Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, most famed for his four novels and fifty-six short stories about the "consulting detective" Sherlock Holmes, was born on May 22nd, 1859 in Edinburgh to a Catholic family of ten. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was an architect and an artist. Unfortunately, his talents were shadowed by alcoholism and epilepsy. He eventually died in an asylum where he was institutionalized. Thus the family suffered financially, but Doyle's mother, Mary, was able to pay for his schooling at a Jesuit institution.
Doyle decided to pursue medical studies at Edinburgh University, and had to take a job as a doctor's assistant to pay for his school fees. He was already writing and publishing stories at this time as well. He set up a practice in Southsea in the early 1880s. During this period he completed the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, which was published in Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1887. Sherlock Holmes was modeled after a university professor, Joseph Bell, whom he admired; he wrote to him, "It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes. ... [R]ound the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man."
Doyle published other historical works as he endeavored to write serious, "better things." However, he took advantage of the up and coming Strand Magazine for its (1891) ability to bring him more immediate financial return through the publication of short stories. The Holmes short stories that he contributed became very popular with the reading public. The editor of the magazine, George Newnes, was committed to high-quality production and plenty of illustrations, including the memorable visual image of Sherlock Holmes designed by Sidney Paget.
The popularity of the Holmes stories secured financial comfort and fame for Doyle, but he soon tired of his hero and "killed" him off in The Final Problem (1893). Doyle wrote other works and took a post as a war correspondent in Egypt, supported the British management of the Boer War, oversaw a field hospital in South Africa, and was knighted in 1902. In 1902 Doyle penned one of his most famous Sherlock Holmes works in the Hound of the Baskervilles.
In 1912 Doyle wrote one of his other most enduring works, The Lost World. This science fiction tale centered on a journey to the Amazon by a Professor Challenger; there he discovers a place where dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts still survive. During World War I, Doyle became immensely interested in spiritualism. He was inspired to write many works that centered on the religious subject. This garnered him much criticism, especially regarding his support for the photographs of the Cottingley Fairies. He continued to write poetry, short stories, pamphlets, and adventure novels. Some of his work dealt with humanitarian causes, such as The Crime of the Congo (1909), which excoriated the brutality of the Belgians in the Congo.
Arthur Conan Doyle died on July 7th, 1930 of a heart attack; he was 71 years old. He was married twice; his first wife Louise died from tuberculosis in 1906 and his second wife Jean survived him. He had five children in total. He was buried in an anonymous grave in unconsecrated ground outside a churchyard fence, on account of his avowedly Spiritualist religious beliefs. The graveyard was extended and now contains his grave. There are still no public headstones.