Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), one of the most popular and prolific English writers of the Victorian & Edwardian eras, is best
remembered as the creator of the master detective Sherlock Holmes. He is believed by some to have single-handedly created the
modern detective novel.
Born to highly literate parents (his father was a celebrated London caricaturist), Conan Doyle was infused early on with a sense of his
aristocratic ancestry. Doyle attended public school (the Jesuit Stonyhurst School in Lancashire) where he was exposed to and reveled in
athletic pursuits and romantic history. He studied to be a doctor in Edinburgh University, and spent long difficult years in apprenticeship
to various doctors throughout England. He eventually established a small private practice in Southsea. In private life, Conan Doyle was
the archetypal Victorian family man, and a great lover of athletics and sport -- he is said to have introduced the sport of downhill skiing
Money was tight, and as a way of supplementing his income, Conan Doyle began writing stories published in local newspapers and
London. However, in 1887 Beeton's Christmas Annual published a A Study in Scarlet featuring his newest creation, a master sleuth
called Sherlock Holmes and his chronicler, Dr. John Watson, M.D. Though critics complained about Holmes' apparent similarity to Poe's
detective, Dupin, the story and its characters were instantly popular; Conan Doyle began writing full time and within a few years abandoned his
medical practice. From 1887 to 1927 he wrote 60 Holmes adventures, including four novels: A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four (1890), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901), and The Valley of Fear (1915). Sherlock Holmes, the master detective, had just the right combination of Victorian heroic qualities and strange eccentricities to ignite the interests of readers of the time. His intrepid companion and chronicler, Dr. Watson, is widely accepted to have been modeled on none other than Conan Doyle himself. By 1892, Conan Doyle was tired of his character and, much to the dismay of his fans (including Conan Doyle's own mother), killed off Holmes in a battle with his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty in The Final Problem.
Rid of the burden of Holmes, Doyle could now turn to what he described as his first literary passion, historical romance. Even before Holmes' literary death, Conan Doyle had begun to produce what would become a large body of painstakingly researched historical novels, including Micah Clarke (1889), The White Company (1890), Sir Nigel (1905) and the Brigadier Gerard chronicles. Though somewhat popular, the books were never as well received as his detective stories, and in 1901, Conan Doyle bowed to public pressure and revived Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles -- set before the character's death. One year later, Conan Doyle revived his character for further adventures starting with The Adventure of the Empty House. Perhaps due to his growing resentment of his star character, Sherlock Holmes is one of the most wildly inconsistent characters in serial fiction, his very nature seems to change from story to story. But this subtle sabotage never affected the public's appetite for Holmes' exploits, and when Conan Doyle finally retired the character in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1927), he was more popular than ever.
A great supporter of the military and the Empire, he served as a physician in the Boer war. Subsequently, Conan Doyle wrote two treatises, The Great Boer War (1900) and The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct (1902), defending the war to a public which became increasingly vocal in its opposition to Britain's participation in the South African conflict. Doyle's patriotism earned him a knighthood. His participation in Britain's military continued into World War I where, to old to serve, he acted as correspondent, writing History of the British Campaign in France and Flanders (1916).
Having lost a son in World War I, the formerly Catholic Conan Doyle turned to Spiritualism, a semi-religious movement that swept England. As families dealt with the horrible loss of life brought about by the Great War, spiritualism's belief that the living could communicate with the dead became increasingly popular, and Doyle was a great proponent. Having created the character of Professor Challenger (another classic mix of intellectualism and physical adventure) in The Lost World (1912) Conan Doyle used his new creation to explore Spiritualism in The Land of Mist (1926). In addition, Conan Doyle wrote several monographs and conducted public speaking tours on the subject. Conan Doyle's last effort was his autobiography Memories and Adventures (1924). He died on July 7, 1930, and was buried at his home, Windlesham. On his oaken tombstone his epitaph sums up the spirit of both his times and his writing: "Steel True, Blade Straight."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was nothing if not a product of his times, and his writing both reflected and promoted the Victorian ideals of manly adventure and liberal imperialism singular to that period in British History. However, despite Doyle's efforts, the ingenious character of Sherlock Holmes transcends Doyle's time and views. Inspiring countless movies, novels, and plays, Sherlock Holmes helped revolutionize modern popular fiction and remains today one of the most recognizable figures in popular culture, and is the last and greatest legacy of Conan Doyle's career.
A further article on Doyle
Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (May 22, 1859 - July 7, 1930), but best known as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the British author most famously known for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, which are generally considered a major innovation in the field of crime fiction. He also wrote the novel The Lost World. Lesser known are his major historical novels, The White Company, Sir Nigel, Micah Clarke, Uncle Bernac, The Refugees, and The Great Shadow; Doyle also wrote plays and romances.
He was born in Edinburgh and sent to Jesuit preparatory school at the age of nine, and by the time he left the school in 1875, he had firmly rejected Catholicism and probably Christianity in general, to become an agnostic. From 1876 to 1881 he studied medicine at Edinburgh University, including a period working in the town of Aston (now a district of Birmingham). Following his term at University he served as a ship's doctor on a voyage to the West African coast, and then in 1882 he set up a practice in Plymouth. His medical practice was unsuccessful; while waiting for patients he began writing stories. It was only after he subsequently moved his practice to Southsea that he began to indulge more extensively in literature. His first significant work was A Study in Scarlet which appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887 and featured the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes.
In 1885 he married Louise Hawkins, who suffered from tuberculosis and eventually died in 1906. He married Miss Jean Leckie in 1907, whom he had first met and fallen in love with in 1897 but had maintained a platonic relationship with out of loyalty to his first wife.
In 1890 Doyle studied the eye in Vienna, and in 1891 moved to London to set up a practice as an ocularist. This also gave him more time for writing, and in November 1891 he wrote to his mother: 'I think of slaying Holmes ... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things.' In December 1893 he did so, with Holmes and his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty apparently plunging to their deaths together over a waterfall in the story "The Final Problem". Public outcry led him to bring the character back--Doyle returned to the story, saying that Holmes had climbed back up the cliff afterwards. Holmes eventually appeared in 56 short stories and four of Doyle's novels (he has since appeared in many novels and stories by other authors, as well).
Following the Boer War in South Africa at the turn of the century and the condemnation from around the world over Britain's conduct, Conan Doyle to wrote a short pamphlet titled The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct which was widely translated. Conan Doyle believed that it was this pamphlet that resulted in his being knighted and appointed as Deputy-Lieutenant of Surrey in 1902. During the early years of the twentieth century Sir Arthur twice ran for Parliament, once in Edinburgh and once in the Border Burghs, but although he received a respectable vote he was not elected.
Doyle also caused two cases to be reopened. The first case in 1906, involved a shy half-British, half-Indian lawyer named George Edalji, who'd allegedly penned threatening letters and mutilated animals. Police were dead set on Edalji's guilt, though the mutilations continued even after their suspect was jailed. It is important to note that partially as a result of this case the Court of Criminal Appeal was established in 1907. So not only did Conan Doyle help George Edalji, his work helped to establish a way to correct other miscarriages of justice. The second case of Oscar Slater, a German Jew and gambling-den operator convicted of bludgeoning an 82-year-old woman in 1908 -- excited Doyle's curiosity because of inconsistencies in the prosecution case and a general sense that Slater was framed. Sadly, one would not say either enjoyed the same resolution as Holmes' clients
In his later years, Doyle became involved with Spiritualism, to the extent that he wrote a Professor Challenger novel on the subject, The Land of Mist. One of the odder aspects of this involvement was his book The Coming of the Fairies (1921): He was apparently totally convinced of the veracity of the Cottingley fairy photographs, which he reproduced in the book, together with theories about the nature and existence of fairies.
Arthur Conan Doyle is buried in the Church Yard at Minstead in the New Forest, Hampshire, England.
Behobeho East Africa 1915 - 1917 Nyangao Kilimanjaro Great War 1917 Belgium 1914 -18