Arthur Conan Doyle was born 160 years ago

Arthur Conan Doyle in 1914 (Photo Walter Benington)
Arthur Conan Doyle in 1914 (Photo Walter Benington)

Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on May 22, 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Arthur Conan Doyle completed his school studies between Lancashire and Austrian schools and then earned a Doctor of Medicine degree at the University of Edinburgh in 1881. He was still a student when he published his first work, “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley”, which today we would call a horror story, in 1879. In the same year he also published a scientific article about a sedative, which he had experimented on himself.

Already in 1880 Arthur Conan Doyle worked as a ship’s doctor on a whaling ship and after graduating did the same job for some time on a ship that connected Liverpool to the western coasts of Africa. In the following years, he tried to work in a medical practice together with a former fellow student but that didn’t last long so he tried to run one of his own in Portsmouth but without much success. The time available allowed him to write “A Study in Scarlet”, the first Sherlock Holmes novel, which was published in 1887 and was a great success.

The result was the publication of 56 short stories and three more novels about the famous detective: “The Sign of Four” (1890), “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1902) and “The Valley of Fear” (1915). At a certain point the author made Holmes die in the short story “The Final Problem”, which introduces his archenemy Moriarty, but the readers’ reaction convinced him to find a way to change the detective’s destiny.

Over the years, Arthur Conan Doyle had a complicated relationship with his famous character: he was interested in writing works of other genres but was pushed to keep on writing works about Sherlock Holmes. He wrote adventurous novels such as “The White Company” (1890), linked to historical events, a field that interested him to the point of writing historical works linked to wars such as “The Great Boer War” (1900).

The novel “The Lost World” (1912) became a classic among modern science fiction precursors. Arthur Conan Doyle re-used the character of Professor Challenger for some other novels and short stories that today can be considered science fiction.

In the last years of his life, Arthur Conan Doyle became very interested in spiritism, a topic examined in “The History of Spiritualism” (1926). His choice caused controversies with consequences on his reputation.

On July 7, 1930, Arthur Conan Doyle suffered a heart attack at his country home in Windlesham. At the time of his death, the character of Sherlock Holmes had already become the protagonist of some movies and a number of short films, quickly becoming an icon far beyond literature. He’s a crucial character in the detective story / mystery genre but the author is also remembered for other important works in various genres, also often adapted in cinema and television productions. Many of his works are now freely available, for example on the Gutenbert project’s website.

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