Arthur Conan Doyle was born in 1859 to an affluent, strict Irish-Catholic family in Edinburgh. Aged 9, Doyle left his parents to attend Hodder Place, Stonyhurst?a Jesuit preparatory school?from 1868 to 1870. Doyle then went on to study at Stonyhurst College for the next five years. Doyle found solace from his brutal experience of boarding school in storytelling, developing an audience of younger students.
When Doyle graduated in 1876, his parents expected that he would follow in his family’s footsteps and study art, so his medical degree at the University of Edinburgh surprised them. While a medical student, Doyle first attempted writing with a short story called The Mystery of Sasassa Valley. That was followed by a second story, The American Tale, which was published in London Society.
During Doyle’s third year of medical school, he took a ship surgeon’s post on a whaling ship sailing for the Arctic Circle, inspiring his story Captain of the Pole Star.
Back at the university, Doyle became increasingly invested in Spiritualism or “Psychic religion,” a belief system that he would later attempt to spread through a series of his written works. By the time he received his Bachelor of Medicine degree in 1881, Doyle had denounced his Roman Catholic faith.
Doyle’s first paying job as a doctor took the form of a medical officer’s position aboard the steamship Mayumba, travelling from Liverpool to Africa. After his stint on the Mayumba, Doyle settled in Plymouth, England for a time. When his funds were nearly tapped out, he relocated to Portsmouth and opened his first practice. He spent the next few years struggling to balance his burgeoning medical career with his efforts to gain recognition as an author. Doyle would later give up medicine altogether, in order to devote all of his attention to his writing and his faith.
In 1885 Doyle met and married his first wife, Louisa Hawkins. The couple moved to Upper Wimpole Street and had two children, a daughter and a son. In 1893, Louisa was diagnosed with tuberculosis. While Louisa was ailing, Doyle developed an affection for a young woman named Jean Leckie. Louisa ultimately died of tuberculosis in Doyle’s arms, in 1906. The following year, Doyle would remarry to Jean Leckie, with whom he would have two sons and a daughter.
In 1886 Doyle started writing the mystery novel A Tangled Skein. Two years later, the novel was renamed A Study in Scarlet and published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual. A Study in Scarlet, which first introduced the wildly popular characters Detective Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, Watson, finally earned Doyle the recognition he had so desired. It was the first of 60 stories that Doyle would pen about Sherlock Holmes over the course of his writing career. Also, in 1887, Doyle submitted two letters about his conversion to Spiritualism to a weekly periodical called Light.
Doyle continued to actively participate in the Spiritualist movement from 1887 to 1916, while writing Beyond the City (1893), The Stark Munro Letters (1895) and A Duet with an Occasional Chorus (1899). Once he became a successful writer, Doyle retired from medicine, also producing some historical novels including one about the Napoleonic Era called The Great Shadow in 1892, and his most famous historical novel, Rodney Stone, in 1896.
He composed four of his most popular Sherlock Holmes stories during the 1890s and early 1900s: The Sign of Four (1890), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892), The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894) and The Hound of Baskervilles, published in 1901. In 1893, to Doyle’s readers’ disdain, he had attempted to kill off his Sherlock Holmes character in order to focus more on writing about Spiritualism. In 1901, however, Doyle reintroduced Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of Baskervilles and later brought him back to life in The Adventure of the Empty House so the lucrative character could earn Doyle the money to fund his missionary work. Doyle spread his faith through a series of written works, consisting of The New Revolution (1918), The Vital Message (1919), The Wanderings of a Spiritualist (1921) and History of Spiritualism (1926).
In 1928, Doyle’s final twelve stories about Sherlock Holmes were published in a compilation entitled The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Diagnosed with Angina Pectoris, Doyle stubbornly ignored his doctor’s warnings, and in Autumn 1929, embarked on a spiritualism tour through the Netherlands. He returned home with chest pains so severe that he needed to be carried on shore, and was thereafter almost entirely bedridden at his home in Crowborough until his death in 1930 when he collapsed in his garden.