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Definition: Doyle from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

Sir Arthur Co•nan \॑kō-nən

\ 1859–1930 Brit. physician, nov., & detective-story writer

Summary Article: Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930) from Blackwell Literature Handbooks: The British and Irish Short Story Handbook

Although not as talented as Stevenson, Conan Doyle is the other great fin-de-siècle Scottish writer, along with Stevenson and J. M. Barrie inventing some of the central figures of world culture in the twentieth century. Holmes and Watson are as all-pervasive as Jekyll, Hyde, Long John Silver, and Peter Pan. His first published short story for which he was paid was “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley,” an imperial adventure story, which appeared in Chamber’s Journal in 1879. It is for his Sherlock Holmes stories that Conan Doyle is best remembered. They began to be published in Strand from 1891, with compelling illustrations by Sidney Paget, and were enormously popular and commanded increasingly (indeed, dizzyingly) high fees. These softened Conan Doyle’s reluctance to keep writing Holmes stories. Conan Doyle confessed his debt to Poe in Through the Magic Door (1907), but the Sherlock Holmes stories go far beyond Poe’s detective fiction in quantity and complexity. Like much detective fiction, they reveal the unstable side of their society, here late nineteenth-century Britain. The borders of decent society are constantly threatened from within and without, and Holmes’s task seems to be to police them constantly, without any hope of winning a final battle. Holmes himself, for all that his genius and eccentricity are mediated by his colleague and the narrator, the amiable and ex-colonial Dr. John Watson, is himself a marginalized and deviant outsider. The instability of identity is further suggested by Holmes’s skills in disguise (a motif taken up by John Buchan later in the Richard Hannay novels, and by Conrad in The Secret Agent). One can only speculate why the adventures of a drug-taking misfit, which involve brutal crimes and an exposure of the inner rot of good society, have so intrigued generations of readers in Britain and elsewhere.

Conan Doyle wrote much more short fiction besides Holmes stories – historical short stories (for example, The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard ([1896]), stories centered on doctors (Round the Red Lamp [1894]), and early science fiction stories (The Maracot Deep, and Other Stories [1929]). But he gave Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to world literature and world culture, and that ensures him a kind of well-deserved immortality.

Wiley ©2012

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