Most people know he is the creator of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes but there are a few lesser-known facts about him that I’d like to share with you if I may.
- Doyle was born Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle in Edinburgh on 22nd May 1859 and became a physician as well as a writer. He studied opthamology in Vienna.
- As well as the Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle also wrote a whole plethora of other work including plays, romances, poetry, science fiction, historical novels and non-fiction work.
- He was fascinated with the occult and studied spiritualism and spiritualists for much of his life. His fascination with all things supernatural was the thing that spoiled his friendship with Harry Houdini. Houdini tried to convince Doyle that his work was all illusion and misdirection, but Doyle was unconvinced and it caused friction between them until they eventually fell out.
- His willingness to believe in the supernatural was probably the thing that caused him to fall hook, line and sinker for one of the biggest dupes of the early 20th Century. “The Cottingley Fairies” was the instance where two children cut out pictures of fairies, pasted them onto sticks and then photographed them at the bottom of their garden. The pictures were then published by their father in the press and there was a hue and cry about the pictures. There were those who proclaimed them as “evidence” that fairies existed, but there were those that denounced them as a hoax. Doyle was in the former category. It was decades later that the two sisters confessed that they did it just for a bit of fun and for something to do one afternoon in the garden.
- Doyle was involved in two real-life mysteries where helped two people who were falsely accused of crimes. He successfully demonstrated that they could not possibly have carried out the actions they were of accused of and managed to save one from prison and would have saved the other too but at that time, there was no channels in English Law to overturn a conviction once it had been delivered. One of the cases, that of George Edalji, became the subject of a book “Arthur and George” by Julian Barnes.
- He was awarded a knighthood due to his services to political campaigning, not for writing as most people assume.
- There is a statue to Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place in Edinburgh, the place where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born.
I find it fascinating that a man who was born over 150 years ago has produced such a canon of work and such a solid character in Sherlock Holmes, that not only has stood the test of time but is still going strong. They are still making Sherlock Holmes films and TV programmes now! Can they say that about other Victorian novelists and polymaths? Not really.