Monday, May 6, 2013

Author Bio: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived from 1859-1930. He was a Scottish physician and writer, with the Sherlock Holmes books being his most notable works.  Holmes was actually modeled after a friend of Doyle's, Professor Joseph Bell.  The likeness was so exact that Kipling recognized who Holmes was really supposed to be.

Conan doyle.jpg
That mustache comes in a close second, though.

Though some people use "Conan Doyle" as a compound surname for him, and his second wife took "Conan Doyle" as her new name when they married, his baptism records state that his first and middle names are "Arthur Ignatius Conan" and his surname is simply "Doyle."  The "Sir" was added in 1902 by King Edward VII.  He was knighted not for his Sherlock Holmes stories, but for propaganda he wrote on the Boer War.

His English father and Irish mother had several children who were scattered across Edinburgh when the family dissolved due to his father's alcoholism, but they were reunited in 1867, when Arthur was 8.

He had wealthy uncles who funded his education. Despite attending a Jesuit school, he renounced Catholicism and later became an agnostic. He studied medicine at University of Edinburgh.

When he set up a private practice, he was at first not very successful.  He also ran for Parliament twice, and lost both times.  However, he did win a significant portion of the vote both times.  He wrote short stories to pass the time while he waited for patients to arrive. He had a difficult time finding a willing publisher, but his first published novel - A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes book and our review book this week - was picked up in 1886. He was given 25 pounds for it.

He also played as goalkeeper for the Portsmouth Association Football Club, under a pseudonym (A. C. Smith).

He married Louisa Hawkins - the sister of one of his patients - in 1885, and she died of tuberculosis in 1906. He remarried, to Jean Elizabeth Leckie, in 1907; she died in 1940 (ten years after Doyle). He fathered five children (two with Hawkins, three with Leckie).

After the death of his first wife, and that of one of his sons near the end of WWI, Doyle became depressed. Spiritualism gave him some comfort, and there is evidence that he believed in fairies as well. He became friends with Harry Houdini, who he believed - despite Houdini's protestations - had supernatural powers, which eventually led to a terrible falling out between them.

At age 71, Doyle was found in his home after a heart attack. The epitaph on his gravestone reads, "Steel true / Blade straight / Arthur Conan Doyle / Knight / Patriot, Physician, and man of letters."

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