Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known for his works featuring the protagonist Sherlock Holmes. He is a renowned British author whose works are still adapted into film and television shows. 

Arthur Conan Doyle Arthur Conan Doyle

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    Arthur Conan Doyle, Line art of Arthur Conan Doyle, StudySmarterFig. 1 - This is an artist's impression of Arthur Conan Doyle.

    Arthur Conan Doyle's Biography

    Arthur Conan Doyle was born on 22 May 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and died on 7 July 1930. He was buried in All Saints Churchyard, Minstead. Doyle was an author and doctor and later worked as a surgeon on a whaling boat. Arthur Conan Doyle is most famous for his Sherlock Holmes series (1887-1927) and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927), a series of short stories, both featuring the title character Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, who remain popular literary figures today.

    Doyle wrote texts in an array of genres, including plays, non-fiction, romances, and historical novels, as well as murder mysteries. He was awarded a knighthood in 1902 for his work with a field hospital in South Africa during the Boer War, and an informational pamphlet justifying British action in the Boer War.

    Arthur Conan Doyle was born to Charles Altamont Doyle, a political cartoonist, and Mary Altamont Doyle. His family were of Irish Catholic descent and were temporarily, separately housed around Edingburgh due to his father’s alcoholism.

    When the family members reunited in 1867, they lived in poor conditions in tenement flats until Charles Altamont Doyle died in 1893 of psychiatric illness. At the age of 9, Doyle was sent to a Catholic school in Lancashire, England by his wealthy uncles.

    Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School between 1876 and 1881. During his studies, he started writing short stories. The Mystery of Sasassa Valley (1879) was Doyle’s first published story, printed in Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal. Doyle also published academic articles, with his first academic article published in 1879 in the British Medical Journal.

    In 1891, Doyle studied ophthalmology in Vienna, but quit his studies due to his having difficulties understanding German medical terms. He later visited Milan, Venice and Paris.

    Arthur Conan Doyle first wrote A Study in Scarlet (1887), the first in the Sherlock Holmes series, at the age of 27. The main character Sherlock Holmes was inspired in part by a former university teacher of Doyle’s. It was then accepted for publication by Ward Lock & Co in 1886.

    Arthur Conan Doyle’s Books

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series contains six books written in the following order:

    A Study in Scarlet

    Part 1: The Reminiscences of Watson

    This novel introduces Dr John Watson, a British surgeon, as he returns to London after his service in the 1881 Second Anglo-Afghan War. He moves into 221B Baker Street, with Sherlock Holmes as his flatmate. The two help Scotland Yard detectives solve the murder of Enoch Drebber. Holmes finds a ring on Drebber's finger which had been reported lost in a newspaper advertisement. He makes a fake of the ring and advertises that he has found it.

    Stangerson, a young man in the disguise of an old woman, comes to claim the ring but evades Holmes as he tries to follow. Stangerson was Drebber's secretary and had been travelling with him. Scotland Yard Detective Gregson arrests the son of the landlady whose home Drebber was residing in. The son had followed Drebber after he was thrown out for making drunken advances to the landlady's daughter.

    Stangerson is later found dead on his bed with stab wounds, a pillbox containing two pills, and a telegram saying 'J.H. is in Europe'. One pill had no effect and the other was deadly. Holmes discovers that J.H. stands for 'Jefferson Hope', a taxi driver and Drebber and Stangerson's murderer. He is arrested when Holmes calls for a taxi with Hope as the driver.

    Part 2: 'The Country of the Saints'

    This story takes place in 1847 in the Salt Lake Valley in Utah. It follows John Ferrier and a young girl named Lucy. The pair are survivors rescued on their journey through the Valley by Latter-day Saints led by Brigham Young. The rescue takes place on the condition that they live as Mormons.

    Years later, Lucy falls in love with Jefferson Hope, a miner. Young does not approve and insists she marry the son of one of the Mormon leaders. Her choices include Drebber and Stangerson. Ferrier and Lucy eventually flee to the mountains with Hope.

    While Hope is hunting away from their camp, Ferrier is killed and Lucy is kidnapped by the Mormons and taken back to Salt Lake City. Hope goes to find her, but she has already wed Drebber. She dies one month later. Hope takes the wedding ring from Lucy's finger and searches the country to kill Drebber and Stangerson after they have left the Mormon community.

    Hope follows Drebber and Stangerson to London. He picks up Drebber in a taxi, forcing him to pick one of the pills from the pillbox. Hope takes the other pill. He then finds Stangerson and attempts the same, but stabs and kills Stangerson in self-defense.

    Arthur Conan Doyle, a silhouette of Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass, StudySmarterFig. 2 - A shadow of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle's best loved character.

    The Sign of the Four (1890)

    This novel, set in 1888, follows Holmes and Watson as they try to find hidden treasure and a murderer. Mary Morstan asks the gentlemen for help finding her missing father, Captain Morstan, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. She has anonymously received some pearls and a letter asking her to meet an unknown person.

    Mary joins Holmes and Watson in their quest. It turns out that the pearls were sent by Thaddeus Sholto, son of the late Major Sholto, one of Captain Morstan's companions during his service in the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Captain Morstan and Major Sholto had found treasure in India and were supposed to divide it, but Major Sholto killed Captain Morstan, disposed of his body, and hid the treasure.

    Before dying, Major Sholto told his two sons, Thaddeus and Bartholomew, where he hid the body and the treasure. They find Mary's father's body and a note saying 'The sign of the four'. Jonathan Small was one of the 'sign of the four' signatories. This was a group he had been part of before making a deal with Major Sholto and Captain Morstan to recover the Agra treasure.

    Small is found and arrested. Mary won't receive most of the Agra treasure, as Thaddeus and Bartholomew have laid claim to the majority of it. Mary and Watson fall in love and she accepts his marriage proposal.

    Arthur Conan Doyle, a cartoon treasure chest overflowing with coins, StudySmarter

    Fig. 3 - The Sign of the Four involves a hunt for treasure.

    The Valley of Fear (1915)

    This novel follows the struggle between Holmes and his antagonist, the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty. Holmes receives a message from Fred Porlock, who works under Moriarty. Porlock's message details that John Douglas' life is in danger. Soon after, Douglas is reported to have been murdered in his home, Birlstone Manor. The report stated that a gunshot went off and Douglas was found dead.

    Cecil Barker, a regular house guest at Birlstone manor, and Mrs Douglas are discovered to have lied on Mr Douglas' behalf, as Douglas emerges from the moat on the estate. He'd been hiding from his enemy, Ted Baldwin, who had tried to attack him. Mr Douglas had shot him during their struggle for the gun, and Cecil and Mrs Douglas have been hiding Mr Douglas since then.

    Arthur Conan Doyle, Fingerprints under a large magnifying glass, StudySmarterFig. 4 - A set of fingerprints under a magnifying glass.

    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)

    This is a collection of 12 short stories detailing Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson's adventures. They are all narrated in Watson's first-person perspective:

    A Scandal in Bohemia (1891)

    The Red-Headed League (1891)

    A Case of Identity (1891)

    The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1891)

    The Five Orange Pips (1891)

    The Man with the Twisted Lip (1891)

    The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (1892)

    The Adventure of the Speckled Band (1892)

    The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb (1892)

    The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor (1892)

    The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet (1892)

    The Adventure of the Copper Beeches (1892)

    The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)

    This collection of 13 short stories details Watson's first-person account of Holmes' return from the dead. Holmes was presumed dead at the end of the short story The Adventure of the Final Problem, published in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893/94). Doyle revived the famous character due to high demand.

    The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)

    The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927) was the final instalment in the Sherlock Holmes series and featured 12 short stories:

    • The Adventure of the Illustrious Client (1924)
    • The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier (1926)
    • The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone (1921)
    • The Adventure of the Three Gables (1926)
    • The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire (1924)
    • The Adventure of the Three Garridebs (1924)
    • The Problem of Thor Bridge (1922)
    • The Adventure of the Creeping Man (1923)
    • The Adventure of the Lion's Mane (1926)
    • The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger (1927)
    • The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place (1927)
    • The Adventure of the Retired Colourman (1926)

    Outside of the Sherlock Holmes series, some of Doyle’s most famous works are The White Company (1892), a detective story which Doyle considered his greatest achievement; The Lost World (1912), a novel about prehistoric creatures; and The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (1896), a fictional novel featuring the Napoleonic Wars.

    Facts about Arthur Conan Doyle

    • In 1902, Arthur Conan Doyle was knighted by King Edward VII for his work with a field hospital in South Africa during the Boer war and an informational pamphlet justifying British action in the Boer War.

    • Doyle died 7 July 1930 of a heart attack while in his garden. His last words to his wife were ‘You are wonderful.’

    • Doyle believed his greatest work to be The White Company (1892).

    • He hated his years of schooling at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire.

    • At Stonyhurst College, the only subjects available to study were Euclidean geometry, algebra, rhetoric, and the classics.

    Famous Arthur Conan Doyle Quotes

    The Adventure of the Creeping Man in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)

    ‘Watson. Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same.’

    The Adventures of the Blue Carbuncle in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)

    ‘My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people do not know.’

    A Study in Scarlet (1887)

    ‘What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence. The question is what can you make people believe you have done.’

    The White Company (1892)

    ‘You are my heart, my life, my one and only thought.’

    The White Company (1892)

    ‘To the seeing eye decay is as fair as growth, and death as life.’

    The Valley of Fear (1915)

    ‘To the seeing eye decay is as fair as growth, and death as life.’

    Famous characters in Arthur Conan Doyle’s books

    • Sherlock Holmes

    • John H. Watson

    • Professor Moriarty

    • Mycroft Holme

    • Irene Adler

    The Sherlock Holmes novels are still very popular today. Sherlock Holmes' and Dr Watson's adventures have been adapted from book to TV and film. One of the most well-known TV adaptations was BBC's Sherlock (2010-2017), which presented a modern-day take on Holmes' and Watson's stories.

    This adaptation was created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss and starred Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson. There have also been comic strips, comic books, games, puzzles, and quizzes all inspired by the stories of Sherlock Holmes.

    Arthur Conan Doyle - Key takeaways

      • Arthur Conan Doyle was born on 22 May 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and died on 7 July 1930.

      • Doyle was buried in All Saints Churchyard, Minstead.

      • Doyle is most famous for his Sherlock Holmes (1887-1927) series and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927), a series of short stories.

      • Doyle was knighted in 1902 in reward for his work with a field hospital in South Africa during the Boer war and an informational pamphlet justifying British action in the Boer War.

      • Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School between 1876 and 1881.

      • Despite not being as famous as his Sherlock Holmes (1887-1927) series, Doyle believed his novel The White Company (1892) was his best work.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Arthur Conan Doyle

    What was Arthur Conan Doyle famous for? 

    Arthur Conan Doyle was most famous for his Sherlock Holmes (1887-1927) series and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927). 

    Where did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle live? 

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived in Scotland in his formative years, then later England for schooling. He also lived briefly in Venice, Milan and Paris. 

    What books did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle write?

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is most famous for writing Sherlock Holmes (1887-1927) and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927). Amongst other works, Doyle is famous for The White Company (1892). 

    Where is Arthur Conan Doyle buried?

    Arthur Conan Doyle is buried in All Saints Churchyard, Minstead.

    What are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle accomplishments?

    Amongst Sir Arthur Conan Doyles accomplishments are:

    • His knighthood in 1902 for his work with a field hospital in South Africa during the Boer War and an informational pamphlet justifying British action in the Boer War  
    • His Sherlock Holmes (1887-1927) series
    • The popular Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    In what year was The Sign of the Four published?

    Who is the author of The Sign of Four?

    What did Mary Morstan receive in the mail each year?

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