The creator of the world's greatest detective
was born Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle on 22 May 1859 in Edinburgh.
Living in near poverty, he pursued his education both locally and at boarding
school, until finally studying medicine at university from 1876 to 1880.
Doyle began writing in 1879 in order to supplement his meagre income.
Given the nature of this site, this article confines itself to Doyle's Sherlock Holmes writings.
He based the character on an old tutor, Dr. Joseph Bell, due mainly to
Bell's analytical mind and penchant for stunning patients & students
alike with his deductions based purely on observation.
Provisionally, Holmes's first name was to be Sherringford as in the
first draft of
A Study in Scarlet (originally titled A Tangled Skein).
Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the detective finally appeared in 1887
in the Beeton's Christmas Annual.
Amazingly, the story was rejected by several publishers before Ward Lock
bought the copyright from Doyle in 1886 for the princely sum of £25 !
Doyle always maintained that was the only money he ever received from the story.
In 1889, over lunch at the Langham Hotel in London,
Conan Doyle & Oscar Wilde were persuaded by a literary agent
to write for Lippincott's Magazine. Wilde wrote Dorian Gray and Doyle
wrote The Sign of Four.
But Holmes truly took off in
1891, when the stories began appearing
in The Strand Magazine. These were illustrated by Sidney Paget, who forever
established the image of Holmes in most people's minds.
Interestingly, though, it was Frank Wiles's portrait (shown left) about which
Doyle commented "This comes nearest to my conception of what he really looks like".
In 1892, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was published, complete with all
of Paget's superb illustrations from the Strand.
Doyle was then asked to write a second series of Sherlock Holmes stories for which he was
offered £1,000. These stories ran in the Strand between 1892 and 1893.
Doyle had already decided to bring the great detective's life to an end and whilst on holiday
in Switzerland saw the ideal place - the Reichenbach Falls.
Doyle was genuinely surprised by the outcry when The Final Problem was
published in the Christmas edition of the Strand. People wore black armbands to show their
respect, whilst others contented themselves by sending abusive letters to Doyle.
In 1894, the second series was published in book form, titled The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
The only story not to be included was The Cardboard Box which Doyle suppressed,
supposedly because of its gruesome nature.
This also contained 90 illustrations by Paget, including the classic Reichenbach Falls scene
(shown right) portraying the final duel between Holmes and Moriarty.
Doyle continued to write for the Strand, but resisted public and publisher pressure to
resurrect Holmes, until he was on holiday in Dartmoor, hearing stories of a spectral hound
and exploring the area in the company of a coachman named Harry Baskerville.
Widely regarded as the greatest, certainly the most famous, work of detective fiction ever
written, Hound of the Baskervilles was serialised over 9 months in the Strand,
starting in 1901. Doyle set the story in 1888, as a reminiscence of Watson's, thereby circumventing
the inconvenience of Holmes's death. It was an instant success, with queues outside the Strand's offices for every issue.
The book was published in 1902, with 16 of Paget's original illustrations.
Whilst Holmes continued to enjoy great popularity, due in no small part to William Gillette's
portrayal on stage, Doyle once again resisted all temptations to effect a resurrection.
However, when Collier offered $45,000 for a further 13 stories, it tipped the balance.
In The Empty House Holmes returned to Watson's surgery disguised as an elderly bookseller,
causing Watson to faint when finally revealing himself. Published in book form for the first time in
1905, The Return of Sherlock Holmes once again featured Paget's illustrations.
Whilst people delighted in the return of Holmes, many felt that the stories were not
of the same calibre as their predecessors. Indeed, Doyle quotes one wag in his memoirs who said to him
"when Holmes fell over that cliff, he may not have killed himself,
but he was never quite the same man again".
We then see another gap, of 10 years this time, until 1915 when The Valley of Fear
appeared in book form. Closely followed in 1917 by His Last Bow which comprised
8 short stories including one which described Holmes's wartime contributions. It also
included The Cardboard Box, which was earlier suppressed by Doyle.
Between 1921 and 1927, the final stories were published in the Strand and Doyle was
by all accounts struggling for inspiration and ideas by this time, leading to claims of
"borrowed" ideas and plots, although these remain largely unsubstantiated.
In 1927, the final collection of stories was released in book form and
The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes finally marked the great detective's retirement
from crime in order to "keep bees in Sussex".
© 2003 R.D. Collins Arthur Conan Doyle bibliography