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ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE by Jon Lellenberg


A Life in Letters

edited by Jon Lellenberg & Daniel Stashower & Charles Foley

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-59420-135-6
Publisher: Penguin Press

A triple-decker helping of hitherto unpublished letters, mostly to his mother, by the man who hated to be known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

Conan Doyle (1859–1930) led a life more varied and eventful than any of his fictional heroes. Trained as a physician, he struggled for years toward literary success before achieving it overnight in 1891 with the Strand’s publication of “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Apart from producing a great deal of other writing—humor, fantasy, science fiction and the historical novels he hoped would be his most enduring legacy—he married twice, stood twice for the Parliament, was knighted for his defense of England in the Boer War, lost several close relatives in World War I and publicly embraced spiritualism in the last decade of his life. No one, however, would consider him a great letter writer. Although the editors have trimmed numberless accounts of his health and finances, many more remain, along with sales figures for his books and details of his public lectures. Occasionally Doyle’s invincibly prosaic style is eloquent. More often, the letters glow with the deeply rooted good nature and good sense of Holmes’s amanuensis, Dr. Watson, whose personality, on the basis of the evidence here, owed a great deal to his creator’s. Doyle’s letters to his mother are always affectionate but never intimate. Yet she clearly offered him the ideal audience for his reflections—after she died in 1920, no correspondent took her place, and the editors gloss over his final years in a few pages.

No major revelations or strong stylistic appeal, but an affecting self-portrait of a plainspoken, good-natured Englishman whose type has passed into history.