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A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

by Martin Booth

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-24251-4
Publisher: Dunne/Minotaur

A discursive, anecdotal life of the prolific creator of Sherlock Holmes by the equally prolific Booth (The Industry of Souls,

1999, etc.), who seeks here to put the bluff Sir Arthur on the same pedestal as the giants of English literature.

Because the largest collection of Doyle’s papers has been kept from scholarly review by his heirs, every biographer who has

knelt at the physician-turned-writer’s shrine has had to speculate on crucial details about Doyle’s relationship with his dissolute

father, Charles, a failed illustrator who died in an asylum, and with the mysterious lodger Bryan Waller, who saved the struggling

family from an Edinburgh poorhouse and might have fathered one of Doyle's sisters. Questions also persist about the sources of

Doyle's inconsistent attitudes about science, spiritualism, racism, and women’s suffrage. Moreover, Doyle’s rags-to-riches

adventures as a world traveler, photographer, physician, wartime correspondent, amateur detective, patriotic booster, and, finally,

writer of some of world’s best and worst genre fiction are so varied that every biographer buckles under the wealth of detail.

Booth too often raises important clues to Doyle’s character only to abandon them in his rush to squeeze everything in. Still, he

manages to set some records straight (Doyle had literary aspirations long before he became a physician; Sherlock Holmes was

based on more originals than Joseph Bell, Doyle’s favorite medical school teacher), reprint some legends (though he spent months

on research, at his peak Doyle could finish a novel in less than a week), celebrate his hero’s triumphs (Doyle was knighted for

his pro-British pamphleteering during the Boer War, not for his writing), mourn his embarrassments (an ardent believer in the

supernatural, he was easily duped by cynical magicians and fraudulent mediums), and explain his enduring popularity.

Doyle emerges as an honorable pillar of Victorian pride and prejudice, even when he wrote ineptly and let others play him

for a fool. (40 b&w photos, not seen)