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Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)


British writer, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, who is the best-known detective in literature and the embodiment of sharp reasoning. Doyle himself was not a good example of rational personality: he believed in fairies and was interested in occultism. Sherlock Holmes stories have been translated into more than fifty languages, and made into plays, films, radio and television series, a musical comedy, a ballet, cartoons, comic books, and advertisement. By 1920, Doyle was one of the most highly paid writers in the world.

--'This is indeed a mystery,' I remarked. 'What do you imagine that it means?'
--'I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts...'

--(from 'A Scandal in Bohemia', 1891)

Arthur Conan Doyle was born at Picardy Place, Edinburgh, the son of Charles Altamont Doyle, a civil servant in the Edinburgh Office of Works, and Mary (Foley) Doyle. Both of Doyle's parents were Roman Catholics. To increase his income, Charles Altamont painted, made book illustrations, and also worked as a sketch artist on criminal trials. Not long after arriving Edinburgh he began to drink and suffered at the same time from epilepsy, he was eventually institutionalized. Richard Doyle (1824-83), the uncle of A.C. Doyle and the son of the caricaturist John Doyle, was also an illustrator. He worked for Punch and illustrated chiefly fairy stories, including Ruskin's The King of the Golden River, W. Allingham's In Fairyland and some of Dickens's Christmas Books.

Doyle's mother, Mary, whom he called "the Ma'am," was interested in literature, and she encouraged his son to explore the world of books. Doyle's second wife, Jean, said: "My husband's mother was a very remarkable and highly cultured woman. She had a dominant personality, wrapped up on the most charming womanly exterior." At the age of fourteen Doyle had learned French so that he could read Jules Verne in the author's original language. Charles Altamot died in an asylum in 1893; in the same year Doyle decided to finish permanently the adventures of his master detective. Because of financial problems, Doyle's mother kept a boarding house. Dr. Tsukasa Kobayashi has alluded in an article, that she had a long affair with Bryan Charles Waller, a lodger and a student of pathology, who had a deep impact to Conan Doyle. He also supported young Arthur financially. Mary's last child was named Bryan Julia Doyle – perhaps referring to Waller's mother, who also was Julia.

Doyle was educated in Jesuit schools. During this period Doyle lost his belief in the Roman Catholic faith, but the training of the Jesuits influenced deeply his thought. Later he used his friends and teachers from Stonyhurst College as models for his characters in the Holmes stories, among them two boys named Moriarty. Doyle studied at Edinburgh University and in 1884 he married Louise Hawkins.

Doyle qualified as doctor in 1885. After graduation Doyle practiced medicine as an eye specialist at Southsea near Porsmouth in Hampshire until 1891 when he became a full time writer. His first story, an illustrated tale of a man and a tiger, Doyle had produced at the age of six. Doyle's first novel about Holmes, A Study in Scarlet, was published in 1887 in Beeton's Christmas Annual. The story was written in three weeks in 1886. It introduced the detective and his Sancho Panza and Boswell, Dr. Watson, the narrator. Their major opponent, the evil genius Dr. Moriarty, became a kind of doppelgänger of the detective. Also the intrigues of the beautiful opera singer Irene Adler caused much trouble to Holmes.

The second Sherlock Holmes story, The Sign of the Four', was written for the Lippincott's Magazine. Doyle collected a colorful group of people together, among them Jonathan Small, who has a wooden leg and a dwarf from Tonga islands. The Strand Magazine started to publish 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' from July 1891. Holmes's address at Mrs. Hudson's house, 221B Baker Street, London, is perhaps the most famous London street in literature.

Already at the end of 1891, Doyle planned to abandon the series. "I have had such an overdose of [Holmes] that I feel towards him as I do toward pâté de foie gras, of which I once ate too much, so that the name of it gives me a sickly feeling to this day", he confessed. In 1893 Doyle devised his death in the 'Final Problem,' published in the Strand in the December issue. Holmes meets Moriarty at the fall of the Reichenbach in Switzerland and disappears. Watson finds a letter from Homes, stating "I have already explained to you, however, that my career had in any case reached its crisis, and that no possible conclusion to it could be more congenial to me than this." In his diary Doyle wrote simply, "Killed Holmes", without understanding that his creation was already indestructible.

Doyle's readers expressed their disappointment by wearing mourning bands and Strand lost 20,000 subscriptions. In The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) Doyle narrated an early case of the dead detective. The ingenious murder weapon in the story is an animal. Because of public demand Doyle resurrected his popular character in 'The Empty House' (1903). "I moved my head to look at the cabinet behind me. When I turned again Sherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me across my study table. I rose to my feet, stared at him for some seconds in utter amazement, and then it appears that I must have fainted for the first and last time in my life." (from 'The Empty House')

In these following stories Holmes stopped using cocaine. Although Doyle's later works have been criticized, several of them, including 'The Three Garridebs,' 'The Adventure of the Illustrious Client,' and 'The Veiled Lodger,' are highly enjoyable. Sherlock Holmes short stories were collected in five books. The first appeared in 1892 under the title The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It was followed by The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894), The Return of Sherlock Holmes  (1904), His Last Bow (1917), and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927).

During the South African war (1899-1902), Doyle served for a few months as senior physician at a field hospital, and wrote The War in South Africa, in which he defended England's policy. The same uncritical attitude toward the British empire marked his history of World War I, The British Campaign in France and Flanders (6 vols.). Doyle was knighted in 1902 and in 1900 and 1906 he also ran unsuccessfully for Parliament. Fourteen months after his long-invalided wife Louisa died, Conan Doyle married in 1907 his second wife, Jean Leckie. When his son Kingsley died from wounds incurred in World War I, the author dedicated himself in spiritualistic studies. An example of these is The Coming of Fairies (1922). But he had already shown interest in occult fantasy before publishing Holmes stories. In his early novel, The Mystery of Cloomber (1888), a retired general finds himself under assault by Indian magic.

Doyle supported the existence of "little people" and spent more than a million dollars on their cause. The so-called "fairy photographs" caused an international sensation, when Doyle published a favorable account of them in 1920. The photographs, taken by two schoolgirls, showed fairies dancing in the air. A year after, the Star newspaper reported that the fairies were from a poster, but the hoax was not uncovered until the early 1980s, when the English photographic scientist Geoffrey Crawley tested the Cottingley fairies and tenderly revealed the secret behind the two poetic pictures: the artistically gifted cousins had copied fairy illustrations from a book. – Doyle, a true believer in spiritual powers, became president of several important spiritualist organizations. In 1925, he opened the Psychic Bookshop in London. His friends included the legendary American magician and escape artist Harry Houdini (1874-1926). Doyle believed that Houdini possessed supernatural powers, which the magician himself denied. Another friend was D.D. Home. According to Doyle, he could levitate. Once Doyle claimed, that Home "floated out of the bedroom and into the sitting room window, passing seventy feet above the street." His own psychic experiences Doyle recorded in The Edge of Unknown (1930), in his last book. Doyle died from heart disease on July 7, 1930, at his home, Windlesham, Sussex.

"My contention is that Sherlock Holmes is literature on a humble but not ignoble level, whereas the mystery writers most in vogue now are not. The old stories are literature, not because of the conjuring tricks and the puzzles, not because of the lively melodrama, which they have in common with many other detective stories, but the virtue of imagination and style. They are fairy-tales, as Conan Doyle intimated in his preface to his last collection, and they are among the most amusing of fairy-tales and not among the least distinguished." (Edmund Wilson in Classics and Commercials, 1950)

Conan Doyle's other publications include plays, verse, memoirs, short stories, and several historical novels and supernatural and speculative fiction. His stories of Professor George Edward Challenger in The Lost World (1912) and other adventures blended science fact with fantastic romance, and were very popular. The model for the professor was William Rutherford, Doyle's teacher from Edinburgh. Doyle's practice, and other experiences, expeditions as ship's surgeon to the Arctic and West Coast of Africa, service in the Boer War, defenses of George Edalji and Oscar Slater, two men wrongly imprisoned, provided much material for his writings.

Sherlock Holmes's literary forefather was Edgar Allan Poe's detective C. Auguste Dupin and on the other hand a real life person, Conan Doyle's teacher in the University of Edinburgh, Joseph Bell. A master of observation and deduction, he was a legend at the medical school. Another model was Eugène Francois Vidoq, a former criminal, who became the first chief of the Sûreté on the principle of 'set a thief to catch a thief.' Holmes's character have inspired many later writers to continue his adventures. Among them are O. Henry, Robert L. Fish and Nicholas Meyer with his novels The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1975) and The West End Horror (1976). Philip José Farmer's The Adventure of the Peerless Peer (1974) pastiched the Sherlock Holmes saga in the context of his World Newton Family series. Robert Lee Hall portrays in his novel Exit Sherlock Holmes (1977) Moriarty as Holmes's evil alter ego. In Dr. Fu Manchu novel Ten Years Beyond Baker Street (1984) the Evil Doctor fights Sherlock Holmes. Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October (1993) features Holmes in a bit part. Perhaps the best actor who ever played Sherlock Holmes was not Basil Rathbone but Jeremy Brett (1935-1995). Brett devoted himself entirely to the role in a television series produced by Granada TV from 1984 to 1994. The tv scripts were very faithful to original stories.

For further reading: Memories and Adventures by A.C. Doyle (1924); Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by J.D. Carr (1949); Classics and Commercials by Edmund Wilson (1950); The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by V. Starrett (1960); Conan Doyle: His Life and Art by H. Pearson (1961); Conan Doyle by Pierre Weil Nordon (1966); The London Sherlock Holmes by M. Harrison (1972); A Sherlock Holmes Commentary by D.M. Dakin (1972); The Adventures of Conan Doyle by C. Higham (1976); Portrait of an Artist: Conan Doyle by J. Symons (1979); A Bibliography of A. Conan Doyle by Richard Lancelon Green & John Michael Gibson (1983); The Encyclopaedia Sherlockiana by J. Tracy (1987); Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, ed. by H. Orel (1991); Baker Street Studies, ed. by H.W. Bell (1995); Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle by Daniel Stashower (1999); The Doctor and the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Martin Booth (2000) - ACD: The Journal of the Arthur Conan Doyle Society, published annually. - See also: Jacques Futrelle, the American Conan Doyle, who died on the Titanic 15 April 1912; Lawrence Treat and the modern police procedural novel; Beverly Nichols; Sax Rohmer; Aleister Crowley and occultism; poet W.B. Yeats, who was interested in occult and magical knowledge and joined The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In Rohmer's Dr. Fu Manchu novel Ten Years Beyond Baker Street (1984) the Evil Doctor fights Sherlock Holmes. Maurice Leblanc's gentleman-thier Arsène Lupin outwitted the English master detective several times. - In Finnish: Suomeksi on julkaistu vuodesta 1894 lähtien käännöksiä Holmes-tarinoista, mm. kuvitettu Sherlock Holmesin seikkailuja 1, 2 ja 4 (1904-05) sekä Sherlock Holmesin seikkailut I-II (1957).

Selected works:

  • A Study in Scarlet, 1887
    - Kostaja (suom. 1899) / Vainottu (suom. T.T., 1908) / Punapäiden yhdistys (suom. 1907) / Punainen hiuspalmikko (suom. 1907) / Punaisten kirjainten arvoitus (suom. Outi Pickering, 1982)
  • Micah Clarke, 1888
  • The Mystery of Cloomber, 1889
    - Cloomber Hallin salaisuus (suom. 1900) / Cloomberyn salaisuus eli astraalikello (suom. Wäinö Nyman, 1922)
  • The Firm of Girdlestone, 1889
  • The Captain of the Polestar, and Other Tales, 1890
    - Tarinoita merirosvoista ja aavoilta ulapoilta (suom. Väinö Nyman, 1925)
  • The Sign of Four, 1890
    - Neljän merkit (suom. Ida Wicksedt, 1894) / Neljän merkki (suom. Lea ja Timo Kukkola, 1999)
  • The White Company, 1891
  • The Doings of Raffles Haw, 1891
    - Kullan voima (suom. 1907)
  • Beyond the City, 1892
  • The Great Shadow, 1892
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1892
    - Sherlock Holmes'in seikkailuja 1-2 (suom. Matti Pennanen, 1904) / Sherlock Holmesin seikkailut I-II (suom. O. E. Juurikorpi, 1933)
  • The Refugees, 1893
  • Jane Annie, or the Good Conduct Prize, 1893 (with J.M. Barrie)
  • My Friend the Murderer and Other Mysteries and Adventures, 1893
  • The Parasite, 1894
  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 1894
    - Sherlock Holmesin seikkailuja. Osa 2 (suom. Matti Pennanen, 1904) / Sherlock Holmes'in seikkailuja 3-4 (suom. A.A. Fabritius, 1904-05) / Sherlock Holmesin seikkailut I-II (suom. O.E. Juurikorpi, 1933)
  •  Round the Red Lamp, 1894
  • The Surgeon of Gaster Fell, 1895
  • The Stark Munro Letters, 1895
  • Rodney Stone, 1896
  • Uncle Bernac, 1896
    - Bernac Eno (suom. 1897) / Enoni: muistoja Napoleonin ajoilta (suom. 1898)
  • The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard, 1896
    - Komentavan kenraalin urhotöitä (suom. 1897)
  • The Tragedy of the Korosko, 1898
    - Erämaan murhenäytelmä (suom. 1924)
  • Songs of Action, 1898
  • A Duet: With an Occasional Chorus, 1899
  • The Man from Archangel, 1899
    - Tarinoita lääkärien elämästä (suom. Väinö Nyman, 1926)
  • The Green Flag and Other Stories of War and Sport, 1900
    - Tarinoita nyrkkeilijöistä ja sotilaista (suom. Väinö Nyman, 1925)
  • The Great Boer War, 1900
  • The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct, 1902
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1902
    - Kamala öinen kummitus (suom. 1904) / Baskervillen koira (suom.: Aatami H. 1904; A.A. Fabritius, teoksessa Sherlock Holmes'in seikkailuja. Osa 5, 1904; Outi Pickering, 1993; Juhani Lindholm, 2001; Jaakko Kankaanpää, 2008)
    - Films: 1931, dir. by V. Gareth Gundrey, script Edgar Wallace and Gundrey; 1939, dir. by Lidney Lanfield; 1959, dir. by Terence Fisher; 1977, dir. by Maul Morrissey; television film 2002, dir. by David Attwood.
  • The Adventures of Gerard, 1903
    - Napoleonin sotilaan seikkailut (suom. 1919)
  • The Adventures of Abbey Grange, 1904
    - Abbey Grangen murha (suom. A.A. Fabritius, 1907)
  • The Last of the Legions and Other Tales of Long Ago , 1922
    - Tarinoita menneiltä ajoilta (suom. Väinö Nyman, 1926)
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes, 1905
    - Ylösnoussut Sherlock Holmes (suom. A.A. Fabritius, teoksessa Sherlock Holmes'in seikkailuja. 4 osa, 1904-05) / Sherlock Holmesin seikkailut I-II (suom. O.E. Juurikorpi, 1933)
  • Sir Nigel, 1906
  • Brigadier Gerard, 1906
    - Prikaatinkenraalin urotyöt (suom. Otto Rafael Blom, 1897) / Prikaatinkenraalin seikkailut Napoleonin sodissa (suom. 1948)
  • The Case of Mr George Edalji, 1907
  • Through the Magic Door, 1907
  • Watwerloo, 1907 (with W. Gillette)
  •  Round the Fire Stories, 1908
  • The Croxley Master, 1909
  • The Crime of the Congo, 1909
  • The Last Galley, 1910
  • One Crowded Hour, 1911
  • Songs of the Road, 1911
  • The Lost World, 1912
    - Kadonnut maailma (suom.: Martti Hela, 1907; Tauno Karilas, 1948)
    - TV film 2001, dir. by Stuart Orme, starring Bob Hoskins, Peter Falk, Tom Ward, Matthew Rhys, Elaine Cassidy, script by Tony Mulholland and Adrian Hodges.
  • The Case of Oscar Slater, 1912
  • The Speckled Band, 1912
  • The Poison Belt, 1913
    - Myrkkyvyöhyke (suom. A. J. Salonen, 1922)
  • Great Britain and the Next War, 1914
  • To Arms!, 1914
  • The German War, 1914
  • Western Wanderings, 1915
  • The Valley of Fear, 1915
    - Kauhun laakso (suom. Timo Tuura, 1915)
  • A Visit to Three Fronts, 1916
  • The Origin and Outbreak of the War, 1916
  • The British Campaign in France and Flanders, 1916-20
  • His Last Bow, 1917
    - Hänen viimeinen tervehdyksensä (suom. Väinö Nyman, 1921) / Viimeinen tervehdys (suom. Lea Kukkola, Timo Kukkola, 1988)
  • Danger! and Other Stories, 1918
  • The Dealings of Captain Sharkey, 1918
  • The New Revelation, 1918
    - Haudantakainen elämä (suom. Valfrid Hedman, 1923)
  • The Vital Message, 1919
  • The Great Keinplatz Experiment and Other Tales of Twilight and the Unseen, 1919
  • The Guards Came Through, and Other Poems, 1919
  • Our Reply to the Cleric: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Lecture in Leicester, October 19th, 1919, 1920
  • A Public Debate On "The Truth Of Spiritualism", 1920 (with Joseph McCabe)
  • Spiritualism and Rationalism, 1920
  • Fairies Phtoographed. An Epoch-Making Event, 1920 (The Strand Magazine, Dec. 1920)
  • The Wanderings of a Spiritualist, 1921
  • The Evidence for Fairies, 1921
  • Our American Adventure, 1921
  • Poems of Arthur Conan Doyle, 1922
  • The Coming of the Fairies, 1922 (with others; illustrated from photographs)
  • The Case for Spirit Photography, 1922 (with others)
  • Tales of Long Ago, 1922
    - Tarinoita menneiltä ajoilta (suom. Väinö Nyman, 1926)
  • Tales of Twilight and the Unseen, 1922
    - Hämärätarinoina (suom. Väinö Nyman, 1926)
  • Tales of Pirates and Blue Water, 1922
  • Tales of the Ring and Camp, 1922
  • Tales of Adventure and Medical Life, 1922
  • Our Second American Adventure, 1923
  • The Three of Them: A Reminiscence, 1923
  • Tales of Terror & Mystery, 1923
    - Pelko ja kauhutarinoita (suom. Väinö Nyman, 1925)
  • Through the Magic Door, 1923
  • Memories and Adventures, 1924
  • The Spiritualist's Reader, 1924
  • The Mystery of Joan of Arc / Léon Denis, 1924 (translator)
  • Psychic Experiences, 1925
  • The Early Christian Church and Modern Spiritualism, 1925
  • It's Time Something Happened, 1925
  • The Black Doctor and Other Tales of Terror and Mystery, 1925
  • The Dealings of Captain Sharkey, 1925
  • The Man from Archangel and Other Tales of Adventure, 1925
  • The Land of Mist, 1926
    - Pakolaiset (suom. A.O. Joutsen & Paavo Kesäniemi, 1925-1926)
  • The History of Spiritualism, 1926 (2 vols.)
  • Pheneas Speaks; Direct Spirit Communications in the Family Circle, 1927 (reported by Arthur Conan Doyle)
  • The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, 1927
    - Sherlock Holmesin muistikirja (suom. Väinö Nyman, 1928; Lea Kukkola, Timo Kukkola, 1990)
  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes, 1927
  • The British Campaign in France and Flanders, 1928 (6 vols.)
  • What Does Spiritualism Actually Teach and Stand For, 1929
  • The Maracot Deep and Other Stories, 1929
  • The Conan Doyle Stories, 1929
  • An Open Letter to Those of My Generation, 1929
  • Our African Winter, 1929
  • The Roman Catholic Church, a Rejoinder, 1929
  • The Crowborough Edition of the Works of Sir A.C. Doyle, 1930 (24 vols.; limited edition of 760 numbered sets, the first volume of each set signed by the author)
  • The Edge of the Unknown, 1930
  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes, 1930 (2 vols.)
  • The Conan Doyle Historical Romances, 1931 (2 vols.)
  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes, 1938 (de luxe ed.; with a pref. by Christopher Morley)
  • Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship, 1944 (edited by Christopher Morley)
  • The Complete Professor Challenger Stories, 1952
  • The Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Four Novels and the Fifty-Six Short Stories Complete, 1967 (edited, with an introd., notes, and bibliography by William S. Baring-Gould)
  • My Life with Sherlock Holmes: Conversations in Baker Street by John H. Watson, M.D., 1968 (edited by J. R. Hamilton)
  • The Best Supernatural Tales of Arthur Conan Doyle, 1979 (selected and introduced by E. F. Bleiler)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle on Sherlock Holmes, 1981
  • Uncollected Stories: The Unknown Conan Doyle, 1982 (compiled and with an introduction by John Michael Gibson and Richard Lancelyn Green)
  • Essays on Photography: The Unknown Conan Doyle, 1982 (compiled with an introduction by John Michael Gibson and Richard Lancelyn Green)
  • Letters to the Press, 1986 (edited and introduced by John Michael Gibson and Richard Lancelyn Green)
  • The Supernatural Tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1987 (edited and introduced by Peter Haining)
  • Conan Doyle’s Tales of Medical Humanism and Values: Round the Red Lamp: Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life, with Other Medical Short sSories, 1992 (edited with introduction, commentaries, and notes by Alvin E. Rodin and Jack D. Key)
  • The True Crime Files of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 2001 (rediscovered by Stephen Hines; with an introduction by Steven Womack)
  • The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, 2005 (volumes 1 and 2, edited with a foreword and notes by Leslie S. Klinger, an introduction by John le Carré)
  • Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure, 2012 (edited by Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower)

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