A legendary author

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

221B Baker Street is arguably the most famous fictional house known within literary circles. The home of legendary detective team Sherlock Holmes and Dr John H Watson, this address became the focal point of the greatest stories in history. As popular as Shakespeare and as charismatic as any television detective, the stories have stood there ground against the ever-changing times.

Robert Downey Jr has brought about a new generation of Sherlock fans, viewers were mesmerised by the flawed detective.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is known as the author of the irreplaceable Sherlock Holmes novels. With a career spreading over forty-one years, Arthur produced many enthralling books such as The Lost World and Micah Clark.

Although primarily recognised for the Sherlock Holmes stories, fans of his writing will know that he was also known for his historical fiction. Micah Clark, a story about political and religious turmoil, required three reprints in ten months to keep up with the demand.

The child of an artist and a landlady, Arthur was bound to be a creative man. While writing eventually became his passion, this is not Arthur’s initial profession; he was a doctor. Entering this profession was a practical decision for him; with his father institutionalised for alcoholism and his mother taking in lodgers to try to gain some income, Arthur attended his local University of Edinburgh knowing that he could save money by living at home.  As cliché as this sounds, attending this university inspired one of the greatest anti-heroes of all time.

Whilst at university, Arthur met Dr Joseph Bell, whose unique way of gaining information from patients inspired the character of Sherlock. Dr Bell examined small details such as tattoos, walking styles and accents to determine the occupation and lifestyle of his patients. The relationship between Doyle and Bell mirrored that of Holmes and Watson.

Despite fifty-six short stories and four novels, this was not what Doyle was most proud of.  In fact, he felt that these stories took the shine away from his historical novels. Doyle slowly grew fed up of being only associated with Sherlock Holmes work, and then he decided that Sherlock Holmes must die.In a somewhat fitting death for Sherlock, Doyle created a nemesis in Professor Moriarty, the last the reader’s saw of Sherlock he had fallen into a parapet with Moriarty. Neither body was found so people assumed Sherlock had died.

The death was published in magazine The Strand and readers were so outraged that twenty thousand readers cancelled their subscription. The readers wanted Sherlock to return, and eventually Doyle caved, creating an elaborate story to justify Sherlock’s disappearance.

The Hound of the Baskervilles was actually written after Doyle had killed off Sherlock Holmes, but Doyle was so inspired by a vacation in Norfolk that he felt he had to write a story.  Listening to his friend tell the stories of his upbringing and the legend of the hounds that supposedly roamed the cliffs of Dartmoor; he created a prequel story to the death, knowing that fans would be happy to hear another Sherlock story, he was right as subscription to The Strand went up by thirty thousand.In 1916, Doyle announced to the world that he believed in spiritualism, this rocked his fans thoroughly – how could it be that the man who invented the most logical thinking character of our time believes in ghosts?  Although announced in 1916, Doyle had been interested in things spiritual since as early as 1881. Spiritual magazines published articles written by Doyle describing séance he had been to and things he had experienced. Growing up Doyle became interested in the occult and regularly attended Ouija boards at a friend’s house; in true Doyle fashion he threw himself into studying the occult.

In October 1917, Doyle gave his first lecture on Spiritualism, choosing to present people with the facts at the expense of his reputation. The biggest blow to Doyle’s reputation came from his belief in extraordinary photos, The Cottingley fairies. Two young girls in a village in Yorkshire had taken photographs of these fairies in the woods by their house. Doyle decided to investigate the matter, asking for specialist opinion surrounding the authenticity of the photos. All along, he believed these images were proof that magic existed and supported them fully- eventually these were proved to be fake, doing considerable damage to his reputation.

A book that is hardly, if ever, mentioned in relation to Arthur Conan Doyle’s name is The History of Spiritualism. This book was written in 1926 where he avidly supported the marvels of spiritual materialization, discussing the psychic work of Emanuael Swedenborg, Davenport brothers and the Fox Sisters. For the next following ten years, Doyle continued to write about spiritualism, only writing The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes to fund his investigations.

Eventually his reputation as a spiritualist outshone his reputation as an author; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died on 8th July 1930 and is buried in Rose Garden in Windlesham.


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