Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) was a Scottish writer and physician who popularized the detective genre of literature with his creation of the Sherlock Holmes character and pioneered science fiction with tales such as The Lost World. Much of Doyle’s work reflects his personal interest in, and unconventional approach to, the subject of time.
Conan Doyle was one of the most popular and prolific writers of his generation. His work spans several genres and includes both fiction and nonfiction. He is perhaps best known for his creation of the character Sherlock Holmes, the clever detective who appears in a series of novels and short stories along with his assistant, Dr. John Watson. Although many of the Sherlock Holmes tales, such as the Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), remain in print and are widely read today, Conan Doyle considered his historical scholarship to be his most important work.
Conan Doyle’s interest in time is evident in The Lost World (1912), an adventure tale in which four men travel to a remote region of South America to investigate claims that dinosaurs inhabit a plateau there. On their journey they encounter dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, as well as quarreling ape-men and hominids. The notion of surviving dinosaurs and early hominids intrigued audiences then as it does now. By the early 20th century, even the most inaccessible regions of the earth were finally being explored by scientists and adventurers, and excitement and speculation were widespread as to what might be found. Conan Doyle’s famous character Professor Challenger makes his first appearance in the story, along with another scientist, Professor Summerlee; a journalist, Edward Malone; and nobleman adventurer Lord John Roxton. The characters Malone and Roxton were inspired by E. D. Morel and Roger Casement, founders of the Congo Reform Association, which Conan Doyle supported through his book The Crime of the Congo (1909).
Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1859; was educated in Jesuit schools in England; and studied medicine at Edinburgh, where he took his M.D. in 1885. Initially receiving few patients, Conan Doyle increasingly turned to writing, applying his medical training and deductive reasoning to his literary work. His first novel, A Study in Scarlet (1887), began the Sherlock Holmes series for which Conan Doyle is most celebrated, though he soon grew tired of the character. Conan Doyle was knighted by King Edward VII in 1902 for his scholarly defense of British involvement in the Boer War, as well as for other writings. During his later years, Conan Doyle increasingly supported spiritualism, including the belief that the living can contact the spirits of the deceased; he also became a strong defender of the existence of fairies, or “little people.” It has been pointed out that these beliefs contrast sharply with the logical pragmatism of Conan Doyle’s fictional characters, as well as with his own approach to historical writing. But this apparent inconsistency may also reflect the elusive and mysterious nature of time itself, which Conan Doyle approached by means of art as well as science.
James P. Bonanno
See also Ray Bradbury; Arthur C. Clarke ; Time in Novels; Jules Verne; H. G. Wells
Booth, M. (2000). The doctor and the detective: A biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: St. Martin’s. Coren, M. (1995). Conan Doyle. Toronto, ON, Canada: Stoddart.
Lycett, A. (2007). The man who created Sherlock Holmes: The life and times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: The Free Press.