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English Literature

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 1859 - 1930

Arthur Conan Doyle, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1859.  Doyle was mainly brought up in Jesuit boarding schools, and entered the University of Edinburgh in 1881, receiving a medical degree in 1885. One of his professors, Dr. Joseph Bell, was to serve as a model for Sherlock Holmes.

He began writing while still in school in order to earn money, and sold his first story ("The Mystery of the Sasassa Valley") to Chambers' Journal in 1879. Later that year his father fell ill and entered a convalescent home, and Arthur became the head of the family, assuming its financial burdens.To earn money, he spent some months as ship's doctor on two vessels, and eventually opened a medical practice in Southsea, Portsmouth. Like Dr. Watson's, his practice was "never very absorbing", at least at first, and he began writing novels in his spare time. His third try was A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes story, published in 1887 as the annual Christmas novel of Mrs. Beeton's magazine. The Sign of the Four followed in 1890. With further novels and stories his literary reputation grew to the extent that he closed his medical practice. The first Sherlock Holmes short story was published in The Strand magazine in 1891 ("A Scandal in Bohemia") and two dozen more followed shortly; when Doyle grew tired of Holmes in 1894 and killed him off (in "The Final Problem"), public outcry was so great that Doyle was forced to explain away Holmes' death and continue his career. In the final Holmes story (published in 1917 as part of His Last Bow), he has come out of retirement to aid His Majesty in the war effort.


By the turn of the century, Doyle had determined to concentrate on "serious" novels, and created several other characters, such as Brigadier Etienne Gerard and the boxer Rodney Stone; but none of his other novels have remained at all well-known.

Doyle was married to Louise Hawkins in 1885, and had two children with her; she was seriously ill 8 years later and died in 1900. Doyle married again to Jean Leckie in 1907, and fathered three more children. Following his first wife's death, and eager to witness the Boer War, Doyle sailed for South Africa as doctor and unofficial diplomat, and eventually wrote a definitive account called The Great Boer War. In the period leading up to the First World War, he became a sort of unofficial statesman and advocate, famously championing the cause of several men unfairly convicted in criminal trials, and campaigning for lifesaving equipment and body armor for the navy. Throughout his life, he was also a devoted sportsman, who had played football and cricket on national teams as well as motor-racing and boxing. When his son died in the First World War, Doyle's lifelong interest in spiritualism developed into a consuming passion, and at that point he devoted the rest of his life to its pursuit, becoming something of a fanatic. He toured Europe and America in search of converts, and wrote a few books on the subject, making arrangements to contact his wife after his death.

Sherlock Holmes, Doyle's enduring creation and the most famous of fictional detectives, was the world's first consulting detective, operating from his rooms at 221B Baker Street in London, which he shared with his friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson. A steady procession of the distressed, the set-upon, and the criminal make their way through the door of the parlour to enlist Holmes's help; the supporting characters (Mrs. Hudson, the housekeeper; Lestrade, an inept Scotland Yard inspector; Hopkins and Gregson, policemen of greater ability; and the Baker Street Irregulars, a pack of street urchins who Holmes employs to ferret out information) have entered with Holmes into literary immortality. In the early stories, when he has no cases under investigation, Holmes-- who cannot face mental inactivity-- uses cocaine for stimulation, but Watson has exhorted him out of this habit by the end of the series. Holmes possesses amazing deductive powers, a giant intellect, and a formidable athleticism; he has an encyclopedic knowledge of any area touching his criminal interests (but hardly any knowledge of, for example, astronomy or politics). He seems to have no need of ordinary human friendship or romance, and Watson occasionally compares him to a machine, so arrogantly cold and detached could he be toward his clients. (In "A Scandal in Bohemia", in which he first meets the only woman who ever impressed him-- Irene Adler-- Holmes explains that emotions and romantic passions would get in the way of his logical, deductive mind). Watson eventually marries and moves out of Holmes's rooms, but drops by for visits now and then and continues to chronicle a few of Holmes's more interesting cases. In 1891 Holmes was said to have perished at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland at the hands of his arch-enemy, the crime boss Professor Moriarty, but reappeared in London three years later, having taken the opportunity to fake his disappearance in order to fool his enemies in the underworld. After his return Watson in fact sells his practice (his wife having meanwhile died) and moves back to Baker Street. Before the war, Holmes retired to the South Downs to keep bees, but returned for a final adventure on behalf of the government during the War.

The Sherlock Holmes stories were the first to popularize the detective as a deducer of facts, although Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin probably began the genre. It is to Doyle that we owe most of our stereotypes of the Great Detective and our idea of a fair mystery story. As his many fans can attest, his popularity is still strong, although the stories are nearly as interesting as a window into the world of Victorian London as they are for their plots. The swirling fogs, clattering cabhorses, top-hatted gentlemen and delicate ladies are as much a part of the Sherlock Holmes stories as the chains of deductions that lead Holmes to his conclusions, always one step ahead of the baffled police.






Selected Bibliography:

Collected editions: 1903 Works. Author's edition. 12 vol. Fiction: 1888 A Study in Scarlet 1889 Micah Clarke, his statement as made to his three grandchildren ... 1889 The Mystery of Cloomber 1889 -Mysteries and Adventures 1890 The Captain of the Polestar and other tales 1890 The Firm of Girdlestone: a romance of the unromantic 1890 The Sign of Four 1891 The White Company 1892 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (stories) 1892 The Doings of Raffles Haw. 1892 The Great Shadow 1892 Beyond the City. The idyll of a suburb. (1912) 1893 -The Gully of Bluemansdyke. (Reissue of Mysteries and Adventures 1889) 1893 The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (stories) 1893 The Refugees. A tale of two continents. 1894 The Parasite 1994 Round the Red Lamp: being facts and fancies of a medical life 1895 The Stark Munro Letters 1896 The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard 1896 Rodney Stone 1896 Uncle Bernac: A Memory of the Empire 1898 The Tragedy of Korosko 1899 A Duet, with an Occasional Chorus 1900 The Green Flag and Other Stories of War and Sport 1902 The Hound of the Baskervilles 1903 The Adventures of Gerard. (Tales of the Napoleonic soldiers) 1905 The Return of Sherlock Holmes (stories) 1906 Sir Nigel 1908 Round the Fire Stories 1911 The Last Galley: Impressions and Tales 1912 The Lost World 1913 The Poison Belt 1915 The Valley of Fear 1917 His Last Bow: Some Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes 1918 Danger! and Other Stories 1922 +Tales of Long Ago 1922 +Tales of Pirates and Blue Water 1922 +Tales of Adventure and Medical Life 1922 +Tales of Terror and Mystery 1922 +Tales of Twilight and the Unseen 1926 The Land of Mist 1927 The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (stories) 1929