Arthur Conan Doyle Career and Biography Essay Example


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a brilliant mind with a knack for solving crime.  Born in Edinburgh, Scotland on May 22, 1859, Doyle grew up an avid reader.  In school he entertained his peers and impressed his teachers with stories of mystery and horror.  Even as his life took him other directions, Arthur Conan continued to write for the sheer pleasure of composing a story.  Educated in medicine and compelled by crime, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle began writing mystery novels and short stories which received a vast amount of positive criticism.  

Due to the failure of his medical practice and his fascination with American crime, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle turned his writing hobby into a career.  Through the entirety of his primary education and into his secondary education, Doyle wrote as a pastime.  The bright young man began studying medicine at Edinburgh University in 1876.  While attending the university, Doyle was instructed by Dr. Joseph Bell.  Doyle was awestruck by Bell’s ability to conclude the cause of patients’ death.  Dr. Joseph Bell is said to be the inspiration for Doyle’s famous detective (“Arthur Conan Doyle” Gale 2). 

After getting his master’s degree in medicine, Doyle moved to Southsea, Hampshire, England, where he opened his own practice with his university friend, Signor Budd.  Signor Budd unfortunately brought on the failure of the medical practice because of his drug use, gambling, and bankruptcy.  In Conan Doyle: Portrait of an Artist, Julian Symons quotes Doyle on describing Budd as “...having fierce grey eyes looking furtively at me with a strange sullen expression”.  This description of Signor Budd is said to have later influenced Doyle’s characters (43-45).  Through the eight years that Doyle lived in Southsea, he continued to write, and in 1884 he wrote stories about the Marie Celeste “ghost ship” which were anonymously published in the Cornhill Magazine.  Those stories made him seriously consider writing as a career, because his medical practice was not bringing in sufficient funds, especially when his ten year old brother briefly lived with him so his mother could improve her financial state (“Arthur Conan Doyle” Gale 3).  He continued to write during his last years in Southsea because he needed the money, and he also thoroughly enjoyed writing.  

Moving to London and writing full-time

After he began writing full-time, Doyle moved to London where his works were heavily influenced by the Victorian lifestyle.  He thrived in an environment run by scientific reasoning, politics, crime, and fashion.  It was Doyle’s interest in crime that took him to America, where he studied famous American crimes, including the Mormon Murders.  However, Doyle was disliked by Americans due to his thick Scottish accent (Costello 124-125).  Doyle was drawn to America because of crime and mystery writer, Edgar Allan Poe, who was Doyle’s greatest influence, as well as Emile Gaboriau (Symons 19).  Doyle’s travel took him to Sweden and Italy, where he learned more about international criminology and political threats.  Using his new knowledge of international crime, Doyle continues to write and became quite wealthy.  When the Boer War began, Doyle was a field doctor, but also kept written records of the happening of the war.  The records were later used to defend the British soldiers against misconduct allegations, and to share the truth of the violence (Symons 65-66).  Due to his great deeds as a doctor in the war, Doyle was knighted in 1902, making him Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Joseph A. Kestner 2).  Doyle continued to write and travel through his last years, and was a well-known name.  In July of 1930, Doyle died of a heart attack.  His grave has the inscription “Steel True, Blade Straight” (“Arthur Conan Doyle” Authors 90).  His eldest son took over publication of his father’s works, so that his name would not be forgotten. 

Doyle showed an understanding of criminology and life in Victorian England through his historical novels, and the famous stories of Sherlock Holmes.  While still living in Southsea, Doyle began writing full time to help his financial crisis.  The article “Doyle, Arthur Conan 1859-1930” quotes Doyle on his philosophy when writing Sherlock Holmes. “People often ask me whether I knew the end of a Holmes story before I started writing it.  Of course I do.  One could not possibly steer a course if one did not know one’s destination.  The first thing to is your idea. Having got that key idea, one’s next task is to conceal it and lay emphasis upon everything which can make for a different explanation,” (103).  It was from this philosophy that Doyle was able to write four Sherlock Holmes novels, and dozens of short stories.  His first major novel, A Study in Scarlet, was printed in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887 (“Arthur Conan Doyle” Gale 3).  A Study in Scarlet saw the birth of the iconic detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his partner, Doctor John Watson.  Sherlock Holmes was the world’s first consulting detective. 

His second most well-known novel, The Hound of Baskerville, was published in 1902.  The Hound of Baskerville followed the story of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson as the duo investigates a ‘curse’ plaguing Charles Baskerville and his estate.  This storyline was based on British folklore, specifically the tale of the Black Dog, which was said to bring evilness and imminent death (“The Hound of Baskerville” 128).  Collections of short Holmes stories, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892) and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893) more thoroughly demonstrated the great skills of the detective (“Doyle, Arthur Conan 1859-1930” 89).  The Sherlock Holmes stories became known for their use of literary devices. 

Doyle’s use of Gothicism is shown through the elements of horror, romance, and the supernatural. To challenge the fantastical elements in his works, Doyle implanted a contrasting theme of science and logic versus superstition.  Holmes is said to represent the skeptical mind, and Watson the superstitious mind. These works are believed to be some of the first stories that use cliffhangers.  Doyle always wrapped up his stories with a neat resolution, and made sure the details of the crimes were all explained (“The Hound of Baskerville” 129-131).  Doyle’s works were often referred to as ‘Locker Room Mysteries’ because the reader only knows as many details as the characters present in each scene, or ‘room’.  Also, the ideas of challenging the justice system, the privilege of men, and the poor treatment of women also appeared in Doyle’s works.  He once wrote that, “lawfulness does not equal justice, because the law does not always bring justice” (Kestner 2).  Other Sherlock Holmes novels include The Sign of Four (1890), His Last Bow (1917), and The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1903).  

Lesser known works

 Doyle’s lesser known works included The White Company and many other experimental works.  Published in 1891, The White Company is a historical novel set during the hundred year war.  This novel was heavily inspired by historical works from Sir Walter Scott, a fellow Scottish author (Kestner 2).  Other works came from his time serving in the Boer War, such as The Great Boer War (1900) and a pamphlet discussing the conflict called “The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct”.  Along with historical and political novels, Doyle dabbled in poetry and playwriting in the 1900s.  Some of Doyle’s works were adapted into films and stage plays, a popular collection of plays titled “The Game’s Afoot: Sherlock Holmes Plays” which was published in 1969 (“Doyle, Arthur Conan 1859-1930” 93-97).  During his life, Doyle wrote over sixty novels and short stories, as well as various other works.

While the Sherlock Holmes stories were an immediate success for critics and readers alike for the unique characters and suspenseful action, Doyle’s various other works did not reach the same level of fame.  Donald J. Watt who claims that The Hound of Baskerville is one of his favorite novels and says the novel is a, “A ripping good yarn, which is related by means of some absolutely manipulated conventional literary devices,” (“The Hound of Baskerville” 135).  Critics James Kissane and John M. Kissane praise The Hound of Baskerville for it use of mystery and horror, as well as theme of the power of logic.

The Kissanes can be quoted saying, “Most of its elements have since become virtual requirements for a satisfactory detective novel, and nowhere else do these characteristic features appear in such distinguished, one might say quintessential, form,” (“The Hound of Baskerville” 142).  Doyle himself claims that his favorite book that he wrote was The Speckled Band.  Critical magazine, “The Athenaeum” says The Speckled Band is,” of its kind it is excellent; there is little literary pretension about it, and there is hardly any waste of time about subtle character drawing; but incident succeeds incident with the most businesslike rapidity, and the unexpected always occurs with appropriate regularity,” (“Arthur Conan doyle” Gale 5).  The most negative criticism came from Doyle himself, in which he claims some of the puzzles are not puzzling enough, and that there are many timeline inconsistencies in some works.  Some critics dislike The Valley of Fear for its political aspects, claiming that, “Left Wing writers can not construct a plot for beans,” (Dickson 234).  However, critic Ivor Brown notes that, “there was far more in Doyle’s literary life than the invention of his fascinating and volatile detective,” (“Arthur Conan Doyle” Gale 1).  This statement is all too true, as Doyle prided himself on his historical works.

The White Company, and other non-Holmes works were not as popular, but still enjoyed by critics. James Payn says The White Company, “was the best historical novel since Ivanhoe,” (Dickson 60).  However, Doyle claims that even though The White Company was praised, the critics did not ‘treat it properly’.  Julian Symons wrote that Doyle himself claimed that the novel was treated, “too much as if it were a mere book of adventure… whereas I have striven to draw the exact types of character of the folk then living ,which seems so far to be quite unappreciated by the critics,” (86).  Doyle’s historical and science fiction novels never reached the level of fame that he hoped, but instead always lived the the shadow of Sherlock Holmes. 

Throughout the years, the Sherlock Holmes stories built a fanbase of fanatics of the stories.  The self-proclaimed ‘Sherlockians’ and ‘Holmnesians’ are devoted to uncovering all of the secrets of Holmes and Watson.  A long running debate among the two groups is whether or not Sherlock Holmes was a real person, and if the locations mentioned in the novels are real.  A famous location from the novel that fans are interested in is Baskerville Hall.  James Branch Cabell, a Sherlock superfan, claims that his ancestor who was a lord, owns the property.  Another idea from Howard Brody says that Hayford Hall in South Devon is actually Baskerville Hall.  Doyle expert William S. Baring-Gould claims Lew Hall in Devon is the model for Baskerville Hall because its architecture is similar to that described in the novel (“The Hound of Baskerville” 135).  Of course, not a single theory regarding Baskerville Hall has been proven factual.  Some Sherlockians and Holmnesians claim that the 221b Baker Street, one of London’s major tourists attractions, is in fact where Sherlock Holmes actually lived (“The Hound of Baskerville” 127).  These fans continue to search for evidence that Sherlock Holmes was a real person, and that the places from the stories are not imaginary.   

After the failure of his medical practice, Arthur Conan Doyle devoted himself to writing.  He was praised by most who read his stories, his most negative criticism coming from himself.  On July 7, 1930, Doyle died of a heart attack.  Following his death, Doyle’s eldest son, Adrian Conan Doyle had his father’s works reprinted so the stories would not be outdated and forgotten.  Decades after his death, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lives on with a  legacy as one of the world’s great and most influential writers.

 

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