Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1859. Doyle’s family (Conan was his middle name, and it was only later in life that he began to use it as his surname) sent him to Jesuit boarding schools to be educated, and he later entered the University of Edinburgh Medical School in 1881.
One of his professors at the university was Dr. Joseph Bell, who became the model for Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. It was Bell who drummed into Doyle’s head the importance of using his innate powers of observation to help him deduce the nature of a patient’s affliction.
While in school, Conan Doyle began writing to earn a little extra money. His first story, The Mystery of the Sasassa Valley was published in the Chambers’ Journal in 1879.
Shortly after, his father fell ill, and Doyle was forced to become the breadwinner for the family. He worked for a time as a ship’s doctor, then opened his own medical practice near Portsmouth. In his spare time he did more writing.
In 1885 Conan Doyle married Louise Hawkins, and had two children with her, before she died after a protracted illness in 1900. In 1907 he remarried, to Jeanne Leckie, and had three more children with her.
His third attempt at a novel was A Study in Scarlet, the story which introduced Sherlock Holmes to the world. Study was published in Mrs. Beeton’s Christmas annual, in 1887. Encouraged by publishers to keep writing, Conan Doyle wrote his second Holmes mystery, The Sign of the Four, in 1890.
So successful were these novels, and the stories which followed, that Conan Doyle could afford to give up his medical practice and devote himself to writing full time.
The first Sherlock Holmes short story, A Scandal in Bohemia, appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1891, to be followed by two dozen more stories over the next several years.
The stories proved enormously successful, but Conan Doyle tired of his own creation, and in 1894 he killed Holmes off in The Final Problem.
He underestimated the popularity of his creation. So great was the hold that the character of Sherlock Holmes had taken on the public imagination that Conan Doyle found himself at the centre of a storm of controversy.
He was inundated with letters of protest, including one from a female reader who addressed him simply as “You Brute!”. He bowed to the inevitable, and revived the character of Holmes, who appeared in numerous short stories over the next 23 years.
But Conan Doyle did not confine himself to Sherlock Holmes; he wrote several popular works of historic fiction, including Micah Clarke (1888), The White Company (1890), Rodney Stone (1896), and Sir Nigel (1906).
Conan Doyle served as a doctor in the Boer War, and on his return he wrote two books defending England’s participation in that conflict. It was for these books that he received his knighthood in 1902.
After the death of his son in World War I, Conan Doyle became interested in spiritualism. He was convinced that it was possible to communicate with the dead, and his views led to a certain amount of ridicule from more mainstream society.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died on July 7, 1930, and is buried in the churchyard at Minstead, Hampshire. He can rightly be credited with helping create the literary genre of the detective story. Though Edgar Allen Poe’s Dupin predates Sherlock Holmes, it was the Holmes’ stories that solidified in the public mind what a good detective should be.