Detectives, Dinosaurs & Fairies – the Life of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle was a writer of many books but he will always be remembered for the creation of one of the best-known characters in fiction, the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. Conan-Doyle was born in Edinburgh on the 22nd May 1859, the second of ten children.

    He entered Edinburgh Medical School and graduated some years later as a doctor. It was whilst he was studying there that he came to notice the work of one of his tutors, Dr Joseph Bell. He was struck by the attention to detail he made whenever assessing his patients. It was these observations that first sowed the seed of a fictional detective making incisive deductions from the evidence available.

Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle

    Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance in print in Beeton’s 1887 Christmas Annual in a story entitled “A Study in Scarlet.” It was such a success with the public it led to a long series of books featuring the detective which only came to an end in 1926. Although the books were a great success, Conan-Doyle viewed them as a two-edged sword. He felt that their popularity took the spotlight away from his other works.

    For instance, he also wrote, “The Lost World” featuring Professor Challenger in search of living dinosaurs. This was another character who believed strongly in using science and hard physical evidence in his work. Holmes would often spot the small but crucial piece of evidence to solve a case whilst Challenger did not believe in living dinosaurs until he found them.

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes

    This leads us to a very interesting aspect of Conan-Doyle’s character and belief system. He did not rely on the scientific method adopted by his characters. Instead, he became fascinated by the paranormal. He strongly believed in spiritualism and thought the dead returned. He wrote several books pushing this belief and became a leading authority on the subject.

    But he was to lose much credibility with the general public when he extended his belief that fairies existed. He even wrote two books on the subject but many readers were of course sceptical. About this time there was a famous photograph taken of fairies at the bottom of a garden. This was soon shown to be a fake but Conan-Doyle believed it and thus lost further credibility.

    Conan-Doyle also wrote several non-fiction books on military campaigns and true crime. On his personal life, he was married twice; first to Louisa Hawkins who died in 1906. They had two children. A year later he married Jean Leckie and that union produced another three children. Conan-Doyle died at his home in Crowborough on the 7th July 1930 but his characters continue to live on in books, TV and movies.

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