by Emilia LaPenta, McCarter Theatre Literary Manager and Linda Lombardi, Arena Stage Literary Manager
For over a century, Sherlock Holmes has been thrilling audiences — in books, on stage, TV, and film. Like no other author before or since, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle captured our love of adventure and the thrill of solving a mystery.
In 1893, Conan Doyle shocked his readers by killing off the world's most popular detective at Reichenbach Falls in The Adventure of the Final Problem. It would take The Hound of the Baskervilles to resurrect him. On vacation with a friend, Conan Doyle became fascinated with the tales of Devon and the local legends of hounds roaming the moors. He knew a good story when he heard one. It was, of course, elementary. And the public proved him right. When The Hound of the Baskervilles was first published in The Strand magazine in 1901, the magazine's circulation increased by thirty thousand copies.
Full Name: Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle.
Born: May 22, 1859.
Most Distinguishable Facial Feature: Moustache.
Hobbies: Doyle was on the same cricket team as Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie. He was also a goalkeeper for a football club and an avid skier.
Teenage Aspirations: As a young man, Doyle studied to become a doctor (for a short period, he ran an unsuccessful ophthalmologist practice in London). It was at the University of Edinburgh Medical School that he met Joseph Bell, a surgeon with incredible powers of observation on whom Doyle modeled his famous detective.
Taste of Adventure: In 1880, Doyle spent six months as a surgeon on an Arctic whaling ship, the SS Hope.
Original Names for His Famous Crime-Fighting Duo: Ormond Sacker and Sherrinford Holmes.
First Review: “We could not publish [A Study in Scarlet] this year, as the market is flooded at present with cheap fiction.” Despite this lukewarm response, Ward, Lock & Co bought all the rights to Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes story for 25 pounds and agreed to publish it the following year.
Preferred Genre: The popularity of Sherlock Holmes was a mixed blessing to Doyle who longed to be known for his historical novels (Doyle also wrote fantasy, science fiction, plays, and poetry). He got so sick of his creation that he killed him off in 1893, only to revive him in 1901 (in The Hound of the Baskervilles), much to the delight of Holmes’ fans everywhere.
Religious Beliefs: Doyle was a supporter and follower of spiritualism, the belief that the dead can communicate with the living.
Flair for the Dramatic: After finishing his novel The White Company he cried, “Well, I’ll never beat that!” and threw his pen against the wall, leaving a lasting mark.
(Photo: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)