The life of Arthur Conan Doyle illustrates the excitement and diversity of the Victorian age unlike that of any other single figure of the period. At different points in his life he was a surgeon on a whaling ship; a GP; an apprentice eye-surgeon; an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate (twice); a multi-talented sportsman; one of the inventors of cross-country skiing in Switzerland; a formidable public speaker; a campaigner against miscarriages of justice; a military strategist; a writer in a range of forms; and the head of an extraordinary family. In his autobiography, he wrote: 'I have had a life which, for variety and romance, could, I think, hardly be exceeded.' He was not wrong. But Conan Doyle was also a Victorian with a twist, a man of tensions and contradictions. He was fascinated by travel, exploration, and invention, indeed all things modern and technological; yet at the same time he was also very traditional, voicing support for values such as chivalry, duty, constancy, and honour. By the time of his death in July 1930 he was a celebrity, achieving worldwide fame and notoriety for his creation of the rationalist, scientific super-detective Sherlock Holmes; yet at the same time his later decades were taken up with his advocacy of the new religion of Spiritualism, in which he was a devoted believer.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859. After nine years in Jesuit schools, he went to Edinburgh University, receiving a degree in medicine in 1881. He then became an eye specialist in Southsea, with a distressing lack of success. Hoping to augment his income, he wrote his first story, A Study in Scarlet. His detective, Sherlock Holmes, was modeled in part after Dr. Joseph Bell of the Edinburgh Infirmary, a man with spectacular powers of observation, analysis, and inference. Conan Doyle may have been influenced also by his admiration for the neat plots of Gaboriau and for Poe's detective, M. Dupin. After several rejections, the story was sold to a British publisher for £25, and thus was born the world's best-known and most-loved fictional detective. Fifty-nine more Sherlock Holmes adventures followed.
Once, wearying of Holmes, his creator killed him off, but was forced by popular demand to resurrect him. Sir Arthur -- he had been knighted for this defense of the British cause in his The Great Boer War -- became an ardent Spiritualist after the death of his son Kingsley, who had been wounded at the Somme in World War I. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died in Sussex in 1930.