As you know Friday is usually the day to bring you a guest author. Whilst writing a post on Elizabeth Gaskell (and talking about BBC TV series) Sherlock Holmes came to mind, and I thought, yes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (I won’t enter into the debate of Conan Doyle being a composite name or Doyle alone being the surname, and Conan a middle name, that seems to be the generalised view, but I think it sounds good nonetheless). I should have thought about him before, as we share professions (he was a doctor, and evidently a writer) but…it’s never too late.
There are very thorough biographies, but I won’t go into a lot of detail and I’ll leave you links so you can expand at your leisure.
Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) was born in Edinburgh of Irish descent. Due to his father’s problems with alcohol his childhood was quite disrupted and the family separated and were spread around Edinburgh. Thanks to wealthy relatives he was educated at several Jesuit schools including in Austria. He later studied Medicine in Edinburgh, training in a variety of locations including Birmingham and Sheffield (I also work in Sheffield!). While he was studying he started writing and published some of his work in magazines. He also wrote articles for the BMJ (British Medical Journal).
When he completed medical school and was fully qualified he worked as a doctor in a Greenland whaler and later worked as ship surgeon on the SS Mayumba (travelling to West coast of Africa). He completed his Doctorate in 1885.
He initially settled as a partner with another doctor in Plymouth but the partnership didn’t work out and with little money he moved to Portsmouth (where he also played football) and settled as General Practitioner. The business was very slow and he started writing to pass the time. He wrote short stories, some inspired by his time at sea, including a version of the mystery of the Marie Celeste that he would popularise.
He had some difficulty publishing his work and the first story to be published in 1886 was A Study in Scarlet where Sherlock Holmes and Watson appear for the first time (he sold rights for £25). It got good reviews and proved popular and other works with the same characters were later commissioned. It seems that several people who knew his university professor, Joseph Bell, recognised many of his characteristics in Sherlock Holmes (including Sir Robert Louis Stevenson…I guess I should invite him too).
He published The Sign of the Four a continuation of the story in 1890, but feeling exploited by the publishing company he left them and started writing for others including the Strand magazine.
Sherlock Holmes was not his only subject and amongst other things he collaborated with J.M. Barrie on a libretto (and somebody else for the list…).
Apart from the aforementioned football he was also a keen cricketer and golfer.
He married twice (his first wife died of Tuberculosis in 1906), and had 2 children from his first marriage and three from his second marriage, 2 daughters and 3 sons.
In 1890 he studied Ophthalmology in Vienna and settled to practice in London. He again said he did not have many clients and dedicated himself to writing.
He told his mother in 1891 that he was thinking of killing Sherlock Holmes and she told him not to. He did in 1893 (or so it seemed). Due to public outrage he brought him back in the Hound of the Baskervilles in 1901 (although it was set before the Moriarty and Sherlock plunge into ReichenbachFalls in The Final Problem). In 1903 in The Adventure of the Empty House he explained how only Moriarty had fallen, but Holmes had faked his own death to fool his enemies. Sherlock appeared in 56 short stories and 4 novels by Doyle and in many stories by others (not to mention the many movie and TV adaptations).
He was interested in politics, wrote in defence of the UK actions in the Boer War in South Africa, (and he believed those writings got him the Knighthood). He also became a supporter of the Congo Free State campaign and wrote about it. (Some characters in The Lost World were inspired by his associates in the original campaign). He also stood for Parliament twice as a Liberal Unionist, but didn’t get elected.
Doyle also took an interest in miscarriages of justice and was involved in two successful appeals against convictions, in 1906 the case of George Edalji (beautifully narrated in the novel by Julian Barnes Arthur and George, 2005, that I wholeheartedly recommend) and in 1909 Oscar Slater. It is in part because of his efforts that the Court of Appeal was established in 1907.
Following a number of tragic occurrences (death of his wife, of one of his sons in WWI, of his brother, two brothers-in-law and two nephews), he became quite depressed and found refuge in Spiritualism. He was a member of the Ghost Club were they sought to prove evidence of paranormal phenomena, and he was convinced that the photographs of the Cottingley fairies were true. He was friends with Harry Houdini who also believed in Spiritualism but spent much of his time proving many mediums were frauds.
He died of a heart attack on the 7th July 1930 in Crowborough, where he had lived for 23 years. Initially buried in a rose garden as he did not consider himself Christian he was reburied with his wife in 1940 in Minstead churchyard in the New Forest, Hampshire.
Official website for SirArthurConanDoyleLiteraryState (it offers an specially written biography):
(I’ve already confessed how much I love the new modernised version of Sherlock Holmes from the BBC…)
Free links to books:
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
The Lost World
The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot
The Adventure of the Dying Detective
Tales of Terror and Mystery
His Last Bow
The Great Boer War
The Sign of the Four
The Valley of Fear
There are many other works at very low prices and many stories on line also.
Thank you for reading, and as always, if you have enjoyed it, please, like, comment, share, and CLICK! It’s FREE!
- Oliver Tearle: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Sherlock Holmes (huffingtonpost.com)
- Free Sherlock Holmes: the Copyright Battle of Baker Street (theconversation.com)
- The Adventures and memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Recommended by Lynn (shoelanelibrary.wordpress.com)