The Adventure of the Dying Detective Characters & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Summary
  • 1:15 Sherlock Holmes
  • 1:45 Dr. Watson
  • 2:17 Culverton Smith
  • 3:13 Minor Characters
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

'The Adventure of the Dying Detective' has only three significant characters and a few minor ones. This lesson looks at these characters and analyzes the roles and functions of the major characters.


The Adventure of the Dying Detective focuses mainly on Sherlock Holmes himself, who claims to be quite ill and about to die from a Sumatran disease. Mrs. Hudson, his housekeeper, is quite worried about him, so she convinces Dr. Watson to visit him in the apartment. Once Watson has seen Holmes, he too is convinced that Holmes is dying, so he leaves to fetch the one person who Holmes claims can save him: Culverton Smith. Watson returns to Holmes's apartment before Smith, and hides behind the bed in order to overhear what Smith and Holmes discuss. Smith admits to Holmes that he killed his own nephew, and also that he sent Holmes a package designed to infect him with the same disease. Holmes asks Smith to light the gas; this signals the presence of an investigator who is waiting outside to come inside and arrest Smith.


The Adventure of the Dying Detective has only three major characters: Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Culverton Smith. These three play significant roles in advancing the plot and getting us to the conclusion of the story. Three minor characters also make appearances; these are Mrs. Hudson, Mr. Smith's butler, and Inspector Morton.

Sherlock Holmes

Front and center to this mystery, as always, is Sherlock Holmes. In this particular story, he occupies an even bigger role, since he is not only investigating the mystery, but also serves as its focus. The central question that the reader is trying to answer in this story is whether Holmes is actually sick and, if he is not, why he is pretending to be? Holmes has two primary functions in the story: he solves the mystery, and he is a potential victim of a crime.

Dr. Watson

Dr. Watson's role in this mystery is much like it usually is: he is forever one step behind Holmes, and perhaps a little behind the reader as well. As is the case in most Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Watson has the important function of needing to have things explained to him by Holmes; as Holmes walks Watson through the details of the case, the reader gets to learn them as well. In The Adventure of the Dying Detective, Watson also keeps the story moving by making sure that Culverton Smith comes to Holmes's home at the right time to be overheard and arrested.

Culverton Smith

Culverton Smith is the villain of the mystery. We begin to suspect this early on when Holmes mentions casually that he had accused Smith of murdering his nephew. After that, if the reader had any remaining doubt as to whether Culverton Smith was the villain, these doubts most likely disappeared when Watson offered his description of Smith:

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