Today in Literary History – May 22, 1859 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is born

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the immortal Sherlock Holmes, was born on May 22, 1859. Doyle was raised as a Catholic and received a Jesuit education, although he later rejected Christianity and became a believer in spiritualism and supernaturalism, including communicating with the dead.

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Doyle originally trained as a doctor, but was not very successful as a practicing physician. Instead he devoted much of his time to writing, and had several stories published before the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, appeared in 1886. It was followed in 1901 by The Sign of the Four, another Holmes novel. Doyle wrote two more novels featuring Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson, The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1902 and The Valley of Fear in 1915.

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Doyle wrote a total of 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories between 1891 and 1927, most first appearing in the Strand magazine. They are usually narrated by Dr. Watson, a stand-in for Doyle. Holmes himself is based on John Bell, one of Doyle’s university medical professors who was known for making instant diagnoses by observing small details and using strict logic.

Oddly, considering that he was the creator of one of the most famously logical fictional characters, Doyle himself became obsessed with mystical and paranormal experiences. He went to seances to contact the dead, consulted mediums and believed in telepathy, clairvoyance and poltergeists.

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He belonged to several spiritualist clubs and organizations, lending his fame and prestige to them as well as financing many paranormal investigations and writing books promoting his beliefs. He wrote The Coming of the Fairies in 1922 to express his belief in the so-called Cottingly Fairies said to have been captured on film.

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Doyle was also a friend of magician Harry Houdini, although their friendship broke down over Doyle’s insistence that Houdini’s tricks were really the result of Houdini’s supernatural powers, despite Houdini’s own insistence that they were well executed illusions.

Doyle died in 1930 at the age of 71 after a massive heart attack. Who knows where he lives on in the afterlife he clung to so fervently.

 

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