Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
English physician and writer
the man who created Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle, physician and writer, was born on 22 May
1859 in , and was the creator of two of the most famous and best loved characters in literature: Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson. Edinburgh
His father, Charles, was a Victorian artist born in England of Irish origin. Unfortunately he was not as successful a painter as he wished and, probably because of this, he suffered depression and alcoholism. His paintings, which were generally of fairies or similar fantasy scenes, reflected his condition and became more macabre with time. When Arthur was still a young man, his father had to go and stay in a nursing home specialized in alcoholism. While there, his depression grew worse, and he began suffering epileptic fits. Because of this he was then sent to live in a mental hospital where he, however, continued to paint. He died in 1893, when Arthur was 34.
Arthur’s mother, born Mary Foley, was Irish, too. She married Charles in
in 1855, where they were both living at that time. Edinburgh
Mary was a very strong woman who came from a distinguished military family. She filled Arthur with ideas of honour and chivalry. Her influence was very important and can be seen in Arthur’s writings and actions.
In 1876 Arthur Conan Doyle began his medical studies at
. Because he had very little money, he worked as a clerk for a doctor called Joseph Bell. This doctor had an amazing quality: he could guess the jobs and lifestyle of his patients by simply observing them carefully. Joseph Bell was Conan Doyle’s principal model for Sherlock Holmes. Edinburgh University
When he finished his medical studies, Arthur started working as a doctor in the south of
(1882). Initially the practice was not very successful as he had very few patients. So, while waiting for them, he began writing stories. One of the books he wrote at that time was a novel called A Study in Scarlet. This was the first Sherlock Holmes story and appeared in the magazine ‘Beeton’s Christmas Annual’ in 1887. England
Future short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes were then published in the English Strand Magazine. As a matter of fact, one day Conan Doyle decided to send a short story about Holmes to that popular monthly magazine just to make some money. And, as a result, Sherlock Holmes soon became a big success. The
Strand immediately asked Conan Doyle for more stories about Sherlock Holmes.
It is interesting to point out that, from the very beginning, Conan Doyle had a strange relationship with his famous creation: he did not think his stories about Holmes were very serious and artistic enough. He wanted to write serious historical novels. So, from the first stories, Conan Doyle planned the death of Sherlock Holmes. When he told his mother about his plans to eliminate his character forever she wrote to him: “You won’t! You can’t! You mustn’t!”. But in 1893 Conan Doyle wrote a story called “The Final Problem”, in which Holmes dies.
The reaction of the readers was immediate. The
Strand lost 20,000 readers, and people wrote thousands of letters to Conan Doyle asking him to bring Holmes back to life. Many people even insulted him. One woman wrote these eloquent words to him: “You Brute”.
Finally, in 1901 Conan Doyle wrote a serialised Sherlock Holmes novel called “The Hounds of the Baskerville”; the
Strand’s circulation increased by thirty thousand copies. From then on Holmes appeared in the Strand until 1927, just three years before Conan Doyle’s death.
But Conan Doyle’s life was not just Sherlock Holmes. He was very active in public affairs. He spoke in favour of a Channel Tunnel, steel helmets for soldiers and inflatable life jackets for sailors. He also used his own analytic skills to solve crimes and to defend people who were unjustly accused of crimes.
He was knighted in 1902 for his writing on the Boer War in
Africa (some said for his novel “The Hound of the Baskerville”).
Following the death of his first wife in 1906, the death of his son Kingsley just before the end of World War I, and soon after that the deaths of a good number of other close relatives, Conan Doyle sank into depression and became very interested in spiritualism.
He also believed in the existence of fairies, and he said that the series of five photographs of a little girl with fairies taken in 1917 by two young cousins who lived in Cottingley (near Bradford, in
) were real. (The series is called ‘The Cottingley Fairies’). He even wrote a book in 1922 entitled ‘The coming of the Fairies’. England
Of course, Conan Doyle, the creator of the most logical man in the world, Sherlock Holmes, was greatly ridiculed for these beliefs, but he did not seem to care about it.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died of a heart attack, at age 71, on 7 July
1930 in Sussex.