Length: 827 words (2.4 double-spaced pages)
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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as many know, is the prestigious author and creator of the sharp witted, fictional character of Sherlock Holmes. However, he had written on subjects other than that of his brilliant mystery stories. For example, he wrote historical novels such as The White Company, Sir Nigel, and Micah Clarke. There were many events in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life that had a direct effect on why he became a writer and the subject matter that he wrote on.
He was born in Edinburgh in May of 1859. His mother Mary was Irish, and could trace her ancestry back to the famous Percy family of Northumberland and from there to the Plantagent’s line. As a result of this fact, the young Conan Doyle was introduced to many tales that reeked of historical knowledge, which gave him a good base to later write such novels as the ones listed earlier.
Life was fairly difficult for the young Arthur Conan Doyle. He was one of ten children, who were raised on the meager income of a civil servant, his father, Charles. Charles Altamont Doyle was the son of John Doyle, a famous caricaturist. Charles’s brothers, which would be Conan’s uncles, all had made a name for themselves: James wrote The Chronicles of England; Henry became the manager of the National Gallery in Dublin; and Richard became famous for being an artist. With all of this fame and appreciation for “the arts” that was floating around him, it is no wonder that Conan Doyle grew up to become a writer.
Charles Doyle had a few artistic talents as well, but chose only to use them as a spare time leisurely thing to do. Besides this, he had also lost his drive to work, which in turn resulted in the loss of his post in the Office of Works in Edinburgh. He slowly began turning to alcoholism as a means to drown his sorrows, which caused his epilepsy to become slowly worse. He was put in an institution for the last few years of his life until he died in 1893. The alcoholism of his father affected Conan Doyle very significantly. Conan decided to leave the exact details of this crisis out of his autobiography Memories and Adventures, but the subject of alcoholism was not taken lightly in his later fictional stories.
Conan Doyle was home-schooled until the age of nine when he was sent to the Jesuit prep school of Hodder in Lancashire. Hodder was attached to the Jesuit secondary school of Stonyhurst, which is where he later ended up. While he was attending school here, Conan began to seriously think about what he believed from a religious standpoint, and by the time that he had left school in 1875, he had completely rejected Catholicism, and possibly even Christianity in general. The brainstorming and ideas that must have been going through his head at this time about religion are thought to be the basis for the “semi-autobiographical novel,” The Stark Munro Letters.
After his days at Stonyhurst, Conan went back to Edinburgh and attended the University from 1876 to 1881. Other than giving him a medical degree, the attendance at Edinburgh University also allowed him to meet two people that were later used as models for a couple of fictional characters in his writings: “Professor Rutherford, whose Assyrian beard, prodigious voice, enormous chest, and singular manner became translated into Professor George Edward Challenger of The Lost World; and Dr. Joseph Bell, whose amazing deductions concerning the history of his patients were to provide the ideas behind the deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes.”
In 1882, Dr. George Turnavine Budd invited Conan Doyle to become his partner in a medical practice in Plymouth. When their partnership broke up, Conan moved down to Southsea where he began his own medical practice. However, in his spare time he began to expand his literary skills a little more. It was there in Southsea that he created the character of Sherlock Holmes and wrote Sherlock’s first story, A Study in Scarlet.
This story was widely accepted; so now Conan Doyle decided it was time to try to write a full-length historical novel. The result was the very successful Micah Clarke. Later on in 1889, Conan Doyle had met for dinner with Oscar Wilde and J.M. Stoddart. By the end of the dinner, he received a commission to write another Sherlock Holmes adventure (The Sign of the Four), and for The Picture of Dorian Gray.
As seen in the many examples listed, certain events and chance meetings in Conan Doyle’s life led him, in the first place, to become a writer, and secondly, to dictate what he wrote about. At the beginning, he was simply surrounded by a mass of talented people that he could look up to. Then, he was able to meet with the right people in order to get his name out on the streets and into the public’s eye.