Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Born May 22, 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland to a prosperous Irish-Catholic family, Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was a physician, professional athlete and writer best known for the creation of his fictional characters Sherlock Holmes of his detective-fiction series and Professor Challenger of his science-fiction series.  Doyle was one of ten children to Charles Altamont Doyle and Mary Foley.

At the age of nine, Doyle was sent to the Roman Catholic Jesuit Preparatory School at Hodder Place, Stoneyhurst.  He then attended Stoneyhurst College, followed by a year of study in Austria at the Jesuit school, Stella Matutina.  He returned to Edinburgh to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh during which he began writing short stories, publishing his first in Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal before he was twenty.

At twenty-three, he and former classmate George Budd set up a practice in England, but soon, due to difficulties in their relationship, Doyle left Budd to open an independent practice.  He didn’t get very many patients, and so spent his extended periods of down time writing.  It was during this time that he completed his first novel The Narrative of John Smith, which was not published until 2011.  Sherlock Holmes appeared for the first time in 1887 in Beeton’s Christmas Annual.  Later Holmes stories were featured in the English Strand Magazine.  

In 1891, Doyle wrote to his mother saying that he thinks of killing the Holmes character because Holmes has proven himself a distraction.  His mother responded, “You may do what you deem fit, but the crowd will not take this lightheartedly.”  Two years later, in effort to make time for more “important” historical works, Doyle had Holmes and the stories’ villain, Professor Moriarty fall to their deaths down the Reichenbach Falls in The Final Problem.  Mother knows best, for in 1901, due to “pubic outcry,” he brought home back in The Hound of Baskervilles.  In total, Doyle featured Holmes in fifty-six short stories and four full-length novels.

Married twice, first to Louisa Hawkins who died of tuberculosis eleven years into their marriage, and then, a year after Hawkins’ passing, to Jean Elizabeth Leckie, Doyle was a father of five: two with his first wife, and three with his second.

The death of his first wife, and soon later the death of his son Kingsley from pneumonia, in addition to the losses of a brother, two brothers-in-law and two nephews, sent Doyle into a deep depression.  He turned to Spiritualism, specifically Christian Spiritualism, for comfort and solace, and proof of an enduring existence beyond the grave.  He also joined The Ghost Club, a research investigation team that studies paranormal activity.  Doyle was so convinced of the existence of supernatural power that he argued with his friend Harry Houdini that Houdini possessed real powers, though Houdini insisted they were nothing more than simple illusions.  It was due to a public argument on the very subject that the two had a bitter falling out.

In 1930, at the age of seventy-one, Doyle died of a heart attack in the hall of his home.  His last words were to his wife, “You are wonderful,” he said.  He was buried in an anonymous, blank grave in Hampshire, after a controversy over the place of his burial.  Inscribed later in the late twentieth century, his epitaph reads (in part), “Arthur Conan Doyle / Knight / Patriot, Physician & Man of Letters.”

 

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