Written by Ashley Robinson on . Posted in Sample Blogs

From Dainty to Bloody

            Throughout the last two centuries, women in literature have personified what it means for women of the real world to exist in their respective societies. From being feminine and delicate to cunning and crafty, women in literary works have run the gamut of characteristics and motives that have defined what means to be a member of the female gender. In Hadar Aviram’s essay, “Dainty Hands: Perceptions of Women and Crime in Sherlock Holmes Stories,” Aviram goes through a great deal of effort to describe and statistically analyze  different women and their various modus operandi in Conan Doyle’s Sherlockian canon.


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A few of Aviram’s central themes are as follows:

  •  The traditional perception among criminologists has been that crime is and always has been a predominantly male phenomenon.
  •  Women are likely to be treated with “chivalry” in situations in which they conform to feminine stereotypes.
  •  Women were not always a rare phenomenon on the criminal stage.
  • One of the most important side effects of the Industrial Revolution was greater differentiation in gender roles. Women were pushed away from the public market, which involved primarily low-wage labor, toward the home, or sex-segregated industries, such as women-only textile factories. This transformation imbued the home with symbolism of feminine delicacy, romantic love, spiritual cultivation, and maternal nurturing, the Victorian “cult” of domesticity.
  •  18th century female characters were often independent and entrepreneurial woman, whereas 19th century female characters who were powerless to effectuate their own destiny despite her strong sense of personal responsibility. This literary shift reflected a broad cultural shift in the understanding of criminal responsibility in general and female criminality in particular.
  •  Novels of the late 18th to early 19th century were aimed at moralizing the working class while the ethos of feminine delicacy was developed by and for the middle classes and designed to bleed into the lower classes.
  •  Conan Doyle wrote stories about women who were brave in the late 1890s, then stopped writing about them after the 1900s.
  •  All of Conan Doyle’s female characters are either praised or reviled upon the solving of their crimes.
  •  The various characteristics that Conan Doyle ascribes to his female characters are true for both the criminals and the non-criminals.
  •  Women of Conan Doyle’s, as well as most other Victorian works, were defined by their relationships to the men in their lives; they are captives, protectors, muses, or co-entrepreneurs with them.
  •  The rise of positivism in literature and Victorian era life in general, as well as the medicalization of crime in particular, is a valuable lens for understanding the current criminal justice policies toward women. (Aviram 2013)

Video and Film

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To be an essay centered around analyzing crime stories and their effect on society, Aviram spends a great deal of time avoiding using the “F” word. Though Aviram subtly attacks the underlying principles behind anti-feminism by pointing out the flaws in female characters contrived by men, she does make a few points that are worth acknowledging. Perceived crime rates among women were never high in the 18th and 19th centuries. If ever a woman stepped out of line, she was simply thrown into a sanitarium and left for dead. So, logically, one could assume that though the crime rates weren’t high for women, the number of the institutionalized was considerably higher during this time.

Also, when reading this essay, it’s important to offer kudos to Aviram for pointing out the fact that authors during the 18th and 19th centuries spent a great deal of their time crafting their works to speak to specific demographics. A wealthy author would right stories that they knew their fellow wealthy and semi-wealthy masses would be able to easily identify with. By identifying with a particular class and instilling their message through their work, authors were capable of influencing the much larger classes of individuals who weren’t able to read their works through social osmosis. In a world without televisions and social networks, the written word was the key to societal change.

Though I’m not a woman and I’m not particularly interested in the history of women’s struggles, I am a criminologist and I can appreciate the views of a woman who has taken the time to dig into the history has shaped our society. To be able quantify the actual number of times a woman was created by Conan Doyle and quickly see her identifying attributes on a well labeled chart, Aviram has me impressed. Not only did she actually investigate her source material to gather history on her subject, she also took the time to explain and qualify her conclusions. I highly recommend her article to any Sherlockian, Criminologist, or Sociologist with a weakness for socially constructed female gender.

My Rating: Stars: Great Read!


 Aviram, Hadar. “Dainty Hands: Perceptions Of Women And Crime In Sherlock Holmes Stories.” Hastings Women’s Law Journal 22.2 (2011): 233-256. Index to Legal Periodicals & Books Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 20 Apr. 2013.


Article written by W. Nash

Economics in Victorian England (Article 1)

Written by Ashley Robinson on . Posted in Sample Blogs

The narrative of the economy of Victorian England is a story of a nation’s ascension to global power. It is a tale of the fattening of the rich at the expense of the poor. It is a comedy of industry and the power of human intuition; it is a tragedy of imperialism, human trafficking, and child labor. Finally, it is an apologue of nation-on-nation competition and worldwide interdependence.

A basic law of economics is that the world’s resources are scarce. Economists know that people, people groups, and societies are in constant competition over the consumption and allocation of these limited resources. At the time of Queen Victoria’s birth, England was beginning a steep climb to the top of the global competition.  After some growing pains at the beginning of the era, England became the world leader in industry; so much so that The Victorian Web refers to England’s former title “the workshop of the world” as a legitimate title of the nation at the time.  Advancing technology and machinery brought in great revenue for the new middle class while providing work for the lower classes. Furthermore, new industries created jobs and the lure of man (women and child) working alongside machine (in all honesty the lure of work at all) lead to a huge rise in urban population. Money was flowing into the English economy while in-country market prices fell.

By the middle of the Victorian Era, largely as a result of industrial success, most would say that the nation’s economy was healthy. It was healthy in the sense that resources and money were flowing in, and the prices of necessities were falling.  All the while, though, wages for the working class were low–insurmountably low.  Rapid growth of population in the cities created a surplus of workers. As a result, the price of labor went down and the law of supply and demand ruled the day.  So was it truly healthy? I would say no, contrary to much of what I have read. My definition of a successful economy (and my high school diploma, to be fair) is not the one with the most money or assets, but the economy that has the largest percent of population above the poverty line.


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The ugly part of Victorian industry is that it wasn’t done with much consideration of human rights. The raw material used to create the goods that were being produced in England often came from land that had been taken through imperialism. Before slavery was abolished in Great Britain in 1833, the people who had their land and resources taken from them were often enslaved at the hands of their aggressors. The forfeit of land, seizure of resources, and forced labor were[AR15]  a packaged deal when the Western European imperialists came to your shores ( Another vice came in the form of child labor, which is an atrocity that is depressing to even think about. In short, the industrialization of Great Britain, which had such a dramatic impact on the Victorian economy, was just as sour as it was sweet.

The end of the era came with the sharp decline of economic power in Victorian England. There are many ideas as to what caused the decline. One interesting thought is referred to as “Gentlemanly Capitalism,” which argues that the middle and upper class became less zealous about industry, the part of the economy that was thriving, and instead they sought out other occupations. There is some credit to this idea, but the theory that makes the most sense to me is simpler. I believe that competition merely leveled the industrial playing field. A basic rule of micro-economics is that when a firm finds success in a free market, others will join that market and the success of the original firms will shrink. England was dominating industry and the exportation of textiles, metals, and other goods, then the world saw their success and wanted a piece of the pie.

The economics of Victorian England is relevant to our world today. From it we can learn much, from the importance of investment in industry and business to the vices of imperialism and slavery, as well as much more. What is history if not a guide to the future?

written by K. Laster

An Overview of Engineering in Victorian England (Article 1)

Written by Ashley Robinson on . Posted in Sample Blogs

In the modern world, there is nothing we do that doesn’t touch engineering. Do you drive a car? That’s mechanical engineering. Do you use a cell phone? Thank an electrical engineer. What about your favorite computer game? A computer engineer designed that.

In Victorian England, engineering was more primitive and much less diverse. At the start of the Victorian era, England wasn’t making progress the way that the rest of the civilized world was . Their public health system was terrible, its people were living in the streets in droves, and labor was being done by ineffective methods. Something needed to be done, and engineers came up with solutions. Most of the focus in Victorian England was on mechanical, civil, electrical, and automotive engineering; in other words, engineers developed things like factory machinery, locomotives, steamships, roads, bridges, and pioneered electricity.

Civil engineering was arguably the most important field, with mechanical engineering as a close second. Before the advances of civil engineering, sewage was not properly disposed of, and it often contaminated the water. Civil engineers’ solution to this was to build a central sewage tunnel system, so sewage was disposed of properly and the water that the people needed to drink stayed relatively clean. Roads were also primarily dirt, which meant in perilous conditions, the roads were nearly impassable. Civil engineers designed cobbled roads, which led to the first paved roads. Civil engineering also built the London Underground (otherwise known as the subway), water distribution lines, and even streamlined the banks of the Thames. By making these basic improvements, the health of the people improved dramatically, as well as the overall cleanliness of the city.

Mechanical engineers most notably brought about the locomotive as a faster means of travel, for both private and commercial purposes. The locomotive allowed companies to transport goods much quicker than ever before. Mechanical engineering also revolutionized how goods were made. The textile industry, for example, was able to operate cheaply with equipment that allowed them to meet the demand for their products much quicker. Mechanical engineering even coupled with naval engineering to design better ships, including the steamship, which was the precursor to ships like the Titanic.

Engineering 1

Image Hyperlink: Photo from the National Railway Museum

Coupled with mechanical engineering was automotive engineering.  For a long time during the Victorian period, if people traveled, the bulk of their journey was done by train and completed by walking or taking a horse-drawn cab. By the late 1880s, automotive engineers were starting to experiment with taking the same concept of locomotives and applying towards similar structures of their horse-drawn cabs. The results were the first cars – then known as “motorcycles” – and from there, the car industry exploded. America caught the car fever and leapt on board to further improve the system by means of the assembly line.

Electrical engineering was the last fundamental discipline explored during this period. Most of the work done by Victorian electrical engineers would now be done by electricians, but during this time, engineers doubled as both designers and mechanics – they worked behind the desk and in the field. For example, gas lighting was widespread throughout the homes of Victorian England. Before electricity became ubiquitous, the 1880s saw a system of gas lighting in homes. After Edison invented the incandescent cotton-fiber lightbulb, the electrical engineering scene exploded. The new bulb was installed in London streets and displayed at the Great Exhibition, but other machinery was modified with the harnessing of electricity. The telegraph was invented, and it was used for sending and receiving urgent messages both on land and at sea.

As a direct result of the progress made in engineering, the Victorian standard of life increased exponentially, and has been increasing ever since. Victorian England was a place of discovery and invention, and so much of the scientific successes we own to today we owe to the laborious progress of this time period.

-written by D. Mantooth