Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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          'Any truth is better than indefinite doubt.'
          - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

        The man who will be forever linked to one of the great creations of the written word, Sherlock Holmes, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1859. His surname was Doyle though in later life he used his middle name Conan as part of his surname. Great idea in my book as Arthur Conan Doyle sounds so much more authoritative than plain Arthur Doyle (and apologies to all those Arthur Doyles out there).

        He was educated at Jesuit boarding schools, and started attending the University of Edinburgh Medical School in 1881. Dr. Joseph Bell was one of his professors there and he it was who Doyle modelled Sherlock Holmes on.

        He had begun earning a little extra money from writing and at the age of 20 had his first story published, The Mystery of the Sasassa Valley, in the Chambers' Journal in 1879.

        When his father fell ill (he was alcoholic) shortly after, Doyle was forced to support the family. Before opening his own medical practice near Portsmouth, he worked as a ship's doctor. He was reduced to writing in his spare time.

        Conan Doyle was married to Louise Hawkins in 1885 at the age of 26 until her death 15 years later. They had two children. At the age of 48 he married for a 2nd time, in 1907, to Jeanne Leckie who was much younger. They had three children. Recently, previoulsy unpublished letters suggest he began the affair with his 2nd wife before the 1st had died, and that the terminally ill Louise had given her blessing to him remarrying.

        In the early 1890s he lived in South Norwood, London. The house is still there, with a blue plaque, and photos and more details can be found here. This would have been around the time he began enjoying success with Sherlock Holmes though he had first appeared in his novel, A Study in Scarlet, in 1887, published in Mrs. Beeton's Christmas annual. The second Holmes mystery, The Sign of the Four, appeared in 1890. But the South Norwood years was when Conan Doyle was really seeing Sherlock Holmes take off; so much so that he could quickly afford to devote himself to writing full time.

        Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

        In the year he moved to South Norwood, 1891, the first Sherlock Holmes short story, A Scandal in Bohemia, appeared in The Strand Magazine . Some 24 more stories followed over the next few years whilst he lived at 12 Tennison Road, and all were . enormously successful. By 1894 Conan Doyle had tired of his own creation, and killed him off in The Final Problem. The public was having none of it. Protest letters poured in and he was forced to bring Holmes back. Holmes was reborn and appeared in numerous short stories over the next 23 years.

        Apart from his most famous creation, Conan Doyle wrote historic fiction. Works included Micah Clarke (1888), The White Company (1890), Rodney Stone (1896), and Sir Nigel (1906). Moreover, having served as a doctor in the Boer War, he wrote two books which defended England's participation in that conflict. He received a knighthood for these books in 1902.

        After Holmes, probably the thing Conan Doyle is most remembered for today is his interest in spiritualism. This came about after the death of his son in World War I. He became convinced that it was possible to communicate with the dead ... a conviction that brought him some ridicule from his public.

        Arthur Conan Doyle died on July 7, 1930, at the age of 71. He is buried in the churchyard at Minstead Hampshire. Without him the literary genre of the detective story would not be what it is today. Moreover with the advent of film and tv, his most famous character reached yet more people around the world. Though I don't know what he would have made of the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce films they are my favourite. I'm pretty sure he would have approved of Jeremy Brett's tour de force interpretation.

        © - Paul Page (2008)


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