About Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh on May 22nd 1859. He described his early years as ‘happy,’ spending his days acting out historical adventures and battles, or endlessly pestering his mother and father with questions about science, history, and books.
From the age of 9 he was educated at Stonyhurst, an austere Jesuit boarding school in the north of England, where the familiar public-school curriculum of algebra and classics was enforced through harsh discipline. Conan Doyle, it is said, was disciplined more than most because of his outspoken nature and hot temper.
At Stonyhurst, Conan Doyle was an enthusiastic sportsman, excelling at cricket in particular. He also discovered an ability to write and tell extravagant stories, which his uncle, Richard, encouraged by taking the young Arthur to see plays in London, including Hamlet, featuring Henry Irving, the greatest and most famous actor of the age.
After leaving school, Conan Doyle trained as a doctor at the University of Edinburgh from 1876 to 1881, during which time his fellow students included J. M. Barrie (who later wrote Peter Pan) and Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island and Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde.
He also became friends with Dr Joseph Bell, one of the university tutors, a man well-known for his method of deducing information about people and their lives through simple acts of observation and deduction. This was the detective method Conan Doyle later attributed to his great detective, Sherlock Holmes, as he himself later acknowledged, "It is no wonder that after the study of such a character, I used and amplified his methods when…I tried to build up a scientific detective who solves cases on his own merits and not through the folly of the criminal."
Conan Doyle's life illustrates the excitement and diversity of the Victorian period as much as that of any other figure of this period. He was: a surgeon on a whaling ship; a GP; an apprentice eye-surgeon; an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate (twice); a multi-talented sportsman; behind the development of recreational skiing in Switzerland; a formidable public speaker; a campaigner against miscarriages of justice; and the head of an extraordinary family. In his autobiography, he wrote: "I have had a life which, for variety and romance, could, I think, hardly be exceeded." He was not far wrong.
Conan Doyle was a Victorian in so many ways: he was fascinated by travel, exploration, invention, and all things modern, with conventional values such as chivalry, duty, and honour. By the time of his death in July 1930, he had himself become a celebrity, achieving worldwide fame and notoriety through the popular newspapers, photography, and film – media which had all developed during the Victorian period.
Conan Doyle’s career illustrated how Victorian he was. With the Brigadier Gerard series, Professor Challenger fictions, and historical novels such as Sir Nigel, illustrating nineteenth-century interests in the Napoleonic Wars, evolution, science, and the future, as well as the medieval past and national history. Conan Doyle’s relationships with other writers of his time showed just how much he was part of the Victorian, and Edwardian literary scenes:
- He was close friends with, J. M. Barrie, with whom he wrote an operetta
- He was a friend and confidante of George Meredith, the great Victorian novelist
- He formed a society to campaign for a change in the divorce law with Thomas Hardy, author of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge
- He holidayed with H. G. Wells (another one-time resident of Southsea and the author of The Time Machine and War of the Worlds) in Italy in 1898
- He shared Thanksgiving in Vermont in 1894 with Rudyard Kipling, during which time he taught Kipling to play golf
As his work with Thomas Hardy illustrated, Conan Doyle was also a campaigning figure: fighting for changes in the ways in which the army fought and operated, as well as successfully helping in the release of two prisoners convicted of crimes they did not commit, George Edalji and Oscar Slater.