Authors: Arthur Conan Doyle

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Scottish novelist, short-story writer, and playwright

May 22, 1859

Edinburgh, Scotland

July 7, 1930

Crowborough, East Sussex, England

Biography

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created one of the best-known and most popular characters in English literature. Sherlock Holmes, the gaunt and brilliant detective of 221B Baker Street, London, was brought to life by Doyle in fifty-six short stories and four novellas published between 1887 and 1927. Doyle’s tales of crime and detection have enthralled readers and inspired countless stage, screen, radio, and television adaptations. Despite his literary debt to such earlier detective writers as Edgar Allan Poe, Doyle created the first truly great detective of fiction, and he popularized and vitalized the detective story as a fictional form.

Arthur Conan Doyle

(Library of Congress)

Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, of Irish parents, on May 22, 1859. He graduated from Edinburgh University’s school of medicine in 1884 and began to practice medicine in England. To supplement his income he wrote a tale of murder and revenge called A Study in Scarlet, featuring Sherlock Holmes as its central character. Doyle based Holmes’s keen powers of observation and deduction upon Dr. Joseph Bell, a former teacher, who had long impressed his students with his ability to diagnose patients with a quick glance.

A Study in Scarlet, published in 1887 in Beeton’s Christmas Annual, was the first Holmes novella; it had little immediate success. Doyle, however, was urged by an American editor to continue the exploits of his detective, and he wrote The Sign of Four, the best of the novellas, and produced a series of twenty-four short stories, which were illustrated by Sidney Paget and published in The Strand magazine. These first twenty-four stories were collected in book form in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

The success of these works enabled Doyle to give up his medical career. But he had become bored with his creation, and in “The Final Problem,” the last story in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, he described Holmes’s death at the hands of his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty. Doyle’s readers were shocked and outraged: They were not to be denied their hero. In the face of great public clamor, Doyle at last relented and resurrected Holmes. The series continued with The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1902; the last of the novellas, The Valley of Fear, was published in 1915. The later short stories were published in monthly issues of The Strand and later collected in book form as The Return of Sherlock Holmes, His Last Bow, and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. The stories were narrated in the first person by Holmes’s close companion and assistant, Dr. John Watson, whose vague intellect offered the perfect reflector for Holmes’s genius.

Doyle was an active, public-spirited man and an extremely prolific writer. In his own time he was known for many works besides the Holmes stories, and some of them deserve attention. The White Company remains a classic novel of chivalric adventure, and Micah Clarke, a story of Monmouth’s rebellion, The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard, and Sir Nigel are all spirited historical romances. In The Lost World Doyle originated the idea of an isolated land of prehistoric life existing in the twentieth century, and in Danger! (1914) he predicted the German submarine blockade of the British Isles. He was knighted in 1902 for his defense of the conduct of the British Army in The Great Boer War and the widely translated The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct.

Arthur Conan Doyle was primarily a superb romancer; he possessed virtually no capacity for dullness. His vigor and sense of adventure infused almost everything he wrote with an uncomplicated air of excitement. Today the best of the Sherlock Holmes tales are puzzling and original mystery stories, but they also absorb readers in an atmosphere of sinister doings in London at the turn of the century that is at once nostalgic and exciting. Doyle died in Crowborough on July 7, 1930.

Author Works Long Fiction: A Study in Scarlet, 1887 (serial), 1888 (book) The Mystery of Cloomber, 1888 The Firm of Girdlestone, 1889 Micah Clarke, 1889 The Sign of Four, 1890 (also pb. as The Sign of the Four) Beyond the City, 1891 The Doings of Raffles Haw, 1891 The White Company, 1891 The Great Shadow, 1892 The Refugees, 1893 The Parasite, 1894 The Stark Munro Letters, 1895 The Surgeon of Gaster Fell, 1895 Rodney Stone, 1896 The Tragedy of the Koroska, 1897 (also known as A Desert Drama) Uncle Bernac, 1897 A Duet, with an Occasional Chorus, 1899, revised 1910 The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1901-1902 (serial), 1902 (book) Sir Nigel, 1905-1906 (serial), 1906 (book) The Lost World, 1912 The Poison Belt, 1913 The Valley of Fear, 1914-1915 (serial), 1915 (book) The Land of Mist, 1926 Short Fiction: Mysteries and Adventures, 1889 (also known as The Gully of Bluemansdyke, and Other Stories) The Captain of Polestar, and Other Tales, 1890 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1892 My Friend the Murderer, and Other Mysteries and Adventures, 1893 The Great Keinplatz Experiment, and Other Stories, 1894 The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 1894 Round the Red Lamp: Being Fact and Fancies of Medical Life, 1894 The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard, 1896 The Man from Archangel, and Other Stories, 1898 The Green Flag, and Other Stories of War and Sport, 1900 The Adventures of Gerard, 1903 The Return of Sherlock Holmes, 1905 Round the Fire Stories, 1908 The Last Galley: Impressions and Tales, 1911 One Crowded Hour, 1911 His Last Bow, 1917 Danger! and Other Stories, 1918 Tales of the Ring and Camp, 1922 (also known as The Croxley Master, and Other Tales of the Ring and Camp) Tales of Terror and Mystery, 1922 (also known as The Black Doctor, and Other Tales of Terror and Mystery) Tales of Twilight and the Unseen, 1922 (also known as The Great Keinplatz Experiment, and Other Tales of Twilight and the Unseen) Three of Them, 1923 The Dealings of Captain Sharkey, and Other Tales of Pirates, 1925 Last of the Legions, and Other Tales of Long Ago, 1925 The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, 1927 The Maracot Deep, and Other Stories, 1929 The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1981, revised and expanded 2001 Uncollected Stories: The Unknown Conan Doyle, 1982 Drama: Foreign Policy, pr. 1893 Jane Annie: Or, The Good Conduct Prize, pr., pb. 1893 (with J. M. Barrie) Waterloo, pr. 1894 (also known as A Story of Waterloo) Halves, pr. 1899 Sherlock Holmes, pr. 1899 (with William Gillette) A Duet, pb. 1903 Brigadier Gerard, pr. 1906 The Fires of Fate, pr. 1909 The House of Temperley, pr. 1909 The Pot of Caviare, pr. 1910 The Speckled Band, pr. 1910 The Crown Diamond, pr. 1921 Exile: A Drama of Christmas Eve, pb. 1925 It’s Time Something Happened, pb. 1925 Poetry: Songs of Action, 1898 Songs of the Road, 1911 The Guards Came Through, and Other Poems, 1919 The Poems: Collected Edition, 1922 Nonfiction: The Great Boer War, 1900 The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct, 1902 The Case of Mr. George Edalji, 1907 Through the Magic Door, 1907 The Crime of the Congo, 1909 The Case of Oscar Slater, 1912 Great Britain and the Next War, 1914 In Quest of Truth, Being a Correspondence Between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Captain H. Stansbury, 1914 To Arms!, 1914 The German War: Some Sidelights and Reflections, 1915 Western Wanderings, 1915 The Origin and Outbreak of the War, 1916 A Petition to the Prime Minister on Behalf of Roger Casement, 1916(?) A Visit to Three Fronts, 1916 The British Campaign in France and Flanders, 1916-1919 (6 volumes) The New Revelation, 1918 The Vital Message, 1919 Our Reply to the Cleric, 1920 Spiritualism and Rationalism, 1920 A Debate on Spiritualism, 1920 (with Joseph McCabe) The Evidence for Fairies, 1921 Fairies Photographed, 1921 The Wanderings of a Spiritualist, 1921 The Coming of the Fairies, 1922 The Case for Spirit Photography, 1922 (with others) Our American Adventure, 1923 Memories and Adventures, 1924 Our Second American Adventure, 1924 The Early Christian Church and Modern Spiritualism, 1925 Psychic Experiences, 1925 The History of Spiritualism, 1926 (2 volumes) Pheneas Speaks: Direct Spirit Communications, 1927 What Does Spiritualism Actually Teach and Stand For?, 1928 A Word of Warning, 1928 An Open Letter to Those of My Generation, 1929 Our African Winter, 1929 The Roman Catholic Church: A Rejoinder, 1929 The Edge of the Unknown, 1930 Arthur Conan Doyle on Sherlock Holmes, 1981 Essays on Photography, 1982 Letters to the Press, 1984 Translation: The Mystery of Joan of Arc, 1924 (of Léon Denis) Edited Texts: Dreamland and Ghostland, 1886 D. D. Home: His Life and Mission, 1921 (by Mrs. Douglas Home) The Spiritualist’s Reader, 1924 Miscellaneous: The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Reader: From Sherlock Holmes to Spiritualism, 2002 (Jeffrey Meyers and Valerie Meyers, editors) Bibliography Akinson, Michael. The Secret Marriage of Sherlock Holmes, and Other Eccentric Readings. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. Attempts to read Holmes’s stories in the manner in which Holmes himself might read them. “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is read in terms of the philosophy of Kundalini yoga; “A Scandal in Bohemia” is read in terms of its use of traditional romance motifs and its debt to Edgar Allan Poe; Jungian psychology is used to read A Study in Scarlet; and Derridian deconstruction is used to read “The Adventure of the Copper Breeches.” Baring-Gould, W. S. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of the World’s First Consulting Detective. New York: Bramhall House, 1962. A “biography” of Doyle’s most popular creation, Sherlock Holmes. Based upon the Sherlock Holmes stories and numerous secondary sources. A chronological outline of Holmes’s life as created by Baring-Gould is also included. Barsham, Diana. Arthur Conan Doyle and the Meaning of Masculinity. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2000. A discussion of masculinity according to Doyle, delving into all Doyle’s writings, including his war correspondence and travel writings. Booth, Martin. The Doctor, the Detective, and Arthur Conan Doyle: A Biography of Arthur Conan Doyle. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1997. A good survey of the life of Doyle. Carr, John Dickson. The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. London: John Murray, 1949. One of the first biographies of Doyle not written by a relative. Carr’s straightforward biography gives a good overview of Doyle’s life. Carr quotes copiously from Doyle’s letters, but there is very little discussion of the stories. Includes a list of sources and an index. Day, Barry, ed. Sherlock Holmes in His Own Words and in the Words of Those Who Knew Him. Lanham, Md.: Taylor, 2003. Day has culled details of Holmes’s life from passages in the stories and arranged them into an entertaining biography. Edwards, Owen Dudley. The Quest for Sherlock Holmes: A Biographical Study of Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1983. Concentrates on the first twenty-three years of Doyle’s life in an attempt to unravel the influence of various forces in his early life on his writing, such as his early love of history and Celtic lore, the impoverished and Catholic Edinburgh of his youth, and his alcoholic father. Fido, Martin. The World of Sherlock Holmes: The Facts and Fiction Behind the World’s Greatest Detective. Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Media, 1998. An entry in the “World of” series, this study of Holmes reveals the distinctive, fictional London in which the detective lives and works. Green, Richard Lancelyn. A Bibliography of A. Conan Doyle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Provides a massive bibliography of all that Doyle wrote, including obscure short pieces. Illustrated and containing a seventy-five-page index, this book includes a list of more than one hundred books of biographical, bibliographical, and critical interest for the study of Doyle. Hall, Jasmine Yong. “Ordering the Sensational: Sherlock Holmes and the Female Gothic.” Studies in Short Fiction 28 (Summer, 1991): 295-304. Examines how gothic elements and female clients in a number of stories, including the well-known “The Speckled Band,” establish the rational detective as a powerful, patriarchal hero. Argues that Holmes controls his female clients as much as the gothic villains in Doyle’s stories. Higham, Sir Charles. The Adventures of Conan Doyle: The Life of the Creator of Sherlock Holmes. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976. A popular biography which attempts to establish a link between Doyle’s detective fiction and events in his own life, such as his use of actual criminal cases, the mental collapse of his father, and his interest in spiritualism. Indexed and illustrated. Includes a bibliography. Hodgson, John A., ed. Sherlock Holmes: The Major Stories with Contemporary Critical Essays. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. Includes nine essays on Holmes, from a variety of critical perspectives, including feminist, deconstruction, and discourse analysis approaches. Jaffee, Jacqueline A. Arthur Conan Doyle. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Jaffee’s solid work combines biography and a critical discussion of Doyle’s stories and novels. Contains three chapters on the Sherlock Holmes stories, which closely examine the tales. Supplemented by an index, a bibliography of Doyle’s work, and an annotated bibliography. Jann, Rosemary. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Detecting Social Order. New York: Twayne, 1995. Part of Twayne’s Masterwork series, this slim volume is divided into two parts, the first of which places the great detective in a literary and historical context, followed by Jann’s own reading of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlockian approach to detective fiction. In addition to a selected bibliography, Jann’s book includes a brief chronology of Doyle’s life and work. Kestner, Joseph A. “Real Men: Construction of Masculinity in the Sherlock Holmes Narratives.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 29 (Spring, 1996): 73-88. Discusses the construction of masculinity in Doyle’s detective stories. Claims that one peculiar value of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories is the exposure of the contradictory nature of the realist text and besieged late-Victorian masculinity. Orel, Harold, ed. Critical Essays on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992. Including both evaluations by Doyle’s contemporaries and later scholarship—some of it commissioned specifically for inclusion in this collection—Critical Essays is divided into three sections: “Sherlock Holmes,” “Other Writings,” and “Spiritualism.” Harold Orel opens the collections with a lengthy and comprehensive essay, which is followed by a clever and classic meditation by Dorothy L. Sayers on “Dr. Watson’s Christian Name.” Otis, Laura. “The Empire Bites Back: Sherlock Holmes as an Imperial Immune System.” Studies in 20th Century Literature 22 (Winter, 1998): 31-60. Argues that Sherlock Holmes acts like a bacteriologist, hunting down tiny invaders and playing a defensive role as an imperial intelligence network detecting foreigners passing themselves off as British. Press, Charles. Looking over Sir Arthur’s Shoulder: How Conan Doyle Turned the Trick. Shelburne, Ont.: Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2004. Study of Doyle as stylist, seeking to explain exactly what features of his writing account for its massive popularity. Priestman, Martin. Detective Fiction and Literature: The Figure on the Carpet. London: Macmillan, 1990. Priestman discusses the differences and similarities of detective and conventional fiction and provides an introduction to the social, structural, and psychological implications of crime fiction. He includes two chapters on the Sherlock Holmes stories, which provide close readings of several stories. Ross, Thomas Wynne. Good Old Index: The Sherlock Holmes Handbook, a Guide to the Sherlock Holmes Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—Persons, Places, Themes, Summaries of all the Tales, with Commentary on the Style of the Author. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1997. An excellent manual for followers of Doyle’s Holmes stories. Stashower, Daniel. Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. An excellent biography of Doyle. Focuses less on the Holmes novels and more on the historical novels, personal crusades, and spiritualism.

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