Places: The Sign of Four

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1890

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Detective and mystery

Time of work: 1888

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Baker Street

*Baker Sign of Four, TheStreet. London street on which Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson share upstairs (“first floor” in British terminology) lodgings at the fictional address of 221B. Their landlady, Mrs. Hudson, lives on the ground floor and provides meals and services for her lodgers, including answering the door and showing visitors up to Watson and Holmes’s flat. A large, airy room, cheerfully furnished and illuminated by two broad windows looking down into the street, their sitting room is the place where most of Holmes’s cases begin and where Holmes later explains to Watson how he has arrived at his solutions.

Sholto’s house

Sholto’s house. Residence of the art collector Thaddeus Sholto, near Coldharbour Lane, in south London. Holmes, Watson, and Miss Morstan, Holmes’s client, go there in a horse-drawn cab. Although a route is given, it is not possible to trace it on a modern map. Although some London streets mentioned in the novel–such as the Strand, Wandsworth Road, and Coldharbour Lane–do still exist, others are either invented or misnamed, or have names that have been changed. Enough real London street names are provided, however, to give a sense of traveling some distance through dark London streets. Sholto’s house, the third in a newly built terrace, is in an unfashionable part of London characterized by streets of brick houses and rows of two-story villas with tiny front gardens. The house’s entryway is ill-lit and poorly furnished, a great contrast to Sholto’s own apartments, which are richly furnished. Curtains and tapestries drape the walls and are hooked back to reveal paintings and oriental vases. The soft, amber and black carpet, the two tiger skin rugs and a silver lamp suspended from the ceiling by gold wire all give an impression of great wealth.

Pondicherry Lodge

Pondicherry Lodge. Upper Norwood home of Thaddeus Sholto’s twin brother, Bartholomew Sholto. Located about eight miles south of central London, the house is surrounded by a high stone wall topped with broken glass and is approached along a gravel drive that winds through grounds greatly disturbed by Sholto’s diggings in search of a treasure he believes has been buried by his father, Major Sholto. The house itself is square built and has only one entrance–a narrow, iron-clamped door, securely fastened by many bolts and locks, as Sholto’s father had feared break-ins. The most important room in the house is on the top floor, up three flights of stairs that end in a long, tapestry-lined corridor. Situated at the front of the house, Sholto’s workroom is filled with chemistry apparatuses, including carboys of acid. A hole cut in the plaster-and-lathe ceiling exposes a hidden garret in which the father’s treasure was hidden; the hole also provides an escape route, through a skylight, for the Andaman islander who kills Bartholomew in the room. Other parts of the house are filled with Indian curiosities, a clue to the source of the Sholtos’ wealth. An Indian servant has a garret room in the roof, next to the sealed one, and the housekeeper has rooms on the ground floor.

Pinchin Lane

Pinchin Lane. Street in London’s Lambeth district on which the taxidermist Sherman lives. Sherman owns the odd-looking dog Toby, which possesses the keenest nose in London. Located near the edge of the River Thames, the lane contains a row of shabby, two-story brick houses. The window cases of Sherman’s No. 3 location contain stuffed animals; inside the house are live animals–a badger, a stoat, and various fowl perched among the rafters.

*River Thames

*River Thames (tehmz). England’s largest river, which runs through London and forms the backdrop for the novel’s final chase and capture of Jonathan Small, who is behind the murder of Bartholomew Sholto. During Victorian times, the Thames was an important commercial waterway for barges, steamers, and merchant vessels. Boat repairers, such as Jacobson’s Yard–at which the launch Aurora is hidden by Small in the novel–were common, as were wharves, such as that at which Small hires the Aurora.

BibliographyCarr, John Dickson. The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Harper, 1949. Because it is based on a thorough perusal of Doyle’s private papers by one of the masters of the craft of mystery writing, it is considered the definitive biography.Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Edited by William S. Baring-Gould. 2 vols. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1967. This work is a veritable cache of information on Victorian England carefully compiled by one of the leading Holmes scholars. It is of particular interest because the bibliography includes references to a number of articles from The Baker Street Journal, the official publication of the “Baker Street Irregulars,” an organization dedicated to the study of the cases of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.Doyle, Arthur Conan. Memoirs and Adventures. Boston: Little, Brown, 1924. While this autobiography leaves many matters untouched and many questions unanswered, it does provide a valuable insight into the life and works of the author at the end of his career.Farell, Kirby. “Heroism, Culture, and Dread in The Sign of Four.” Studies in the Novel 16, no. 1 (Spring, 1984): 32-51. An interesting study which concentrates on the parallels in the story, especially that between good and evil.Jaffe, Jacqueline A. Arthur Conan Doyle. Boston: Twayne, 1987. An excellent brief introduction to Doyle’s life and especially to his works. Two chapters, “The Beginnings of a Modern Hero: Sherlock Holmes” and “The Return of Holmes,” deal with Doyle’s detective fiction. At the end of the work there is a short but useful bibliography.
Categories: Places