Thesis: Using his spare time to write short stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became a significant, successful writer of his time.
I. Preface on Doyle’s Life
A. Life as a child
B. Student life
II. Puerile becomes Professional
A. Works as an author
B. Career life
III. Perspective and Philosophies
A. Religion or faith
B. Social Outlook
C. Influences or impacts
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” –from The Sign of the Four (1890). Sherlock Holmes was a character one would most likely recognize as the cunning detective who uses his keen wit to solve mysteries. This was a character chained to the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, probably being the most famous of his literature. Why would he so deprecate his most popular character in his later life? His life sank into depression when most of the people he loved perished. “Of all ghosts the ghosts of our old loves are the worst.” –Arthur Conan Doyle. Spiritualism was the consolation to his misery. Yet, why does he spend his last few years trying to prove it? This was a man whose life had as many twist and turns as his novels. Using his spare time to write short stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became a significant, successful writer of his time.
Arthur Conan Doyle was born on May 22, 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was of Irish descent – both of his parents being Irish (“Arthur Conan Doyle,” 1-2). Doyle, at six years of age, had written his first book. Presently, his books are now printed and distributed worldwide (Adams, 9). History was something Doyle loved; events in history were the foundation when he made up his stories. Doyle made them his own and created something new with it (Adams, 19). Given that Doyle was the eldest, his family wanted to make the most out of him in hopes of using his possibility of success in the future. They sent him to a boarding school because that was the most appropriate way to get educated at the time (Adams, 17).
From the time he graduated at boarding school in 1875, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh (“Arthur Conan Doyle,” 2). Doyle’s third year as a medical student in 1878, could only receive so much of a limited salary between his studies (Jaffe, 15). Because he was the eldest of his family, he was financially aggravated. His monetary problems would only worsen considering that his family members would often look to him to provide financially (Jaffe, 15). During the initiation of his medical career, he seldom had patients. Too much of his time was wasted on waiting for them, so instead he began writing short stories (Adams, 33). He had no intention of writing as a career; it was rather something to do in his free time (Jaffe, preface). “Doyle was fortunate in that he turned to writing at a time when there was an increasing demand for fiction” (Jaffe, 15). “After some hesitation about names (his original choice of the Irish name Sherringford was soon changed to Sherlock), the novelist assembled what he called his ‘puppet,’ Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes, and wrote A Study in Scarlet (1887” (Jaffe, 31). This was his first Sherlock Holmes story. He was tired of the cliché, jumbled methods that fiction detectives typically deciphered their investigations (Adams, 28). One of British literatures most famous characters would probably have to be Sherlock Holmes. Success was not initial, but more than likely inevitable (Jaffe, 33). “Doyle’s early experience as a fashioner of magazine stories was instrumental in the final shaping of him as a writer. He learned much about the art of writing and his talent continued to develop as he continued to practice his craft” (Jaffe, 18). In 1899, William Gillete, a famous American actor, wrote a letter to Doyle asking for the privilege of bringing Sherlock Holmes to the American stage further publicizing Doyle’s works to the world (Adams, 66).
The Titanic sank during Doyle’s lifetime. Around this time, he was working on a new book, rather than his famous Sherlock Holmes, it was titled The Lost World (1912). This was a different turn from the usual detective stories, alternatively being an adventure series (Adams, 91). In the short story “The Final Problem,” Doyle writes of the death of Holmes. However, why would he have such an aversion to his most popular character? (“Arthur Conan Doyle,” 3) “Doyle wanted to be known as an important writer. And the Sherlock Holmes stories were not, he felt, serious fiction” (Jaffe, 49).
From the time he had left boarding school in 1875, Doyle had rejected Christianity and turned to agnosticism – the belief that there can be no proof either that a deity exists or that a deity does not exist. “Samuel Rosenberg’s 1974 book Naked is the Best Disguise purports to explain how Conan Doyle left, throughout his writings, open clues that related to hidden and suppressed aspects of his mentality” (“Arthur Conan Doyle,” 5). “Conan Doyle was found clutching his chest in the hall of “Windlesham,” his house in Crowborough, East Sussex, on 7 July 1930. He died of a heart attack, aged seventy-one. His last words were directed toward his wife: ‘You are wonderful’” (“Arthur Conan Doyle,” 5).
Doyle’s perspective really changed during different periods of his life. Unfortunately, he was not a Christian and did not believe in God and was apathetic to the subject being an agnostic most of his life. His belief in spiritualism can probably be rationalized by the overwhelming depression of his wife, son, and many other relatives’ deaths. He was not in his right mind. Providentially, he did contribute much to the literary world being generally considered a prolific writer in science fictions and other forms of writings.
Adams, Cynthia. World Writers: The Mysterious Case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. North Carolina: Morgan Reynolds Inc., 1999.
“Arthur Conan Doyle.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. (accessed April 2010).
Jaffe, Jacqueline A. Arthur Conan Doyle. Massachusetts: Twayne Publishers, 1987.
Pascal, Janet B. Arthur Conan Doyle: Beyond Baker Street. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.