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Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock…

Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes

by Andrew Lycett

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1525121,306 (3.73)4
"Born in Scotland to an artistic Irish family, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became the archetypal Englishman and advocate of the British empire. With an alcoholic father and dominating mother, he rejected his family's Roman Catholicism. Seeking salvation in the scientific certainties of medicine, he became a doctor. But he proved inadequate: he needed scope for his imagination in writing, and for his repressed religious feelings in spiritualism." "The result was a fascinating personality and strong individualist, someone who, despite the trappings of convention, was prepared to take on the establishment in innumerable struggles for justice. Never content with Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle was also a prolific writer of horror stories, histories and poetry. He was a sportsman, politician, clubman, polemicist, and much more besides." "With access to vast amounts of previously hidden archival material, Andrew Lycett shows the agonies, struggles and humanity of this great author as never before."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)



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Showing 5 of 5
Great details on the man. I think the amount of details stemmed from the number of new sources permitted to be quoted for this new biography. Definitely a man of contradictions. ( )
  JeffreyMarks | Jul 11, 2013 |
Almost a year after starting it, I’ve finished The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Time of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Please don’t think, however, that the slowness of my reading in any way indicates that I found this biography uninteresting; it’s simply an incredibly comprehensive, well-researched biography that I think will leave you with a very good insight into the creator of Sherlock Holmes. But it is slow reading, especially if you’re reading six or seven or eight other books equally … comprehensive (like an annotated Pride and Prejudice or P.G. Wodehouse A Life in Letters or Michael Wood’s The Story of England).

Inevitably, when you’re reading a book like this biography once a week for only thirty minutes or so before you go to sleep, you’ll spend a lot of time flipping back through pages, trying to remember who’s who. After all, Conan Doyle knew a lot of people and once the famous author hits his stride, you realize he was friends, enemies and frenemies with a lot of other famous figures, including H.G. Wells, P.G. Wodehouse, Rudyard Kipling and Harry Houdini. He was related by marriage to E.W. Hornung, the creator of gentleman thief Arthur J. Raffles. He championed several causes, including overturning the wrongful conviction of two men, challenging England’s onerous divorce laws and, of course, spiritualism, which put him at odds with the church, skeptics and even other spiritualists.

All this is as nothing compared to Conan Doyle’s greatest creation, that exemplar of cold logic and reasoning, Sherlock Holmes. Biographer Andrew Lycett, however, has done an admirable job of balancing the importance of Holmes, something Sir Arthur probably would have appreciated, but which might disappoint a Sherlockian. It’s easy to see, however, that the Canon represents only a small fraction of Conan Doyle’s output, despite how much Holmes looms large with the public.

The resulting portrait of Conan Doyle seemed quite understandable to me. I’d always wondered how someone who’d created the rational Holmes—“no ghosts need apply”—could be so gullible as to believe in faeries, automatic writing and ectoplasmic manifestations, but the deaths of so many so close to Conan Doyle (from disease and the Great War) and the burden left him by his creative but alcoholic, depressive and epileptic father, make his need to believe understandable. Conan Doyle was an outsize character who needed things to make sense, either by his own doing or by a power greater than himself. One of the byproducts of his own greatness was that singular creation, Sherlock Holmes.

Another byproduct of portraying this fascinating subject, coupled with the wealth of material Lycett was able to use following the deaths of several Doyle relations, is this somewhat daunting biography. It’s amazing how much we know about Conan Doyle, based on the many letters, journals and published works. Perhaps a less detailed biography would have made for easier reading, but even though I sometimes forgot who was who, I’m glad of Lycett’s thorough job. ( )
  JenniferPetkus | Jun 21, 2013 |
Well, not read, completely. There is a lot of really good stuff here, but it is a very dense book with lots and lots of detail and I just can't seem to concentrate on it. I think I might be in a "no non-fiction" mood lately which doesn't bode well for the books I've got here right now from the public library. Besides this one I have one on Edgar Allan Poe and another on Lee Harvey Oswald. I'll give them all a chance but I really, really just want to read fiction right now.

I'm not rating this because I think my mood is affecting my response more than my like/dislike of the book. I'll keep it in mind and maybe go back to it when my tastes change back to wanting more variety. ( )
  bookswoman | Mar 31, 2013 |
This was a very comprehensive and readable biography. While knowing this point already, I was struck again by the fact that Sherlock Holmes represents a fairly small portion of his life and output, and not one that he initially rated highly, until its great success changed his attitude to some extent. That said, it felt like the Holmes stories were what he wrote to bring in the financial security to enable him to focus on the things about which he cared most, chiefly his evolving spiritualist beliefs and accompanying lecture tours, and his attempts at military history. The development of those beliefs in the supernatural is a theme running throughout the book, from his early attempts to reconcile his scientifically-rooted medical knowledge with his instinctive belief in a God (though not necessarily the Catholic God of his upbringing and schooling), to his more determined pursuit of spiritualism especially during and after the First World War. The (in)famous Cottingley fairies incident is dealt with quite briefly, though. Doyle emerges as a man of contradictions who wasn’t afraid to face ridicule or unpopularity. He was a man of science with a passionate and utterly sincerely held belief in life after death; he was an Empire loyalist staunchly supporting Britain in the Boer war, but who passionately supported the plight of the native Congolese suffering under Belgian rule; he was a man of fairly conventional political views but who supported victims of miscarriages of justice such as Oscar Slater and George Edalji.

This contains a very full genealogical table –unusual for a biography of a non-Royal/aristocratic subject – but there are a number of discrepancies between it and dates given in the text. It also includes an afterword detailing the sordid attempts by his children and other literary heirs to profit from his estate. 5/5 ( )
  john257hopper | Apr 24, 2012 |
Amazon.com: The first biographer to gain access to Conan Doyle's newly released personal archive -- which includes correspondence, diaries, original manuscripts and more -- Lycett combines assiduous research with penetrating insight to offer the most comprehensive, lucid and sympathetic portrait yet of Conan Doyle's personal journey from student to doctor, from world-famous author to ardent spiritualist.
(Lycett has also written excellent works about Rudyard Kipling, Ian Fleming & Dylan Thomas.)
Giles Foden for The Guardian (UK): "Never were reason and fancy so conjoined as in the work and mind of Arthur Conan Doyle. Not just the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Brigadier Gerard and Professor Challenger, but author of medieval tales (The White Company), a novel about Regency prizefighting (Rodney Stone), another about Monmouth's rebellion (Micah Clarke) and a Napoleonic story (Uncle Bernac). Also begetter of The Case for Spirit Photography, The Coming of the Fairies and Phineas Speaks, the last being the outpourings of the author's spirit guide, an Arabian from Ur, Mesopotamia, from before the time of Abraham."
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  mmckay | Feb 7, 2008 |
Showing 5 of 5
Meet Arthur Conan Doyle: adventurer, physician, paranormalist, Bohemian and... oh yes, writer
added by simon_carr | editThe Independent, DJ Taylor (Sep 23, 2007)
For the sedentary occupation of a writer, Arthur Conan Doyle's life was one of extraordinary action. The man never stood still. A doctor by training, an athlete by aspiration, and an author by ambition, he prospered in an age when a man need not be restricted by one particular career. In Andrew Lycett's hugely enjoyable new biography, the sheer breathtaking dynamism of the man shines through.
Find out where Conan Doyle got his ideas, names, personality traits, and why he grew to hate Holmes --- enough to try to kill him. Conan Doyle’s mother saved Holmes once, but Sir Arthur could only abide him for so long. However, he underestimated Holmes’s popularity.
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"The ideal biographer should be a perfectly impartial man, with a sympathetic mind, but a stern determination to tell the absolute truth. One would like the frail, human side of a man as well as the other. I cannot believe that anyone in the world was ever quite so good as the subject of most of our biographies. Surely these worthy people swore a little sometimes, or had a keen eye for a pretty face, or opened the second bottle when they would have done better to stop at the first, or did something to make us feel that they were men and brothers. They need not go the length of the lady who began a biography of her deceased husband with the words "D—— was a dirty man," but the books certainly would be more readable, and the subjects more lovable too, if we had greater light and shade in the picture.—Through the Magic Door

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