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Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur

Page history last edited by Jon 12 years, 5 months ago

Arthur Conan DoyleSir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (May 22, 1859 – July 7, 1930) was a Scottish author of Irish descent 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 was a prolific writer whose other works include science fiction stories, historical novels, plays and romances, poetry, and non-fiction.


Arthur Conan Doyle was born in 1859 in Edinburgh to Richard and Mary Doyle, Irish immigrants who had moved to Scotland. He was sent to the Jesuit preparatory school Stonyhurst at the age of nine, and by the time he left the school in 1875 he rejected Christianity 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. He won his doctorate in 1885. His medical practice was unsuccessful; while waiting for patients he began writing stories. His first literary experience came in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal before he was 20.


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 who was modelled after Doyle's former University professor, Joseph Bell. Interestingly, Rudyard Kipling congratulated Doyle on his success, asking "Could this be my old friend, Dr. Joe?". While living in Southsea he helped form Portsmouth Football Club and played as the club's first goalkeeper


In 1885 he married Louise Hawkins, who suffered from tuberculosis and eventually died in 1906. He married Jean Leckie in 1907, whom he had first met and fallen in love with in 1897 but had maintained a platonic relationship with her out of loyalty to his first wife. Doyle had five children, two with his first wife (Mary and Kingsley), and three with his second wife (Jean, Denis, and Adrian).


In 1890 Doyle studied the eye in Vienna, and in 1891 moved to London to set up a practice as an oculist. 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 in order to dedicate more of his time to more "important" works (namely his historical novels), pitting Holmes against his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty. They apparently plunged to their deaths together down a waterfall in the story "The Final Problem". Public outcry led him to bring the character back—Doyle returned to the story in "The Adventure of the Empty House", with the ingenious explanation that only Moriarty had fallen, but, since Holmes had other dangerous enemies, he had arranged to be temporarily "dead" also. Holmes eventually appears in a total of 56 short stories and four Doyle novels (he has since appeared in many novels and stories by other authors).


Following the Boer War in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century and the condemnation from around the world over Britain's conduct, Doyle wrote a short pamphlet titled The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct which justified Britain's role in the Boer war and was widely translated. Doyle believed that it was this pamphlet that resulted in his being knighted and appointed as Deputy-Lieutenant of Surrey in 1902. He also wrote the longer book The Great Boer War in 1900. During the early years of the 20th century Sir Arthur twice ran for Parliament as a Liberal Unionist, once in Edinburgh and once in the Border Burghs, but although he received a respectable vote he was not elected.


Conan Doyle was involved in the campaign for the reform of the Congo Free State, led by the journalist E. D. Morel and the diplomat Roger Casement. He wrote The Crime of the Congo in 1909, a long pamphlet in which he denounced the horrors in Congo. He become acquainted with Morel and Casement, taking inspiration from them for two of the main characters of the novel The Lost World (1912). He broke with both when Morel (who was rather left-wing) became one of the leaders of the pacifist movement during the First World War, and Casement committed treason against Britain out of conviction for his Irish nationalist views. Doyle tried, unsuccessfully, to save Casement from the death penalty, arguing that he had been driven mad and was not responsible for his actions.


Doyle was also a fervent advocate of justice, and personally investigated two closed cases, which led to two imprisoned men being released. The first case, in 1906, involved a shy half-British, half-Indian lawyer named George Edalji, who had allegedly penned threatening letters and mutilated animals. Police were dead set on Edalji's conviction, even though the mutilations continued even after their suspect was jailed. It was partially as a result of this case that 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 story of Conan Doyle and Edalji is told in fictional form in Julian Barnes's 2005 novel, Arthur & George.


The second case—that of Oscar Slater, a German Jew and gambling-den operator convicted of bludgeoning an 82-year-old woman in Glasgow in 1908—excited Doyle's curiosity because of inconsistencies in the prosecution case and a general sense that Slater was framed.


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 period of his life 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 and spirits. His work on this topic was one of the reasons that one of his short story collections, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, was banned in the Soviet Union in 1929 for supposed occultism. This ban was later removed.


Doyle was friends for a time with the American magician Harry Houdini, a prominent opponent of the Spiritualist movement. Although Houdini insisted that Spiritualist mediums employed trickery (and consistently attempted to expose them as frauds), Doyle became convinced that Houdini himself possessed supernatural powers, a view expressed in Doyle's The Edge of the Unknown. Houdini was apparently unable to convince Doyle that his feats were simply magic tricks, leading to a bitter, public falling out between the two.


Richard Milner, an American historian of science, has presented a case that Doyle may have been the perpetrator of the Piltdown man hoax of 1912, creating the counterfeit hominid fossil that fooled the scientific world for over 40 years. Milner says that Doyle had a motive, namely revenge on the scientific establishment for debunking one of his favourite psychics, and that The Lost World contains several encrypted clues regarding his involvement in the hoax.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died of a heart attack in 1930 and is buried in the Church Yard at Minstead in the New Forest, Hampshire, England.


All the Holmes stories and many other works by Conan Doyle are available via Project Gutenberg.




Sherlock Holmes

A Study in Scarlet (1887)

The Sign of Four (1890)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891)

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893)

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1903)

His Last Bow: Some Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes (1917)

The Valley of Fear (1914)

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1921)


Other Stories

Round the Fire Stories (1908)


Comments (1)

Jon said

at 6:18 pm on Jan 30, 2010

Les Klinger (The Annotated Sherlock Holmes) and Susan Dahlinger (who, among other things knows more about actor William Gillette than she cares to) have given us the The GAD list before there were lists. In fact that should read the GAD list almost before there was a Golden Age.

The book in question is Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle and the Bookman: Pastiches, Parodies, Letters, Columns and Commentary from America's Magazine of Literature and Life (1895-1933)

The collection they have put together really does feel like a modern list; with letters (and replies), articles, author profiles, debates on what makes a good detective story and comments on the future of the genre. It lacks an index, which bothered me at first. Now I'm beginning to consider it an advantage. I've opened it more than once at random and immediately found myself chasing the detailed editors notes back and forth from an article to letters commenting on it to relevant book reviews. They've even managed to include photos and cartoons from the magazine.

Wessex Press has have produced a handsome book in which anyone interested in our favorite genre will find themselves at home. I haven't found it in any of the major bookstores yet but I've pasted the publishers link below.

Oh yeah, truth in reviewing disclaimer. I've known both the editors, and considered them friends -- for decades in various Sherlockian and MWA circles. But I'm pretty sure the envy and friendship factors have cancelled each other out in this case

Best Regards

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