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This Research essay proposal requires close reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sign Of Four” and two other secondary reference works which I provided in the additional materials. If the writer doesn’t like this two, please contact me to provide other reference works. I will put structure details in additional materials. And there are 4 topics to choose. If the writer need me to provide E-Book for “The Sign Of Four” please contact me. Since this assignment requires lots of readings, I can pay extra to writer in order to get a good work. Our professor is very tough, we must follow the structure that she provided us. I did a very poor job in previously two assignments. So please help me to get a great mark. This assignment is a research essay proposal for our final research essay(1500 words), so If I get a good mark on this, I wish to have the same writer help me to write the final essay! Please! Save me from this course!


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Addiction, Empire, and Narrative in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sign of the Four”
Author(s): Christopher Keep and Don Randall
Source: NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Spring, 1999), pp. 207-221
Published by: Duke University Press
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Accessed: 09-03-2019 08:53 UTC
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NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction
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Addiction, Empire, and Narrative in Arthur
Conan Doyle’s The Sign of the Four
“It is not I who become addicted, it is my body.”
-Jean Cocteau
The degree to which British imperialism of the nineteenth century was invested
in and maintained by the global traffic in addictive substances is well docu-
mented. At mid-century, for example, opium was a major export commodity for
Britain’s largest colony, India, and the British government was very sensitive to
the profits that could be realized through the sale of the drug. The single largest
market for opium and its derivatives was China, with whom Britain had an increasingly precarious trade imbalance. The Chinese had a long-standing distrust
of doing business with the Europeans, and would only accept gold in trade for
such in-demand goods as tea and silk. When China attempted to limit the flow of
Indian opium into its domestic markets through trade barriers and tariffs, the
British government exerted enormous political pressure to maintain its access to
those markets. The Royal Navy backed up the British commercial interests, resulting in the so-called “Opium Wars” of 1839-42 and 1856-58, and the virtual
surrender of the Chinese economy to a British stewardship.1
It was, however, not only the imperial economy, but the imperial imaginary,
the ensemble of images and narratives that mediated the social relations of empire, which was caught in a violent cycle of dependency involving the orient. As
critics and historians such as John M. MacKenzie, Robert Opie, and Thomas
Richards have shown, the commodity culture of mid- to late-Victorian Britain
consumed images of British colonization as greedily as its industrial manufacturers gulped up tea and silk. This fascination with the orient soon grew to such an
extent that it threatened to consume the very subjects for whom it had been produced. “By the end of the century,” writes Anne McClintock, “a stream of impe-
rial bric-a-brac had invaded Victorian homes. Colonial heroes and colonial scenes
were emblazoned on a host of domestic commodities, from milk cartons to sauc
bottles, tobacco tins to whiskey bottles, assorted biscuits to toothpaste, toffee
boxes to baking powder” (219). The bric-a-brac to which McClintock refers-lik
the countless novels, novellas, short stories, poems, and other forms of narrati
that also recorded the heroic personages and events of the empire’s history-re
resents the uncanny return of the narcotics which Britain produced and exporte
to places like India and China. That is to say, the stories which the empire told
itself constituted the active agents of a kind of addiction, the transient satisfac
tions by which the imperial imaginary sought to confirm its mastery over th
1 On the history of the Opium Wars, see Booth 103-173.
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troubling problem of alterity. But in their sheer multiplicity, in the compulsive
need to reiterate the signal events of the empire’s triumphant progress, such narratives also attest to the fundamental incapacity of British culture to expel from
its unconscious that tincture or trace of the poisonous other upon which it had
come so crucially to depend, not only for its economic well being, but also in its
claims to moral and racial superiority.
The relationship between the imperial imaginary and the psychic economy of
addiction is most complexly imagined by Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of the
Four, particularly in its deferred engagement with what was arguably Britain’s
most traumatic imperial encounter, the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The text traces an
implicit homology between the punctured body of the great English detective
and the body politic of England itself. Just as the nation struggles with a foreign
conspiracy that has been belatedly released into its blood stream by the events of
1857, so too Holmes is represented as dangerously “occupied” by a drug with
distinct orientalist overtones, one which threatens his physical health as surely as
the Mutiny threatened the health of the empire. The homology, however, is at
best imperfect, leaving The Sign of the Four scarred by a constellation of conflicted
histories, ambiguous identifications, and violent sublimations. The result is a text
which must be read precisely at those points where Doyle’s scenes refuse to cohere into any simple pattern of symbolism or meaning, and reveal their significance palimpsestically through the trace of that which they substitute for or
displace. The Sign of the Four is not only in this sense a punctured text; it is also
about the act of puncturing, about what it means to break the skin of culture that
protects the addict from alterity.2 A puncture is not simply a wound; it is also a
form of punctuation, a way of writing, of separating lexical elements into the
epistemes of the symbolic order. We will be concerned with four scenes from
Doyle’s novel. Recalling the sequence of four linked crosses that form the
cryptogram at the heart of this mystery, these four literal or metaphorical scenes
of puncturing provide a means of articulating some of the connections that the
novel reveals between addiction, empire, and narrative.
First Puncture
Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantlepiece, and his
hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. VWith his long, white, nervous
fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff For some
little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist, all
dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks. Finally, he thrust the sharp
point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined armchair with a long sigh of satisfaction. (3)
2 We have assumed for the purposes of this discussion of the addict a male subject for two
reasons. Firstly, the specific object of our analysis is a male addict, the character of Sherlock
Holmes. Secondly, the homology we are sketching out between addiction and empire depends
in part upon the concerns for bodily integrity which Silverman has shown to be particular to
male subjectivity and its defensive relationship to lack.
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Pressing the hypodermic into his flesh, Holmes gives us our first scene of puncture, one which serves to connect addiction to the policing of otherness that oc-
curs through the “science of deduction.” While the use of the coca leaf as an
intoxicant had been known to Europeans since their first encounters with the
Peruvian Indians, the alkaloid cocaine was only distilled by Albert Niemann in
1860. Interest in the drug remained dormant for two decades until the young
Freud, striving to establish his reputation as a physician, published his review of
the literature on cocaine together with the results of his own experiments. In
“Uber Coca,” Freud argues that “a first dose or even repeated doses of coca produce no compulsive desire to use the stimulant further,” and enthusiastically endorses its therapeutic value in the treatment of fatigue, nervousness, neurasthe-
nia, and morphine addiction (62). Much to the young physician’s disappointment, it was not this article but that of his partner, Carl Koller, on the use of
cocaine as a local anaesthetic in eye surgery that attracted wide-scale interest in
the drug. By the mid-1880s, British medical journals were overflowing in their
praise of cocaine’s medicinal properties and Conan Doyle, himself a practicing
physician at the time, is also known to have experimented with the drug.
According to Virginia Berridge and Griffith Edwards, “There were sixty-seven
separate pieces about it in … the 1885 volume of the British Medical Journal. Its
utility as a local anaesthetic in operations on the vagina and urethra, in dentistry,
ophthalmic surgery, in vaccination, in operations on the nose and larynx,
vomiting, mammary abscess, in cancer, scalds, circumcision, neuralgia, hay fever,
senile gangrene and even the removal of a needle from a foot were all canvassed.
Nymphomania, sea-sickness-there seemed no limit to the possibilities” (221).
Cocaine’s medical popularity had its corollary in the commercial sector: the alka-
loid was added to wines, sherries, ports, teas, lozenges, and soda drinks-Coca
Cola included cocaine as an active ingredient until 1903.
By the 1890s, however, the medical establishment had performed a remarkable
volteface concerning the therapeutic value of the drug. As its addictive properties
became better known, cocaine was increasingly associated with the degenerative
effects of opium use. The alkaloid effectively went from being a miracle of
modern medicine to a vestigial horror of Europe’s colonial enterprise. One of its
earliest and most vocal champions, Dr. Albrecht Erlenmeyer, came out strongly
against the drug in 1888, describing it as “the third scourge of mankind” (qtd. in
Berridge and Edwards 222). Freud’s reputation was seriously damaged by the
changing fortunes of cocaine and he turned away from medical research to begin
his investigations into the unconscious.3 The Sign of the Four is situated just at this
turn of fortunes in the cultural meanings of cocaine. Finally working up the
nerve to confront his roommate concerning his pharmacodependency, Watson
asks, “Which is it to-day [Holmes] … morphine or cocaine?” (3). He then
proceeds to undercut the distinction between the two drugs, claiming that
substance abuse of any kind is a “pathological and morbid process, which
3On Freud’s early research into cocaine, and its subsequent effect on the development of
psychoanalysis, see both Freud and Jones.
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involves increased tissue-change and may at least leave a permanent weakness”
Watson’s pairing of cocaine with morphine, the idea that the addict might use
the one as easily as the other, was part and parcel of the “orientalization” of the
coca plant: though technically a stimulant, medical textbooks of the turn of the
century classified it as a narcotic and thus relegated it to a sub-category of opium,
a move which not only elided the bio-chemical differences between the drugs,
but the cultural and historical differences as well. In much the same way that the
“Orient,” as Edward Said has shown, could refer to any culture from North
Africa, India, China, or Japan, so too the term “narcotic” effectively effaced the
distinction between a drug that traced its origins to a Spanish colony in South
America and one that came from British colonies in Asia and India. Cocaine is, in
this sense, the archetypal colonial product: it traces an arc from raw substance
originating on the ill-defined periphery of empire to the imperial center where it
is refined and sold for profit in the domestic marketplace. The alkaloid, as distinct from the coca leaf from which it is distilled, signifies the mastery of empire
over its colonial possessions: the domestic consumer injects not the raw
substance of “nature” but that which is manufactured from it-it is “culture” that
ensures the drug’s medicinal or therapeutic effects. But, in the insatiable craving
for more and more of the temporary pleasures it provides, cocaine also masters
its user. No amount of purification and refinement, it seems, can finally remove
the threat of the foreign from the commodity in its imperial guise; its insidious,
primitive, and dangerous essence threatens to reduce the user to a mere “slave,”
and reverse the relationship of colonizer to colonized. Narcotics, then, are to
Britain what cocaine is to Holmes-the enormous cost to the nation’s constitution
that is entailed in any investment in the eccentric.
But when Watson implores Holmes to “Count the cost!” of his intravenous
drug use, the detective seems more than willing to write it off as a necessary expense in the larger project of selfhood (4). Cocaine, we are told, serves not to dull
the pain of the detective’s acute ennui, but as a way of approximating the stimulation, the excess of feeling he feels when confronted with a problem:
“My mind … rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the
most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own
proper atmosphere. I can then dispense with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the
dull routine of existence. I cravefor mental exaltation.” (4)
Holmes’s notable choice of terms here, his “craving” for “mental exaltation,” undoes the putative distinction between “work” and its substitute, “artificial stimulants.” Such a position stands in marked contrast to that of the foremost Victorian
advocate of work, Thomas Carlyle, with whose writings both Watson and
Holmes are familiar.5 Work, for Carlyle, is a “purifying fire, wherein all poison is
4 For a discussion of how the Sherlock Holmes stories reflect the medical establishment’s
changing perceptions of cocaine use, see Berridge and Edwards, 223-24.
5 When Holmes asks Watson if he is amiliar with Johann Paul Friedrich Richter (here referred to
simply as “Jean Paul”), Watson replies, “Fairly so. I worked back to him through Carlyle.”
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burnt up, and of sour smoke itself there is made bright blessed flame” (169), but
for the detective, work is another form of the wonderful “poison” that he is ad-
dicted to-Holmes is perhaps never more hedonistically abandoned to the pleasures of “artificial stimulation” than when he is “on the case.” Thus, where
Carlyle sees the value of labour precisely in its capacity to burn out the debased
passions of animal savagery and indolence, Holmes represents work as itself a
form of excess that allows him to accede to his “own proper atmosphere” even as
it testifies to the fundamental incompleteness of that sphere. Only by virtue of
that which exceeds the precincts of selfhood, that which in effect insistently
signals the irremediable poverty of selfhood, can Holmes claim to be himself. The
detective both is and is not himself when the substance of his addiction is
coursing through his veins; the drug divides him from selfhood even as it retu
him to it.6
In “Plato’s Pharmacy,” Derrida describes this doubleness as the defining cha
acteristic of the pharmakon, the drug which is both remedy and poison. As a r
edy, the pharmakon, like the act of writing to which Socrates compares it, is a sub-
stance that adds itself to the body only in order to repair some prior damage,
to extend its natural faculties. This very act of addition or enrichment, howev
is also a form of subtraction or dilution: in substituting itself for the body’s o
functions, the pharmakon diminishes the body’s self-sufficiency, forcing it to
mit the constitutive gap or absence which would require such prosthetic aid. T
pharmakon intervenes or insinuates itself into the body proper, and takes up r
dence there as the necessary addition, the poison, upon which identity itself n
depends. “The pharmakon,” Derrida concludes, “is that dangerous supplem
that breaks into the very thing that would have liked to do without it yet lets
self at once be breached, roughed up, fulfilled, and replaced, completed by th
very trace through which the present increases itself in the act of disappearin
(110). The addict’s body thus becomes a particularly intense site of semiotic ove
coding. The track marks left on the detective’s sinewy forearm are a kind of e
cess, the traces not only of one man’s addiction, but of the very process by wh
signs pass into and out of legibility.
Second Puncture
The second puncture occurs with the appearance of a mysterious oriental parch
ment in the enclosed and carefully guarded domicile of Englishness, 221B Baker
Street. On “paper of native Indian manufacture,” tantalizingly marked by a red
“X,” Mary Morstan presents the detective with an “abstruse cryptogram” (41).
Holmes is notably unimpressed by both Watson’s reading method and Carlyle. He responds to
Watson, “That was like following the brook to the parent lake” (58).
6 Kestner similarly notes the “profound ambiguity” of Holmes’s argument that cocaine is but a
substitute for work. “[I]t is only crime,” Kestner notes, “which enables existence to have
meaning for Holmes, for only then can he exercise his powers and construct his own heroism”
(62). For a very different reading of Holmes’s dependence on work, one which
unproblematically associates the detective with the rise of the middle-class professional, see
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Holmes describes it as “a curious hieroglyphic like four crosses in a line with
their arms touching. Beside it is written … ‘The sign of the four-Jonathan Small,
Mahomet Singh, Abdullah Khan, Dost Akbar”‘ (18). These men, Holmes soon
discovers, first met during the turbulent days of the Indian Mutiny. The four
formed an alliance to first steal and then share the Agra treasure, a horde of jewels that once belonged to a rajah of a northern Indian province. When the conspirators are caught and tried for murder, the treasure remains secure in its hid-
ing place; an attempt to recover it, however, goes bad, and the result is the
mysterious appearance of single parts of the loot in Morstan’s mail, and the dead
bodies of two British military officers who had fallen in league with the original
The sheer excessiveness of the Agra treasure, its power to attract, to kill, and to
elude capture, and, perhaps most significantly, its imminent return to the shores
of Great Britain in the form of a murderous conspiracy, is symptomatic of its origin in the discursive unmanageability of the Mutiny. As Patrick Brantlinger observes, the latter half of the nineteenth century produced “at least fifty” Mutiny
novels, and “at least thirty more” were published in the first half of the twentieth.
He also notes “a deluge of eyewitness accounts, journal articles, histories, poems
and plays” in the decades following the 1857-58 revolt (199). Conan Doyle’s
novel was one of many such tales that appeared during a renewed fascination
with the Mutiny in the 1890s. Kaye and Malleson’s complete six-volume history
was published in 1896, re-issued in ’97, and reprinted in ’98. Shorter histories
were published by Malleson, T.R.E. Holmes …
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