Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories and novellas featuring Sherlock Holmes became enduring classics of the mystery and detective genre. Doyle is credited with refining and developing the formula first realized by Edgar Allan Poe in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter.” In so doing, he created a form for the detective story that remained enormously popular until World War II and that remained the supreme example of crime fiction throughout the twentieth century. According to John G. Cawelti, this form makes a mythic game of crime; the criminal act becomes a manifestation of potential chaos in the self and society, but the detective asserts reason’s power over this element, reassuring the reader of control over the self and safety within the social order. The continuing popularity of Doyle’s stories is evidenced by their remaining in print in an abundance of competing editions, the scholarly activity they stimulate, and the proliferation of film and video adaptations—as well as new Holmes tales by other authors.

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Arthur Conan Doyle’s more than one hundred published works include novels, autobiography, political treatises, plays adapted from his fiction, and works on spiritualism as well as his short stories, for which he is best known. His character Sherlock Holmes has been the subject of innumerable films, plays, and radio scripts and has become the archetype of the conventional detective hero.

Achievements

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While Doyle was not the first to write short stories featuring a detective with great analytical powers, and while he acknowledged his debt to such writers as Edgar Allan Poe andÉmile Gaboriau, who had written tales of intelligent amateur detectives solving crimes through logical deduction, in Sherlock Holmes, Doyle created a character who has entered the popular imagination like no other. Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most famous and popular character in detective fiction, if not in all modern fiction. Doyle’s stories were a strong influence on writers such as Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, and the many others who create tightly constructed puzzles for their detectives to solve with clearly and closely reasoned analysis. Societies such as the Baker Street Irregulars have sprung up around the world to study Doyle’s stories, and the name of Sherlock Holmes has become synonymous with deduction, while “Elementary, my dear Watson” is a catchphrase even among those who have never read the stories.

Other literary forms

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In his lifetime, Arthur Conan Doyle (doyuhl) was far better known for his short stories than for his novels. Until he became interested in science fiction (a medium he found better suited to shorter fiction) after 1900, Doyle concentrated his creative energies on his novels, those works by which he felt posterity would judge him, and took a purely monetary interest in the short-story format. Ironically, contemporary readers and critics continue to value the Sherlock Holmes short stories and largely ignore Doyle’s historical novels.

One of the most prolific in an era of prolific authors, Doyle also dabbled in the theater. The most commercially successful of his dramas was the stage version of Sherlock Holmes, first produced in 1899, starring William Gillette. Doyle frequently financed his own plays, such as the violent and realistic The Fires of Fate (pr. 1909, from his novel The Tragedy of the Koroska), a dramatization of a river-pirate raid on a party of English tourists in Egypt, an adventure based—like so many of Doyle’s works—on his own experiences.

Doyle’s nonfiction was largely polemical. He chronicled and defended the course of the British involvement in the Boer War in his The Great Boer War, published in 1900, and The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct (1902). His efforts at defending government policy, as well as his own medical service during the war, were largely responsible for his knighthood. Doyle also wrote extensively about other causes: the reform of the divorce laws, the denial of the vote for women, the abolition of ostrich-feather hats. He reserved his greatest energy, however, for his popularizing and propagandizing of spiritualism, a doctrine with which he had toyed from his youth and to which he became devoted after the death of his eldest son in World War I. Indeed, the last fifteen years of his life were spent in furthering the spiritualist cause through writings and lectures.

Achievements

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“Come, Watson. The game’s afoot.” Few words by any author evoke a clearer picture in the public’s mind. Individuals who have never read a Sherlock Holmes story can immediately conjure up a vision of two distinctive figures leaving the fog-shrouded entrance to 221-B Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes, tall and skeletal, pale from his sedentary existence and haggard from his addiction to cocaine, wearing his famous deerstalker cap; Dr. Watson, short and stolid, though limping from an old bullet wound, one hand nervously hovering over the pocket that holds his trusted revolver. Indeed, few, if any, imaginary addresses have received the bulk of mail that continues to be sent to Holmes’s Baker Street apartment; few fictional characters have been the subject of even a single “biography,” let alone the great number of books that purport to document the life of Sherlock Holmes; and certainly few authors have cursed the success of one of their creations as much as Arthur Conan Doyle did that of Sherlock Holmes.

When the struggling young Portsmouth physician first wrote down the name of “Sherringford Hope,” soon changed to “Sherlock Holmes” in honor of the American writer Oliver Wendell Holmes, he did not dream of fame or literary immortality but merely of some means of augmenting his income, for he had a wife as well as a younger brother and an impoverished mother to support. In fact, as soon as A Study in Scarlet had been sent off to a prospective publisher in early 1887, Doyle was hard at work on Micah Clarke, the novel he felt would represent “a dooropened for me into the Temple of the Muses.” Two years later, Doyle wrote the second Holmes novel, The Sign of Four, as a jeu d’esprit after a convivial dinner with Oscar Wilde, an unlikely admirer of Micah Clarke, and James Stoddart, the editor of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, who challenged both Doyle and Wilde to supply him with suitable mystery manuscripts. Doyle’s real interest at the time was in the completion of his “masterpiece,” the historical novel The White Company, and its acceptance for serialization in the Cornhill Magazine beginning in January, 1891, seemed to him a far better harbinger of literary fame.

The unexpected success of Sherlock Holmes stories as they appeared in The Strand Magazine in the early 1890’s quickly established Doyle’s reputation as, in the opinion of Greenough Smith, literary editor of the magazine, the greatest short-story writer since Edgar Allan Poe, but Doyle continued to churn out a seemingly endless series of historical and semiautobiographical novels, most of which are read today only by scholars. The commercial success of these novels (The Firm of Girdlestone, Beyond the City, The Great Shadow, The Refugees, The Parasite, The Stark Munro Letters, Rodney Stone, Uncle Bernac, and Sir Nigel, among others), his numerous collections of short stories, his occasional ventures into drama, and his essays and pamphlets on social and political issues (such as reform of the divorce laws and the conduct of the Boer War) all depended in large part on Doyle’s popularity as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Throughout his life, however, he never saw the stories and novels featuring Holmes and Watson as much more than potboilers. Even the famous “resurrection” of Holmes in 1903 was an attempt to capitalize financially on the success of the London opening of the play Sherlock Holmes, starring William Gillette. Doyle saw his real life’s work, up until he became a propagandist for spiritualism at the end of his life, as writing fiction that would amuse and distract “the sick and the dull and the weary” through the evocation of the heroic past.

Arthur Conan Doyle

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Early Life

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born into an artistic Catholic family and grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland, a Protestant stronghold. His grandfather and his uncle were illustrators; Richard, his uncle, gained fame drawing for Punch. Doyle’s father, Charles, became clerk of the Board of Works in Edinburgh, but he also drew. He illustrated the first edition of his son’s A Study in Scarlet (1887), the first tale of Sherlock Holmes. Charles suffered from mental illness and alcoholism and was institutionalized from 1879 until his death in 1893. Doyle’s mother, Mary Foley, was an Irish Catholic. She reared seven children, of whom Arthur was the fourth. Ever a practical woman, she oversaw Doyle’s education, sending him to Jesuit schools at Stoneyhurst and at Feldkirch, Austria, despite the family’s comparative poverty. She later encouraged him to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. They remained close until her death in 1921.

Doyle grew into a large and sturdy man, over six feet tall. Photographs show him square-headed and mustached, with a direct, self-confident gaze. A fine athlete, he was welcomed on cricket and soccer teams well into his middle years.

Having started medical study in 1877, Doyle began his writing career soon after. He published his first story, “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley,” in 1879. At the university, he met two professors who became models for his most famous literary creations: Dr. Joseph Bell, the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, and William Rutherford, the prototype for Professor Challenger of The Lost World (1912). Before finishing his bachelor of medicine, Doyle sought adventure, signing on as surgeon for an arctic whaling cruise in 1880. After taking his degree in 1881, he tried a second cruise, this time to Africa.

Doyle practiced medicine in Plymouth, then in Southsea, a suburb of Portsmouth, and finally in London, but he was never notably successful. Upon completing his M.D. in 1885, he married Louise Hawkins. Within the first year of their marriage, Doyle wrote two novels but failed to publish them, though he continued to publish magazine pieces.

A decisive moment in his career came in 1886, when he finished A Study in Scarlet, his first Sherlock Holmes adventure. The tale appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual, where it attracted enough attention to warrant a separate edition in 1888.

As he entered fully into his writing career, Doyle seemed to be a man of balanced opposites: a lapsed Catholic who still respected the faith, a man of science turning to a profession in the arts, a man of reason already attracted to the Spiritualist movement, a man of physical strength and activity who also loved scholarship, a man who dreamed of producing great historical literature in the vein of Sir Walter Scott yet who was about to achieve greatness writing what he considered potboilers for a new popular magazine.

Life’s Work

To an extent, Doyle captured this balance of opposites in Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. In Holmes, the powers of reason are developed at the expense of the emotions. He solves crimes by keen observation, building hypotheses based on established facts, and testing those hypotheses. Watson, though quite competent, is a more ordinary man, a doctor who eventually marries and lives a prosaic life, except when with Holmes on a case. Then his life blossoms into adventure. Holmes is a creative genius, using a “scientific method” in an artistic manner to produce masterpieces of detection. Watson turns these masterpieces into what Holmes often describes as trivial romances, more entertaining than instructive.

Though Doyle proceeded to write what he considered great historical novels, some of which were quite well received, the public showed more interest in Holmes. At the request of Lippincott’s Magazine, Doyle produced The Sign of Four (1890). Giving up his medical practice in 1891, he turned to writing for his living. He then wrote a series of Holmes stories for The Strand, beginning with “A Scandal in Bohemia.” These were so popular that the editors asked for more. Before he had finished twelve—collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)—he was tired of his characters and told his mother he intended to kill Holmes in the last one. She recommended against this course.

When The Strand asked for more Holmes stories in 1892, Doyle tried to put them off, as he had when they asked for the second six in 1891. Then he had asked the “ridiculous” price of fifty pounds, which The Strand gladly paid. This time he asked for one thousand pounds per story, and again, The Strand was eager. Eventually collected as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894), this series ended with “The Final Problem,” in which Holmes dies, falling down the Swiss Reichenbach Falls in the grip of Moriarty, “the Napoleon of crime.”

Having taken Louise to Switzerland after discovering her tuberculosis, Doyle was away from London when The Strand readers learned of Holmes’s death. Nevertheless, he heard in no uncertain terms the sorrow and anger of Holmes’s fans. Still, he published no more Holmes stories until The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902).

Between 1892 and 1901, Doyle continued writing popular stories for The Strand, the best about Etienne Gerard, a comic soldier in Napoleon’s army. He also made a successful reading tour of the United States, sailed up the Nile with Louise, and visited the Sudan as a war correspondent. Having been convinced that the climate of Surrey was good for tuberculosis patients, Doyle and Louise settled there in 1896. In 1897, Doyle met and fell in love with Jean Leckie, then twenty-four. With typical loyalty and honor, Doyle maintained a platonic relationship with her until after Louise’s death. He married Jean in 1907. They had three children: Denis (1909), Adrian (1910), and Lena Jean (1912).

Before the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899, Doyle published story collections, novels, poetry, and drama. When the war began, he was turned down for combat because of his age, but he served under terrible conditions and without pay as a medical officer. His experiences in the war led to two books. In the second, The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct (1902), he defended the British role in the war. For this service, he was knighted in 1902.

After running unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1900, Doyle visited Dartmoor. There, he heard legends that became the inspiration for The Hound of the Baskervilles. In this most famous Holmes story, Watson and Holmes solve the murder of a country gentleman and save the life of his heir, both of whom are beset by a “hell hound,” supposedly the product of an ancestral curse.

While this novel was appearing in The Strand, William Gillette’s play, Sherlock Holmes (1899), opened successfully in London, and the demand for more Holmes stories increased. American and British publishers offered Doyle approximately seventy-five hundred dollars per story to write more. He began a new series with “The Adventure of the Empty House,” in which Holmes returns after three years of hiding from surviving members of Moriarty’s gang, for he had not really fallen with Moriarty over the falls. This series was collected in The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905).

Doyle continued to produce Holmes stories sporadically for the rest of his life. The Valley of Fear (1915) recounts an encounter with agents of Moriarty. His Last Bow (1917) collects stories that had appeared in The Strand between 1893 and 1917. The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927) collects stories from 1921 to 1927. Doyle’s last Holmes story was “The Adventure of Schoscombe Old Place.”

Though his popularity and subsequent fame have rested mainly upon the Holmes tales, Doyle was reluctant to see these as his enduring achievements. Energetic, inquisitive, and ambitious, he sought to influence public opinion in many ways. In 1906, he ran for Parliament, again unsuccessfully. After Louise’s death, he took humanitarian interest in English legal reform and in Belgian policy in the Congo. He spoke out on political issues such as Irish home rule, participated in an Anglo-German auto race, traveled widely in Europe and America, and was a war correspondent during World War I.

In 1916, Doyle became convinced that he had received a spirit message and proceeded to become a leader of the Spiritualist movement. He wrote several books on Spiritualism, including The History of Spiritualism (1926), a study that has been praised despite the prejudices of its author. He also came to believe in fairies and wrote about them. He gave generous financial support to research into the paranormal, especially communication with the dead. His friendship with Harry Houdini came to an end because Houdini exposed so many fraudulent claims.

The best-remembered creation from the last third of his life is another character, Professor Challenger, the hero of The Lost World (the novel which provided the basis for the classic film, King Kong, 1933). Challenger is a passionate scientist, eager to explore unknown worlds. Like Holmes, Challenger eventually became a film hero as well as appearing in several successful novels and stories, but he never approached the popularity of Holmes.

Doyle fell ill with heart disease in 1929 and died in 1930 at his home, Windlesham, where he was buried.

Summary

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s biographers all characterize him as a late Victorian type. Throughout his life, he remained confident in the soundness of his own moral vision and in the basic goodness of British morality. As a public personage, he repeatedly took the lead, both in praising British principles and in criticizing particular policies. He is credited with helping to modernize British defense between the Boer War and World War I, especially the defensive gear of common soldiers. He twice played detective himself, investigating cases of people unjustly condemned to prison. One of these, the Edalji case (1906), contributed to establishing a court of criminal appeal in 1907. Even his support of Spiritualism was a public crusade to effect the spiritual transformation of a nation he feared was in decline.

While his public services were many, including credit for introducing skiing to the Alps, Doyle will continue to be remembered mainly for the Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes and Watson are indelible fixtures of Western culture, encountered in virtually every popular medium. These stories have influenced every important writer in the detective genre, from traditionalists such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ellery Queen, to “hard-boiled” writers such as Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and P. D. James.

Bibliography

Akinson, Michael. The Secret Marriage of Sherlock Holmes and Other Eccentric Readings. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. Attempts to read Holmes’s stories in the manner in which Holmes himself might read them. “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is read in terms of the philosophy of Kundalini yoga; “A Scandal in Bohemia” is read in terms of its use of traditional romance motifs and its debt to Edgar Allan Poe; Jungian psychology is used to read A Study in Scarlet; and Derridian deconstruction is used to read “The Adventure of the Copper Breeches.”

Baring-Gould, W. S. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of the World’s First Consulting Detective. New York: Bramhall House, 1962. A “biography” of Doyle’s most popular creation, Sherlock Holmes. Based upon the Sherlock Holmes stories and numerous secondary sources. A chronological outline of Holmes’s life as created by Baring-Gould is also included.

Barsham, Diana. Arthur Conan Doyle and the Meaning of Masculinity. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2000. A discussion of masculinity according to Doyle, delving into all Doyle’s writings, including his war correspondence and travel writings.

Booth, Martin. The Doctor, the Detective, and Arthur Conan Doyle: A Biography of Arthur Conan Doyle. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1997. A good survey of the life of Doyle.

Carr, John Dickson. The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. London: John Murray, 1949. One of the first biographies of Doyle not written by a relative. Carr’s straightforward biography gives a good overview of Doyle’s life. Carr quotes copiously from Doyle’s letters, but there is very little discussion of the stories. Includes a list of sources and an index.

Day, Barry, ed. Sherlock Holmes in His Own Words and in the Words of Those Who Knew Him. Taylor, 2003. Day has culled details of Holme's life from passages in the stories and arranged them into an entertaining biography

Edwards, Owen Dudley. The Quest for Sherlock Holmes: A Biographical Study of Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1983. Concentrates on the first twenty-three years of Doyle’s life in an attempt to unravel the influence of various forces in his early life on his writing, such as his early love of history and Celtic lore, the impoverished and Catholic Edinburgh of his youth, and his alcoholic father.

Fido, Martin. The World of Sherlock Holmes: The Facts and Fiction Behind the World’s Greatest Detective. Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Media, 1998.

Green, Richard Lancelyn. A Bibliography of A. Conan Doyle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Provides a massive bibliography of all that Doyle wrote, including obscure short pieces. Illustrated and containing a seventy-five-page index, this book includes a list of more than one hundred books of biographical, bibliographical, and critical interest for the study of Doyle.

Hall, Jasmine Yong. “Ordering the Sensational: Sherlock Holmes and the Female Gothic.” Studies in Short Fiction 28 (Summer, 1991): 295-304. Examines how gothic elements and female clients in a number of stories, including the well-known “The Speckled Band,” establish the rational detective as a powerful, patriarchal hero. Argues that Holmes controls his female clients as much as the gothic villains in Doyle’s stories.

Higham, Sir Charles. The Adventures of Conan Doyle: The Life of the Creator of Sherlock Holmes. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976. A popular biography which attempts to establish a link between Doyle’s detective fiction and events in his own life, such as his use of actual criminal cases, the mental collapse of his father, and his interest in spiritualism. Indexed and illustrated. Includes a bibliography.

Hodgson, John A., ed. Sherlock Holmes: The Major Stories with Contemporary Critical Essays. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. Includes nine essays on Holmes, from a variety of critical perspectives, including feminist, deconstruction, and discourse analysis approaches.

Jaffee, Jacqueline A. Arthur Conan Doyle. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Jaffee’s solid work combines biography and a critical discussion of Doyle’s stories and novels. Contains three chapters on the Sherlock Holmes stories, which closely examine the tales. Supplemented by an index, a bibliography of Doyle’s work, and an annotated bibliography.

Jann, Rosemary. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Detecting Social Order. New York: Twayne, 1995. Part of Twayne’s Masterwork Series, this slim volume is divided into two parts, the first of which places the great detective in a literary and historical context, followed by Jann’s own reading of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlockian approach to detective fiction. In addition to a selected bibliography, Jann’s book includes a brief chronology of Doyle’s life and work.

Kestner, Joseph A. “Real Men: Construction of Masculinity in the Sherlock Holmes Narratives.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 29 (Spring, 1996): 73-88. Discusses the construction of masculinity in Doyle’s detective stories. Claims that one peculiar value of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories is the exposure of the contradictory nature of the realist text and besieged late-Victorian masculinity.

Orel, Harold, ed. Critical Essays on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992. Including both evaluations by Doyle’s contemporaries and later scholarship—some of it commissioned specifically for inclusion in this collection—Critical Essays is divided into three sections: “Sherlock Holmes,” “Other Writings,” and “Spiritualism.” Harold Orel opens the collections with a lengthy and comprehensive essay, which is followed by a clever and classic meditation by Dorothy L. Sayers on “Dr. Watson’s Christian Name.” Also included are pieces by such literary lights as George Bernard Shaw, Max Beerbohm, and Heywood Broun.

Otis, Laura. “The Empire Bites Back: Sherlock Holmes as an Imperial Immune System.” Studies in 20th Century Literature 22 (Winter, 1998): 31-60. Argues that Sherlock Holmes acts like a bacteriologist, hunting down tiny invaders and playing a defensive role as an imperial intelligence network detecting foreigners passing themselves off as British.

Priestman, Martin. Detective Fiction and Literature: The Figure on the Carpet. London: Macmillan, 1990. Priestman discusses the differences and similarities of detective and conventional fiction and provides an introduction to the social, structural, and psychological implications of crime fiction. He includes two chapters on the Sherlock Holmes stories, which provide close readings of several stories.

Ross, Thomas Wynne. Good Old Index: The Sherlock Holmes Handbook, a Guide to the Sherlock Holmes Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Persons, Places, Themes, Summaries of all the Tales, with Commentary on the Style of the Author. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1997. An excellent manual for followers of Doyle’s Holmes stories.

Stashower, Daniel. Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. (See Magill’s Literary Annual review) An excellent biography of Doyle. Focuses less on the Holmes novels and more on the historical novels, personal crusades, and spiritualism.

Discussion Topics

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What evidence suggests that as a writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not obsessed by, or confined to, detective fiction?

What character traits of Dr. Watson make him an ideal partner for Sherlock Holmes?

There are a number of similarities between Doyle’s detective stories and those of Edgar Allan Poe. What are the most striking dissimilarities?

What traits of Doyle’s detective fiction survive among the more traditional sleuths in modern detective fiction?

Have changes in the technology and resources of detection curtailed modern readers’ capacity to enjoy the Sherlock Holmes stories?

Arthur Conan Doyle

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The British Library owns nearly a thousand letters that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote to his mother, Mary, from the time he went away to boarding school at the age of eight until her death more than fifty years later in 1920. This correspondence comprises the bulk of Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, though editors Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower, and Charles Foley have included some letters that Doyle addressed to others and the occasional letter that others wrote to him. They have supplied links between the letters that, taken together with the correspondence, make the work in effect a biography. Lellenberg worked as a strategist in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Author of The Quest for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1987), he is a member of the Baker Street Irregulars and the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and a frequent contributor to the latter’s Sherlock Holmes Journal. Stashower is a journalist and the author of Teller of Tales: The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1999), which won an Edgar Award. Foley, Doyle’s great-nephew and executor of his estate, is a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, and the Arthur Conan Doyle Society.

Even as a child, Doyle sought to shield his mother from worry. His letters to her from boarding school are universally cheery, even when he records the direst of events, a pattern repeated throughout his life. Thus, on November 25, 1870, he reports that a classmate has nearly died of the croup, yet in the same sentence he assures his mother that he is enjoying himself immensely. Even Macbeth emerges as “jolly” in a letter to her. Although he was not a stellar student, his reports home detail only his successes and his expectations of improvement. Mathematics proved especially challenging to Doyle. The editors suggest that his difficulties with this subject may explain why Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis, Moriarty, was a professor of mathematics. In his letters, Doyle also lists books he has read and plays he has seen at school; these works may have influenced the future author.

Doyle had not expected to become a writer but a physician. While attending medical school at Edinburgh University, he lived at home, so the letters included here do not discuss his medical education. When his assistantships took him to other places, he described his work with various physicians. He also wrote about life as a ship’s surgeon aboard the Arctic whaler the Hope, on which he served from February to August, 1880. Again his letters home omit anything worrisome. On April 7, 1880, he assures his mother that he is enjoying his shipboard experience, even though two days earlier he had nearly drowned when he fell off an ice floe while seal hunting.

Doyle’s letters show his transformation from a doctor who wrote to an author who abandoned medicine. While still a medical student, he published his first short story, “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley” (1879) in Chambers’ Journal. Writing brought him much-needed income as a student and then as a fledgling physician. He briefly set up practice with a friend, Dr. George Budd, at Plymouth, but Doyle’s letters trace the rapid disintegration of their partnership. Doyle then established his own practice at Portsmouth, but it was not overly successful. He wrote to his mother that his first patient paid him one shilling and sixpence for a vaccination that has cost two shillings and sixpence. He added humorously that at that rate, if his practice grew very much, he would have to sell his furniture (much of which his mother supplied). In his first year, he earned £156, two shillings, fourpence, but £30 of that came from his mother, and another £42 from his stories. From July through November, 1883, he earned nearly as much from his pen and donations (£51) from his mother as he did from his patients (£59).

In 1885, he married Louisa Hawkins (known as “Touie”) and obtained his medical degree. He was also trying to publish a novel. The manuscript of one work was lost in the mail; a second failed to find a publisher. Doyle then decided to write a mystery with a detective modeled on Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Doyle’s medical school teacher Joseph Bell, a master diagnostician. The result was A Study in Scarlet (1887), for which Doyle received £25. He fared better with The White Company (1891), receiving £200 for the serial rights to this historical novel.

Still, he hoped that his medical career would succeed. At the beginning of 1891, he spent two months in Vienna studying ophthalmology and then set up practice in London in Upper Wimpole Street, not far from medically fashionable Harley Street. After six months, he decided to devote himself entirely to literature. In July, 1891, The Strand carried “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the first of a long series of Sherlock Holmes stories. The magazine asked for more such pieces, offering £35 for each one. Doyle demanded and received £50. His letters show that he wrote quickly. In November, 1891, he told his mother that in two weeks he had produced four Holmes stories, though by then he was already tired of the detective and wanted to kill him off. When The Strand asked for still more Holmes tales, Doyle raised his price to £1000 for a dozen, hoping that the magazine would not pay to such a sum, but it did. In 1892, Doyle’s income, derived solely from his writing, came to about £3000. Other works besides the Holmes stories proved lucrative as well. The publishing firm Smith, Elder paid him £4000 for Rodney Stone (1896), and he received another £1500 for the serial rights to that novel, as well as royalties from the American edition. He was also writing for the stage, most famously a play with the American actor William Gillette about Holmes. That work paid for his country house, Undershaw.

Through this correspondence, the reader can trace Doyle’s literary output. Though he was a prolific writera collected edition of his works published in 1899 already ran to sixteen volumeshe also engaged in a variety of other activities also treated in his letters. One subject about which he and his mother differed was the Second Boer War, which Mary Doyle opposed and he supported, going so far as to enlist as a surgeon. While Doyle felt he was fulfilling his patriotic duty, he also wanted to write a history of the conflict. The Great Boer War (1900) proved immensely popular not just in Britain but worldwide. He also wrote a pamphlet defending Britain’s conduct of the war, for which he was knighted in 1902. His service in the war had another result as well. On the ship that carried Doyle back to England from the front, he met the journalist Bertram Fletcher Robinson, who in March of 1901 shared with Doyle some folklore of his native Devon. Among the legends were tales of ghostly hounds. In August, 1901, The Strand began serializing The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Upon returning to England, Doyle stood for Parliament as a Liberal Unionist candidate for his native Central Edinburgh. His letters trace this unsuccessful campaign and a second, equally futile attempt. As always in his letters to his mother, he never admits to fatigue or discouragement. Indeed, he nearly won the election, but he could not overcome strong anti-Catholic sentiment. More happily, though discreetly, Doyle’s correspondence traces his romance with Jean Elizabeth Leckie, whom he met and fell in love with in 1897, and whom he married in 1907 after his first wife died in 1906. Louisa suffered from tuberculosis and became increasingly debilitated. Doyle would take holidays with his mother or some other third party acting as chaperone, and Jean would join the group. In his letters home, Doyle claimed that Touie never suffered from this arrangement.

Doyle regarded his Sherlock Holmes tales as a distraction from his more serious historical fiction and revived the dead detective only when, in the spring of 1903, Norman Hapgood, editor of Collier’s Weekly, offered him $25,000 for six new Holmes stories, $30,000 for eight, or $45,000 for a thirteen. Doyle enjoyed actual detective work. His correspondence discusses his long effort to free Oscar Slater, whom he correctly deduced had been wrongly accused of murder. Doyle began his campaign for Slater in 1912; Slater finally was exonerated in 1927. Earlier, Doyle had secured the freedom of George Edalji, wrongly accused of mutilating cattle. Julian Barnes fictionalized this episode in Doyle’s life in Arthur and George (2005). During World War I, Doyle defended naturalized Germans living in England, and he also worked to liberalize England’s divorce laws.

Doyle’s major cause during the last decade of his life was Spiritualism, which looms large in his correspondence for this period. He traveled as far as Australia and New Zealand as well as the United States to speak on the subject. In 1921, he published The Wanderings of a Spiritualist describing his voyage to the antipodes. The editors present some dissent from his sister Ida, but Doyle insisted that the dead could communicate with the living. In a letter to Sir Oliver Dodge (September, 1919), he describes contacting his dead son, Kingsley. Because this volume ends in 1920, it does not document other Doyle accounts of similar experiences.

This collection of letters will engage anyone interested in the creator of Sherlock Holmes. It offers fascinating insights into his thoughts and his domestic as well as his public life. For the most part, the editors have done a fine job identifying the people mentioned in the correspondence. They are less helpful in annotating other references. What is “Furgusson’s Edinburgh rock” that the schoolboy requests from his mother? When he lists books read or plays seen, the editors pass over them without identifying them. On March 24, 1916, Doyle writes that he has been able to keep current with his history of the war because no important engagements have occurred since Loos, again unglossed. On August 24 of that year, he thanks his mother for sending the “Stonyhurst letter”; the reference remains unexplained. Despite such aggravating omissions, the editors have made an important contribution to an understanding of Doyle.

Bibliography

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Akinson, Michael. The Secret Marriage of Sherlock Holmes, and Other Eccentric Readings. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. Attempts to read Holmes’s stories in the manner in which Holmes himself might read them. “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is read in terms of the philosophy of Kundalini yoga; “A Scandal in Bohemia” is read in terms of its use of traditional romance motifs and its debt to Edgar Allan Poe; Jungian psychology is used to read A Study in Scarlet; and Derridian deconstruction is used to read “The Adventure of the Copper Breeches.”

Baring-Gould, W. S. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of the World’s First Consulting Detective. New York: Bramhall House, 1962. A “biography” of Doyle’s most popular creation, Sherlock Holmes. Based upon the Sherlock Holmes stories and numerous secondary sources. A chronological outline of Holmes’s life as created by Baring-Gould is also included.

Barsham, Diana. Arthur Conan Doyle and the Meaning of Masculinity. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2000. A discussion of masculinity according to Doyle, delving into all Doyle’s writings, including his war correspondence and travel writings.

Booth, Martin. The Doctor, the Detective, and Arthur Conan Doyle: A Biography of Arthur Conan Doyle. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1997. A good survey of the life of Doyle.

Carr, John Dickson. The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. London: John Murray, 1949. One of the first biographies of Doyle not written by a relative. Carr’s straightforward biography gives a good overview of Doyle’s life. Carr quotes copiously from Doyle’s letters, but there is very little discussion of the stories. Includes a list of sources and an index.

Day, Barry, ed. Sherlock Holmes in His Own Words and in the Words of Those Who Knew Him. Lanham, Md.: Taylor, 2003. Day has culled details of Holmes’s life from passages in the stories and arranged them into an entertaining biography.

Edwards, Owen Dudley. The Quest for Sherlock Holmes: A Biographical Study of Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1983. Concentrates on the first twenty-three years of Doyle’s life in an attempt to unravel the influence of various forces in his early life on his writing, such as his early love of history and Celtic lore, the impoverished and Catholic Edinburgh of his youth, and his alcoholic father.

Fido, Martin. The World of Sherlock Holmes: The Facts and Fiction Behind the World’s Greatest Detective. Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Media, 1998. An entry in the “World of” series, this study of Holmes reveals the distinctive, fictional London in which the detective lives and works.

Green, Richard Lancelyn. A Bibliography of A. Conan Doyle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Provides a massive bibliography of all that Doyle wrote, including obscure short pieces. Illustrated and containing a seventy-five-page index, this book includes a list of more than one hundred books of biographical, bibliographical, and critical interest for the study of Doyle.

Hall, Jasmine Yong. “Ordering the Sensational: Sherlock Holmes and the Female Gothic.” Studies in Short Fiction 28 (Summer, 1991): 295-304. Examines how gothic elements and female clients in a number of stories, including the well-known “The Speckled Band,” establish the rational detective as a powerful, patriarchal hero. Argues that Holmes controls his female clients as much as the gothic villains in Doyle’s stories.

Higham, Sir Charles. The Adventures of Conan Doyle: The Life of the Creator of Sherlock Holmes. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976. A popular biography which attempts to establish a link between Doyle’s detective fiction and events in his own life, such as his use of actual criminal cases, the mental collapse of his father, and his interest in spiritualism. Indexed and illustrated. Includes a bibliography.

Hodgson, John A., ed. Sherlock Holmes: The Major Stories with Contemporary Critical Essays. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. Includes nine essays on Holmes, from a variety of critical perspectives, including feminist, deconstruction, and discourse analysis approaches.

Jaffee, Jacqueline A. Arthur Conan Doyle. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Jaffee’s solid work combines biography and a critical discussion of Doyle’s stories and novels. Contains three chapters on the Sherlock Holmes stories, which closely examine the tales. Supplemented by an index, a bibliography of Doyle’s work, and an annotated bibliography.

Jann, Rosemary. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Detecting Social Order. New York: Twayne, 1995. Part of Twayne’s Masterwork series, this slim volume is divided into two parts, the first of which places the great detective in a literary and historical context, followed by Jann’s own reading of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlockian approach to detective fiction. In addition to a selected bibliography, Jann’s book includes a brief chronology of Doyle’s life and work.

Kestner, Joseph A. “Real Men: Construction of Masculinity in the Sherlock Holmes Narratives.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 29 (Spring, 1996): 73-88. Discusses the construction of masculinity in Doyle’s detective stories. Claims that one peculiar value of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories is the exposure of the contradictory nature of the realist text and besieged late-Victorian masculinity.

Orel, Harold, ed. Critical Essays on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992. Including both evaluations by Doyle’s contemporaries and later scholarship—some of it commissioned specifically for inclusion in this collection—Critical Essays is divided into three sections: “Sherlock Holmes,” “Other Writings,” and “Spiritualism.” Harold Orel opens the collections with a lengthy and comprehensive essay, which is followed by a clever and classic meditation by Dorothy L. Sayers on “Dr. Watson’s Christian Name.”

Otis, Laura. “The Empire Bites Back: Sherlock Holmes as an Imperial Immune System.” Studies in 20th Century Literature 22 (Winter, 1998): 31-60. Argues that Sherlock Holmes acts like a bacteriologist, hunting down tiny invaders and playing a defensive role as an imperial intelligence network detecting foreigners passing themselves off as British.

Press, Charles. Looking over Sir Arthur’s Shoulder: How Conan Doyle Turned the Trick. Shelburne, Ont.: Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2004. Study of Doyle as stylist, seeking to explain exactly what features of his writing account for its massive popularity.

Priestman, Martin. Detective Fiction and Literature: The Figure on the Carpet. London: Macmillan, 1990. Priestman discusses the differences and similarities of detective and conventional fiction and provides an introduction to the social, structural, and psychological implications of crime fiction. He includes two chapters on the Sherlock Holmes stories, which provide close readings of several stories.

Ross, Thomas Wynne. Good Old Index: The Sherlock Holmes Handbook, a Guide to the Sherlock Holmes Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—Persons, Places, Themes, Summaries of all the Tales, with Commentary on the Style of the Author. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1997. An excellent manual for followers of Doyle’s Holmes stories.

Stashower, Daniel. Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. An excellent biography of Doyle. Focuses less on the Holmes novels and more on the historical novels, personal crusades, and spiritualism.

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