I am quoting from the Return of Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Three Quarter by Arthur Conan Doyle :

"Yet even without knowing his brilliant record one could not fail to be impressed by a mere glance at the man, the square, massive face, the brooding eyes under the thatched brows, and the granite moulding of the inflexible jaw. A man of deep character,a man with an alert mind, grim, ascetic, self-contained, formidable—so I read Dr. Leslie Armstrong. He held my friend’s card in his hand, and he looked up with no very pleased expression upon his dour features."

First of all I don't understand the usage of the word 'moulding' and I don't understand the point of the metaphor in this sentence, does he mean that the character is silent that's why is jaw doesn't move, I mean who doesn't move his jaw it doesn't make sense. can you explain this please?


5 Answers 5


One of the meanings of mo(u)lding is a contoured solid surface used as a decorative motif in architecture. It could be a strip, or a panel with relief. It can be made of solid stone that has been chiseled and ground to shape. The jaw is being compared to such contoured stone: it has strength and definition.

P.S. Inflexible doesn't mean "motionless". It means "unbending".

P.P.S. Mo(u)lding for building exteriors can be quite large, like these, which are for windowsills, and the ones below show a quite ornate decorative motif in solid stone.

granite windowsill moulding

ornate stone moldings


A picture is worth a thousand words:

A piece of granite moulding

This is a piece granite moulding, and is the picture Doyle/Watson is trying to evoke with his metaphor. Granite is solid, unyielding, inflexible. Moulding is a thin, decorative strip traced along the bottom or edge of something, much like the jaw in relation to the face. So "granite" means "inflexible", "moulding" means "jaw", and Doyle/Watson is simply being a bit poetical.

Also, as has been stated twice now already, "inflexible" means it does not bend or flex, not that it does not move at all - that would be "immovable", funnily enough. In context, this would mean he's not particularly expressive, and may even be a bit taciturn, but he's not outright mute, and when he "sets his jaw" - itself a metaphor for "deciding what to do" - he does not change his mind easily.

  • The picture looks more like wood painted to resemble granite. The explanation is sound, though. Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 15:31
  • @TobySpeight Couldn't find any that looked better. At least TimR found them
    – No Name
    Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 21:26

"Moulding" can mean "shaping", for example "he moulded the clay to the shape of a pot". "Granite" means "hard and unyielding" (metaphorically) - granite is proverbially an exceptionally hard rock.

So "granite moulding of the jaw" means that the shaping of the jaw is hard and unyielding.

As TimR says, "inflexible" does not mean motionless but "unbending". The jaw can move, but it does not bend or flex.


It's a bit of a mixed metaphor - granite is carved, not moulded - but the general idea seems to be that he has powerful features and his face is not very animated. Of course, it doesn't literally mean that he doesn't move his jaw at all.

  • Confusingly, a moulding isn't necessarily a moulded object: "the moulding is often carved in marble or other stones." So the metaphor isn't actually mixed. Commented Oct 23, 2023 at 15:34

Although phrenology wasn't a current science when Doyle studied and wrote, the idea that the shape of a skull and face was indicative of character was still implicitly accepted in society as reflected in literature.

So the "granite jaw" doesn't mean anything about speaking or silence: it's a comment on character as expressed in (and defined by) facial features.

"Granite" is a metaphor for character, not a metaphor for appearance.

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    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 4:34

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