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Arthur Conan Doyle

From Academic Kids

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Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (May 22, 1859July 7, 1930) is the British author most famously known for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes, which are generally considered a major innovation in the field of crime fiction. He was a prolific writer whose other works include science fiction stories, historical novels, plays and romances, poetry, and non-fiction.

He is sometimes called Conan Doyle—Conan was originally a middle name but he used it as part of his surname in his later years.

Contents

Life

He was born in 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland. 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 Edinburgh University, 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 won his doctorate in 1885. His medical practice was unsuccessful; 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 Southsea 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 modeled after Doyle's former University professor, Stephen Bell.

In 1885 he married Louise Hawkins, who suffered from tuberculosis and eventually died in 1906. He married Miss Jean Leckie in 1907, whom he had first met and fallen in love with in 1897 but had maintained a platonic relationship with 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, and in 1891 moved to London to set up a practice as an oculist. This also 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, with Holmes and his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty apparently plunging to their deaths together over 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", saying that only Moriarty had fallen, but, since Holmes had other dangerous enemies, he had arranged to be temporarily "dead" also. Holmes eventually appeared in 56 short stories and four of Doyle's novels (he has since appeared in many novels and stories by other authors, as well).

Following the Boer War in South Africa at the turn of the century and the condemnation from around the world over Britain's conduct, Doyle wrote a short pamphlet titled The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct which 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 twentieth 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. He did, however, become one of the first Honorary Members of the Ski Club of Great Britain.

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Arthur Conan Doyle statue in Crowborough
Conan Doyle was involved even in the campaign for the reform of the Congo Free State, led by the journalist Edmund Dene 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 even inspiration by them for two of the main character of the novel The Lost World (1912). He broke with both, however, with the first world war, when Morel (who was rather left-wing) became one of the leaders of the pacifist movement and Casement betrayed England for his Irish nationalistic views. He, however, tried to save Casement from death penalty, arguing that he had been driven mad and was not responsible of his act.

Doyle also caused two cases to be reopened. 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 dead set on Edalji's guilt, 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 second case—that of Oscar Slater, a German Jew and gambling-den operator convicted of bludgeoning an 82-year-old woman in 1908—excited Doyle's curiosity because of inconsistencies in the prosecution case and a general sense that Slater was framed. It is not known whether either enjoyed the same resolution as Holmes' clients.

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. 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 under the pretense of occultism. However, later this ban was cancelled.

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 the former's feats were simply magic tricks.

Arthur Conan Doyle is buried in the Church Yard at Minstead in the New Forest, Hampshire, England.

A statue has been erected in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's honour. It may be seen at Crowborough Cross in Crowborough, East Sussex, England, where Sir Arthur lived for 23 years.

Selected bibliography

Sherlock Holmes Stories

Professor Challenger Stories

Historical novels

Other works

External links

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