(Adapted from “Arthur Conan Doyle: A Brief Biographical Study” by Christopher Roden)
Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on May 22, 1859, to his mother Mary and his father Charles, a civil servant. He was one of ten children. Charles Doyle was an epileptic who became an alcoholic and was institutionalized for the final years of his life. Arthur Conan Doyle was educated at home and in a local school until he was nine. Then he was sent to a Jesuit school. He later studied medicine from 1876 to 1881 at Edinburgh University. Here he studied under Dr. Joseph Bell, whose deductive powers later became the model for Sherlock Holmes.
When he left the university, Conan Doyle worked as a ship’s doctor on a voyage to the West African coast. In 1882 an acquaintance from the university Dr. George Budd invited Doyle to become his medical partner in Plymouth. Eventually, Doyle moved to Southsea to set up his own medical practice. Here he expanded his literary talents and wrote his first Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet. When this short story was accepted for publication, Doyle decided to write a full-length novel Micah Clarke. He was then commissioned to write another Sherlock Holmes story The Sign of the Four.
Conan Doyle married Louise Hawkins in 1885, a woman who suffered chronically from poor health. He also became involved in spiritualism in 1886. In 1890, Doyle studied to become an oculist, but this did not pan out for him. When he returned to London a year later, he tried to set up a practice in London. The financial failure of his practice allowed him to concentrate on his writing. He wrote “A Scandal in Bohemia” in 1891, and it was published in the new Strand Magazine in July of that year.
As Doyle continued to write Sherlock Holmes stories, he began to worry that he was not going to build a legacy as a serious novelist. He took a trip to Switzerland in 1893, and there he found the setting to kill off Sherlock Holmes. In “The Final Problem,” published in 1893, Holmes engages in a fatal struggle with his archenemy Professor Moriarty, falling to his apparent death as a result. Due to public outcry, however, Doyle later resurrected Holmes and continued writing this wildly popular series.
In the meantime, Doyle’s wife was suffering from tuberculosis. The couple traveled to Egypt in hopes that the desert environment might offer a cure. While in Cairo, Doyle conceived the plot for his desert drama The Tragedy of the Korosko. During the time they spent in Cairo, fighting began between the British and the Dervishes. Doyle used this as an opportunity to become a war correspondent for The Westminster Gazette.
When he returned to England, Doyle wrote three more novels. When war broke out in South Africa, Doyle was invited to work unofficially for John Langman’s hospital. He sailed for Cape Town in February 1900 and arrived there on March 21. Afterwards Doyle ran for Parliament twice, losing both times, and his wife passed away in 1906. In 1907 he married Jean Leckie and the couple settled in Sussex.
In 1912, Doyle published The Lost World, a prehistoric tale featuring Professor Challenger, another of this author’s famous characters. When World War I broke out, Doyle helped form a local volunteer force. He then decided to devote the final years of his life to spiritualism. He wrote on the subject and traveled with his family to promote his beliefs. In 1929 he suffered a heart attack and died.