3 May 2013
The Life and Works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a Scottish writer and physician best known for his captivating stories about the mischievous Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle, as he was casually known, lived a somewhat interesting life and made many advances in the world of literature. Personal experiences greatly influenced Doyle’s novels and short stories. From actively investigating real life criminal cases, to being a prominent member of a supernatural organization known as The Ghost Club, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a very interesting man. Conan Doyle’s life spilled out through his pen and into his writing and the people of England ate it up.
On a cool spring day in 1859 Arthur Conan Doyle was born. It was May 22nd in Edinburgh, Scotland and Mary Doyle had just given birth to her third son. Mary Doyle would have a total of nine children, making young Arthur an older brother to many siblings. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was an Englishman of Irish descent. Mary and Charles married in 1955, four years prior to Arthur’s birth. Because of Charles Doyle’s alcoholism the growing family dispersed. Not until 1867 did the family unite once again, living in an undersized flat.
Arthur’s childhood, although not extremely uncommon, did play a role in his works later in life. His family was well respected in the art world however his father, a life-long alcoholic, achieved few things in his lifetime. On the flipside Doyle's mother,
Mary, was an energetic and intelligent woman who loved to read. She particularly enjoyed telling her young son obscure stories. She possessed wonderful enthusiasm and liveliness while concocting wild tales that ignited the child's imagination. In a biography written about Doyle he recalled his adolescent years, "In my early childhood, as far as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life." (“Arthur Conan Doyle Biography”) Mary Doyle undoubtedly inspired many of Conan Doyle’s writings. In 1868 Arthur Conan Doyle was fortunate enough to be sent off to the Roman Catholic Jesuit Preparatory School with the support of a couple wealthy uncles. From 1871 to 1875 Doyle attended Stonyhurst College. Boarding school was rough for Doyle: a large majority of his classmates bullied him, and the school practiced ruthless corporal punishment against its students. Doyle eventually found comfort in his passion for storytelling and even managed to develop an interested audience of underclassmen. In college Doyle found himself in a whole new environment. He endured relentless teasing from his classmates and experienced life on his own for the first time. When Doyle began to feel hopeless and uneasy with his surroundings he drifted away into his imagination and, over time, shared his stories with others. Just like his mother had once shared stories with him, Arthur was now sharing them with younger students who found themselves increasingly interested with Conan Doyle’s fascinating tales. After graduating from Stonyhurst, Arthur Conan Doyle surprised his parents by going on to pursue a medical degree rather than following in their footsteps and studying art. Doyle decided to attend the University of Edinburgh. He would meet many
influential individuals in his time there. As a med school student, Doyle decided to take his first stab at writing. He wrote a short story called The Mystery of Sasassa Valley, a story of the sea with interesting twists and terrific characters. He then wrote his second story, The American Tale, which was published in London Society. Both of these stories marked his entrance into the world of English literature. While attending the University of Edinburgh Arthur Conan Doyle met his mentor, Professor Dr. Joseph Bell, whose fantastic powers of observation later inspired Doyle to create the one and only famed fictitious character, Sherlock Holmes. At Edinburgh Doyle also was lucky enough to meet James Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson. Both of which would end up being future authors and good friends of Arthur. In his later years of medical school Doyle decided to take a ship surgeon’s post on a whaling ship sailing for the Arctic Circle. (“Arthur Conan Doyle Biography”) The trek would awaken Doyle’s adventurous side and influence him to write Captain of the Pole Star. Upon returning to med school in 1880 Doyle became extremely invested in Spiritualism. He would attempt to spread this belief system later on through a series of his written works. Doyle graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1881 and by then had also denounced his Roman Catholic Faith. Eventually Arthur Conan Doyle gave up his medical practices altogether. In 1885, still struggling to make it as a writer, Doyle married Louisa Hawkins. The couple had two children but suddenly in 1893 Mrs. Doyle died of tuberculosis. Not long after Arthur met and married a young woman named Jean Leckie. The new happy couple settled down and
had three children; two sons and a daughter. Arthur Conan Doyle is said to have been a good father to his children. In 1886 Doyle began on a new work titled A Tangled Skein. The novel was later renamed to A Study in Scarlet and published in Beetons Christmas Annual. This was the book that first introduced the extremely popular characters, Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, Watson. A Study in Scarlet finally gave Doyle the fame he had craved for so long. It was the first of 60 stories that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would write about the mysterious detective. Undoubtedly, Doyle’s fascination in justice and investigations played a role in the development of the character Sherlock Holmes, however, that was not the sole motivation behind the famed investigator. Dr. Joseph Bell, Doyle’s mentor from the University of Edinburgh is said to be one of the leading inspirations behind Sherlock Holmes. After studying at Edinburgh for two years, Doyle was chosen by Dr. Bell to assist him on his wards. While doing so, Arthur Conan Doyle became infatuated with Dr. Bells uncanny ability to detect information about a patient with little to no background information required. Doyle based Sherlock Holmes mentality off of Dr. Bell as well as his physical attributes. Bell was tall, thin, and had a sharply defined face as well as a very distinctive walk. Some people say that Doyle’s creation of Watson was supposed to represent himself to Dr. Joseph Bell. Sir Arthur Conan was an extremely intelligent and witty man, as many of his writings portrayed. It is not difficult to find a clever line or well put together statement while scrolling through one of Doyle’s novels or periodicals. In At the Sign of the Four Doyle makes many insightful claims. Sherlock Holmes says, “How often have I said to Grubbs 5
you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” (Doyle 22) Doyle enjoyed making his readers think and was a strong motivator of self-improvement. He displayed that in his novels. Doyle states in At the Sign of the Four, “…I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave mental exaltation…” (Doyle 3)
Raised as a Roman Catholic it was not an easy decision for Arthur Conan Doyle to drop his faith and adopt a new one. Doyle was a very spiritualistic person. He wrote many books on his beliefs and even attempted to spread his beliefs to others. Upon graduating from the University of Edinburgh, Doyle officially denounced his previous Catholic faith. Doyle was very interested in communication with the dead and openly spoke about it. Many people wondered what inspired Doyle to create such a super-rational character in Sherlock Holmes when Arthur was so spiritualistic himself.
Doyle became increasingly involved with paranormal phenomena and even developed an interest in the Society for Psychical Research. He eventually became disinterested however because he did not believe scientific experiments were necessary to prove what he believed to be true. (“More Intelligent Life”) Doyle and his wife reportedly held séances at their home. He claimed to have communicated with the spirits of the dead. Arthur Conan Doyle practically abandoned the mass amount of Sherlock Holmes tales and began solely writing about Spiritualism. (“A Brief Biographical Study”)
In 1929 Doyle was diagnosed with Angina Pectoris. Arthur decided to ignore his doctor’s warnings and embark on a Spiritualism tour in the Netherlands. Upon returning Doyle had immense chest pain and was carried on shore. From that point on Doyle was almost entirely bedridden. On a warm summer day Doyle would take his last breath of Grubbs 6
air. On July 7th, 1930 Doyle collapsed in his garden. He was reported to have been clutching his heart with one hand and holding a flower in the other (“Arthur Conan Doyle Biography”), a proper way to go for a man who spread so much beauty throughout the world.
It is safe to say that if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could have seen what he would accomplish in his lifetime as a young boy, he would have made himself proud. He created one of the most legendary characters of all time, helped bundles of people with everyday problems, gathered a plethora of knowledge, and spread what he believed to be true to millions of people. He lived an interesting life full of very interesting people who shaped him into what he was in his day. He was an open-minded man who believed the world would be a better place if everyone could be as well. Like Sherlock Holmes said, “Our ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature.” (Doyle 95)
"Arthur Conan Doyle Biography." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, 2012. Web. 02 May 2013.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. "The Sign of the Four." Google Books. P.F Collier & Sons, 1903. Web. 02 May 2013.
Lycett, Andrew. "More Intelligent Life." More Intelligent Life. The Economist Newspaper, 21 May 2009. Web. 02 May 2013.
Roden, Christopher. "Arthur Conan Doyle: A Brief Biographical Study." The Arthur Conan Doyle Society, 2003. Web. 02 May 2013.