Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, DL (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930) was a Scottish author most noted for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, which are generally considered a major innovation in the field of crime fiction, and the adventures of Professor Challenger. He was a prolific writer whose other works include science fiction stories, historical novels, plays and romances, poetry, and non-fiction.
Conan was originally a middle name but he used it as part of his surname in his later years.
Arthur Conan Doyle was born on 22 May 1859, in Edinburgh, to Irish parents Charles Altamont Doyle and Mary Doyle. He was sent to the Jesuit preparatory school Stonyhurst at the age of nine, and by the time he left the school in 1875 he rejected Christianity to become an agnostic.
From 1876 to 1881 he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, including a period working in the town of Aston (now a district of Birmingham). Following his term at university he served as a ship's doctor on a voyage to the West African coast, and then in 1882 he set up a practice in Plymouth. He achieved his doctorate concerning Tabes Dorsalis in 1885 (available in the Edinburgh Research Archive ).
His medical practice was not very successful, so while waiting for patients, he began writing stories. His first literary experience came in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal before he was 20.
It was only after he subsequently moved his practice to Portsmouth that he began to indulge more extensively in literature. His first significant work was A Study in Scarlet, which appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887 and featured the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes, who was modelled after Doyle's former university professor, Joseph Bell. Interestingly, Rudyard Kipling congratulated Doyle on his success, asking "Could this be my old friend, Dr. Joe?". While living in Southsea he helped form Portsmouth AFC, the city's first football club. Common myth holds that Doyle played as Portsmouth F.C.'s first goalkeeper; however, Doyle played for an amateur side that disbanded in 1894 and had no connection to the Portsmouth F.C. of today which was not formed until 1898 (the first goalkeeper of the professional team was Matt Reilly).
In 1885 he married Louisa (or Louise) Hawkins, known as "Touie", who suffered from tuberculosis and eventually died in 1906. He married Jean Leckie in 1907, whom he had first met and fallen in love with in 1897 but had maintained a platonic relationship with her out of loyalty to his first wife. Doyle had five children, two with his first wife (Mary and Kingsley), and three with his second wife (Jean, Denis, and Adrian).
In 1890 Doyle studied the eye in Vienna; he moved to London in 1891 to set up a practice as an ophthalmologist. He wrote in his autobiography that not a single patient crossed his door. This gave him more time for writing, and in November 1891 he wrote to his mother: "I think of slaying Holmes... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things." In December 1893, he did so in order to dedicate more of his time to more "important" works (namely his historical novels), pitting Holmes against his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty.
They apparently plunged to their deaths together down a waterfall in the story "The Final Problem". Public outcry led him to bring the character back; Doyle returned to the story in "The Adventure of the Empty House", with the ingenious explanation that only Moriarty had fallen, but, since Holmes had other dangerous enemies, he had arranged to be temporarily "dead" also. Holmes eventually appears in a total of 56 short stories and four Doyle novels (he has since appeared in many novels and stories by other authors).
Following the Boer War in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century and the condemnation from around the world over the United Kingdom's conduct, Doyle wrote a short pamphlet titled The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct which justified the UK's role in the Boer war, and was widely translated.
Doyle believed that it was this pamphlet that resulted in his being knighted and appointed as Deputy-Lieutenant of Surrey in 1902. He also wrote the longer book The Great Boer War in 1900. During the early years of the 20th century Sir Arthur twice ran for Parliament as a Liberal Unionist, once in Edinburgh and once in the Border Burghs, but although he received a respectable vote he was not elected.
Conan Doyle was involved in the campaign for the reform of the Congo Free State, led by the journalist E. D. Morel and the diplomat Roger Casement. He wrote The Crime of the Congo in 1909, a long pamphlet in which he denounced the horrors in Congo. He become acquainted with Morel and Casement, taking inspiration from them for two of the main characters of the novel The Lost World (1912).
He broke with both when Morel (who was rather left-wing) became one of the leaders of the pacifist movement during the First World War, and when Casement committed treason against the UK during the Easter Rising out of conviction for his Irish nationalist views. Doyle tried, unsuccessfully, to save Casement from the death penalty, arguing that he had been driven mad and was not responsible for his actions.
Doyle was also a fervent advocate of justice, and personally investigated two closed cases, which led to two imprisoned men being released. The first case, in 1906, involved a shy half-British, half-Indian lawyer named George Edalji, who had allegedly penned threatening letters and mutilated animals. Police were set on Edalji's conviction, even though the mutilations continued even after their suspect was jailed.
It was partially as a result of this case that the Court of Criminal Appeal was established in 1907, so not only did Conan Doyle help George Edalji, his work helped to establish a way to correct other miscarriages of justice. The story of Conan Doyle and Edalji is told in fictional form in Julian Barnes's 2005 novel, Arthur & George.
The second case, that of Oscar Slater, a German Jew and gambling-den operator convicted of bludgeoning an 82-year-old woman in Glasgow in 1908, excited Doyle's curiosity because of inconsistencies in the prosecution case and a general sense that Slater was framed.
In his later years, Doyle became involved with spiritualism, to the extent that he wrote a Professor Challenger novel on the subject, The Land of Mist. One of the odder aspects of this period of his life was his book The Coming of the Fairies (1921). He was apparently totally convinced of the veracity of the Cottingley fairy photographs, which he reproduced in the book, together with theories about the nature and existence of fairies and spirits. In his The History of Spiritualism (1926) Doyle highly praised the psychic phenomena and spirit materializations produced by Eusapia Palladino and "Margery," (Mina Crandon), based on the investigations of scientists who refused to listen to well-informed conjurers.
After the death of his wife Louisa in 1906, and the deaths of his son Kingsley, his brother, his two brothers-in-law, and his two nephews in World War I, Doyle sank into depression. He found solace supporting spiritualism and its alleged scientific proof of existence beyond the grave.
His work on this topic was one of the reasons that one of his short story collections, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, was banned in the Soviet Union in 1929 for supposed occultism. This ban was later lifted.
Doyle was friends for a time with the American magician Harry Houdini, a prominent opponent of the Spiritualist movement. Although Houdini insisted that Spiritualist mediums employed trickery (and consistently attempted to expose them as frauds), Doyle became convinced that Houdini himself possessed supernatural powers, a view expressed in Doyle's The Edge of the Unknown. Houdini was apparently unable to convince Doyle that his feats were simply magic tricks, leading to a bitter, public, falling-out between the two.
Richard Milner, an American historian of science, has presented a case that Doyle may have been the perpetrator of the Piltdown man hoax of 1912, creating the counterfeit hominid fossil that fooled the scientific world for over 40 years. Milner says that Doyle had a motive, namely revenge on the scientific establishment for debunking one of his favourite psychics, and that The Lost World contains several encrypted clues regarding his involvement in the hoax (see ).
Samuel Rosenberg's 1974 book Naked is the Best Disguise purports to explain how Doyle left, throughout his writings, open clues that related to hidden and suppressed aspects of his mentality.
Conan Doyle was found clutching his heart in the family garden on the cold spring day of July 7, 1930. He soon died of his heart attack, aged 71, and is buried in the Church Yard at Minstead in the New Forest, Hampshire, England. His last words were directed toward his wife: "You are wonderful."
Undershaw, the home Doyle had built near Hindhead, south of London, and lived in for at least a decade, was a hotel and restaurant from 1924 until 2004. It was then bought by a developer, and has sat empty since then while conservationists and Doyle fans fight to preserve it.
A statue has been erected in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's honour at Crowborough Cross in Crowborough, East Sussex, England, where Sir Arthur lived for 23 years. There is also a statue of Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland—close to the house where Conan Doyle was born.
While Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived in England his personal chauffeur was to-be-notorious Paris robber Jules Bonnot.
In addition to being a writer, he was also a historian, war correspondent and spiritualist. He was also an ardent whaler. Doyle was a noted sportsman, and made ten first class appearances for Marylebone Cricket Club between 1900 and 1907.
List of additional Sherlock Holmes Literature