Detective fiction is a sub-genre of mystery and crime fiction, in which a professional or amateur detective investigates a crime. This comparative analysis is dedicated to the comparison of two detective novels, namely A Study in Scarlet written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. Both of these novels are well known, and they have many similarities as well as differences. They are to be compared in the following aspects: author’s background, historical and cultural aspect, plot, main characters, setting and the place of writing.
A Study in Scarlet is a detective novel, which was written in 1886 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The novel introduces a new writer’s character of Sherlock Holmes. Nowadays, he is considered to be one of the most prominent literary detectives. The main peculiarity of the novel is that it is the first writing where we meet Holmes and Watson. Speaking about The Mysterious Affair at Styles, one should mention that it is not less popular than A Study in Scarlet. Although Agatha Christie wrote it thirty years later, it became popular very quickly, and the main character Hercule Poirot claimed the title of the most famous literary detective, too. Thus, this novel, as well as the first novel about Holmes, introduces the main character and his friend Hastings, who will appear in many other Christie’s novels and short stories. All mentioned similarities prove the fact that Agatha Christie wrote her novel under the influence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literature (Barnard 1990).
Comparing these two novels from the point of view of historical aspect, it should be pointed that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle started working earlier than Agatha Christie. This particular fact affected their writings, namely the eras of their main characters’ activity: Sherlock Holmes had been working since late 1800s till post World War I time while Hercule Poirot had been investigating the crimes since 1920 till post World War II time. It goes without saying that the time plays a very important role for the main heroes, their characters, behavior and methods of investigation. The main characters differ by their methods, habits, actions, language and nationality (Poirot is Belgian; Holmes is English). What they have in common is the astonishing mindset, which helps them to investigate crimes.
When reading two novels, we may find many similar details not only in the images of main characters but in the plot of the stories as well.
A Study in Scarlet consists of two parts. John Watson, who has just returned to London after the Afghan War, tells the first part. He describes the first meeting with the main character and his method, and the fact that he has arrested a murderer. The second half of the story is the description of the prehistory of the murder and its causes. In the end, Holmes explains his solution and the efficiency of his deductive method (Berg 1970).
In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the story is also told in first person. The narrator is Lieutenant Hastings who has to stay at Styles-Court as he was injured during military actions of World War I. Unlike Watson, who is acquainted with Holmes in the first novel, Hastings is the old friend of Poirot and knows him quite well. Hastings asks Hercule Poirot for help in investigating the crime and finding out who is guilty in the murder of a wealthy widow Emily Cavendish. There are many suspects, but the detective managed to clarify the hidden facts and investigate the crime.
In AStudy in Scarlet, the action takes place in London, in 1881, when Holmes and Watson decide to rent a room together and move to Baker Street. In the second part of the novel, where the story about the murderer and the causes of the crime are depicted, the actions take place in the USA, namely in the UtahTerritory in 1847 (Edwards 2008). The reader learns the story about Lucy and John Ferrier, who are lost in the desert and rescued by the Mormons. The disobedience of Lucy and her father leads to Lucy’s death and makes her lover revenge.
Actions of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in its turn, take place in England during the World War I. The reader meets the main characters at the Styles Court in Essex (Christie 1921).
Actually, both writers were British, and these two novels were written in Great Britain with a gap of thirty years. Doyle wrote A Study in Scarlet when he was 27, and it was his first significant writing, and its success made him continue writing about Sherlock Holmes. As to Agatha Christie, she wrote her first novel at the age of 25 though there were some literary attempts earlier during the period of World War I. Many people believe that she started writing detective stories and novels under the impression from Conan Doyle’s stories, and that is why there are so many similarities.
While time and setting were very important for both writers, Doyle paid great attention to the cultural aspect. Thus, the mentioned Mormons have a real historical background, but critics say that they were depicted by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle not true to life, and one cannot consider the facts from A Study in Scarlet to be historical facts. In fact, the writer had some reasons for such a description. What were they?
All literary works of Arthur Conan Doyle were influenced by his religion. One of the major themes in the chosen novel is the danger of organized religion. The writer was brought up in the Catholic family but later became absorbed with spiritualism. He never liked the organized religion, and that is why the Mormons are depicted as arrogant and imperious villains. Doyle shows faith as secretive, oppressive, corruptive, violent and hypocritical. He is suggesting that such religion is against freedom and independence:
(John Ferrier) had always determined, deep down in his resolute heart, that nothing would ever induce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such marriage he regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shame and a disgrace. Whatever he might think of the Mormon doctrines, upon that one point he was inflexible. He had to seal his mouth on the subject, however, for to express an unorthodox opinion was a dangerous matter in those days in the Land of the Saints. (Doyle 2008)
Agatha Christie did not pay our attention to the religious aspect, but she made her character a symbol of reason and order as she thought that in the unfamiliar and chaotic world such people had to exist. Poirot represents one of the sides of Christie’s nature and remains her main character. The writer expresses her thoughts with the help of Poirot, and it is extremely obvious in the novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles where we firstly meet him.
Summing up, the novels A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle and The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie have much in common. It is not surprisingly, as both writers lived in Great Britain, they were influenced by almost the same social, cultural and political factors. They managed to create vivid and interesting characters, who are now considered to be the most prominent and famous heroes of detective fiction.