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.
Other Literary Forms
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.
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
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...
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