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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Biography

(1859–1930), The Stark–Munro Letters, The Great Boer War, A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four

British writer of detective and historical fiction, of Irish descent, born in Edinburgh, educated at Stonyhurst and the University of Edinburgh, where he studied medicine. After a brief and unsatisfactory medical partnership with a friend in Plymouth—The Stark–Munro Letters (1895) gives a fictionalized account of the episode—he practised in Southsea from 1882 to 1890, and later served as an army physician during the Boer War, writing a history of the campaign (The Great Boer War, 1900) and an influential pamphlet ‘The War in South Africa’, which was much translated. He married Louise Hawkins (d. 1906) in 1885, and Jean Leckie, who survived him, in 1907. In the novel A Study in Scarlet (1888) he introduced the private detective Sherlock Holmes and his impercipient friend Dr Watson, the narrator in most of the stories, and with whom he resides at 221B Baker Street; the other Sherlock Holmes novels are The Sign of Four (1890), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), and The Valley of Fear (1914). Doyle's immense popularity, however, stemmed from the Sherlock Holmes short stories, published mainly in the Strand Magazine, where the first, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’, appeared in 1891. Tiring of the character, he wrote of Holmes's death in ‘The Final Problem’ (1893), but vehement public protest forced a resurrection in ‘The Empty House’ (1903). The stories are collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892), The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894), The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905), His Last Bow: Some Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes (1917), and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927). Undoubtedly the best-known and perhaps, too, the best of all fictional detectives, whose influence on later writers is demonstrated by such figures as Freeman's Dr Thorndyke, or Christie's Poirot, Holmes owes something to his predecessors, Poe's Dupin and Emile Gaboriau's Lecoq, while his deductive method is partly borrowed from Doyle's teacher at Edinburgh, Dr Joseph Bell. There are over a hundred Sherlock Holmes films, the best-known being those of the 1940s with Basil Rathbone as the detective, a number of plays, two written by Doyle himself, and many radio and television adaptations. Doyle however, set greater store by his historical fiction, which combines exciting adventure with carefully researched detail. The best works are The White Company (1891) and its successor, Sir Nigel (1906), set in the fourteenth century; Rodney Stone (1896), with a Regency prize-fighting background; and the light-hearted stories of a cavalry officer in Napoleon's army, The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (1896). Also worthy of mention is The Lost World (1912), the first of a series of stories dominated by Professor Challenger. Doyle wrote many books on public themes, including a long history of the Flanders campaign in the First World War (6 volumes, 191619). His one-act play Waterloo provided Sir Henry Irving in 1894 with one of his most successful parts. In 1926 he published his History of Spiritualism, one of many books he wrote on the subject, in which he was greatly interested. His efforts to right miscarriages of justice resulted in the release of George Edalji in 1906 and of Oscar Slater in 1927, both wrongfully imprisoned. He published accounts of both cases. See lives by H. Pearson (1943), J. D. Carr (1949), and J. Symons (1979); and H. Keating, Sherlock Holmes: The Man and His World (1979).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Hilda Doolittle (H. D.) Biography to Dutch