Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes

Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes

As a young medical student, Arthur Conan Doyle studied in Edinburgh under the vigilant eye of a diagnostic genius, Dr. Joseph Bell. Doyle often observed Bell identifying a patient's occupation, hometown, and ailments from the smallest details of dress, gait, and speech. Although Doyle was training to be a surgeon, he was meanwhile cultivating essential knowledge that would...

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Title:Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes
Author:Michael Sims
Rating:
ISBN:1632860392
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:320 pages

Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes Reviews

  • Meaghan
    Nov 04, 2016

    Rather than a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, this is a history of all of the people surrounding the world’s greatest consulting detective. Instead of trying to encompass a whole (very accomplished) life, Sims chooses to take a magnifying glass to Conan Doyle’s early professional life as a student, doctor and writer, up until the birth of Sherlock Holmes.

    Piece by piece, he unmasks aspects of Conan Doyle’s past that point to inspiration for Holmes and the fantastic stories. Most notably (and a p

    Rather than a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, this is a history of all of the people surrounding the world’s greatest consulting detective. Instead of trying to encompass a whole (very accomplished) life, Sims chooses to take a magnifying glass to Conan Doyle’s early professional life as a student, doctor and writer, up until the birth of Sherlock Holmes.

    Piece by piece, he unmasks aspects of Conan Doyle’s past that point to inspiration for Holmes and the fantastic stories. Most notably (and a personal hero of mine) is Dr. Joseph Bell, a teaching physician at the University of Edinburgh while Conan Doyle studied there. The book, in fact, opens with a quote from Bell, and sets the tone for the whole work.

    Read my full review here:

  • Leah
    Jan 26, 2017

    Books have layers–at least the best ones do. Out of all people, Sherlockians should know this. After all, most of us probably did not become Canon devotees solely because we love creepy hounds, murderous snakes, and wall-climbing professors, even if the mysteries, puzzles, and adventures were the initial attraction. Survey any large group of Holmes fans and you’ll find myriad reasons why they love our detective, but the top reasons will likely include “a scientific detective,” “relatable heroes,

    Books have layers–at least the best ones do. Out of all people, Sherlockians should know this. After all, most of us probably did not become Canon devotees solely because we love creepy hounds, murderous snakes, and wall-climbing professors, even if the mysteries, puzzles, and adventures were the initial attraction. Survey any large group of Holmes fans and you’ll find myriad reasons why they love our detective, but the top reasons will likely include “a scientific detective,” “relatable heroes,” “literary innovation,” “sheer escapism,” and, possibly the most popular, “the devoted friendship” between Holmes and Watson. See? Layers.

    In fiction, those layers can be intentional or slip in via the writer’s In non-fiction however, layers tend to be planned. You have to know what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it, and what you’re going to say it with. Then of course, you have to say it entertainingly enough that people will stay with you for the entire thing. It’s no easy job, which makes it even more remarkable that, in

    not only has Michael Sims achieved it–he’s done it in less than 200 (fast-moving) pages.

    is not, as it might seem at first, another biography of Conan Doyle. In fact, in the first two chapters, the reader learns more about Dr. Joseph Bell than his most famous pupil, who doesn’t take center stage until chapter four (and don't skip ahead--you want--no, you

    to learn about Dr. Bell. Then,

    ends c.1892, just as the Great Detective has taken over

    . In between, Sims give us glimpses into both the youth and the man. We see young Arthur as a scrapping boy in the poorer part of Edinburgh, a rebellious student getting more than his fair share of beatings at school, and a youth who impetuously courted danger, whether by (inadvertently) swimming with sharks or testing a known poison (gelsemium) on himself, to see if it was possible to build up a resistance to it.Then there’s physician Arthur, and Arthur the son, young husband, and new father. As you might expect, however, Sims spends the most time examining Arthur as, well, an author. We watch him grow from his friends’ favorite story-teller, to enthusiastic submitter of photography articles and often-anonymous short stories, until finally we see him in the process of creating the characters which still outlive him. In far less time that it would take longer-winded biographers to get our boy through medical school, Sims covers nearly half of his life, giving the reader a portrait with perhaps less detail, but more insight.

    Along with the Arthur layer, Sims gives us a delicious history of the detective story, examining how Holmes, whether he liked it or not, was influenced by his predecessors: Zadig, Vidocq, Dupin, Bucket, LeCoq–even the Comte d’Artagnan. As he does so, he also illuminates the connections between Conan Doyle’s literary inspirations, and those from his medical training, showing how all came together–with its instigator’s conscious planning–for that one meeting in the laboratory at Bart’s.

    If this were all of Arthur and Sherlock, it would already be a great book. Michael Sims provides, arguably, the essential background every Sherlockian or mystery aficionado should know, and he does so succinctly. If Arthur and Sherlock hasn’t yet been marketed as a potential university text, it should be.

    But then he adds one more layer--a biography of Charles Altamonte Doyle, Arthur's artistic, alcoholic father, whose fragile mind and addiction left him unable to care for his family in any meaningful way.

    In traditional biographies, such as Stashoweor’s

    and Lyceum’s

    the story of Charles's tragic life is overshadowed by those of whom, through his flaws, he unintentionally forced into roles which changed the course of their lives. Sims takes a different path. Instead of analyzing Doyle

    or focussing his attention on the (considerable) influence of Arthur’s mother, Mary, he interweaves Charles’ story with that of his son, so that, as we see Arthur’s star rise throughout the book, we also watch as his father’s falls, slowly, wobbling into the dark. Showing remarkable restraint, Sims refuses to analyze this contrast, leaving readers to ask and answer their own questions. The reader is left to wonder who each man would have been, had his circumstances been different...and to wonder again if those circumstances are (completely) to blame. As much as Conan Doyle liked to play the bluff, hearty soldier-type, it’s easy to get a glimpse of someone much more sensitive and emotionally vulnerable, particularly as he aged, a deep thinker whose own “hidden fires” drove him just as surely as they did (do?) Sherlock Holmes. How was he able to find relief in work and family, while, for his father, this was not enough? Charles Doyle would die days after trying to pay his medical bill with gold dust he'd "collected" from moonbeams. His son would die, decades later, as one of the most beloved authors of his, or any, generation.

    That is, of course, the mystery of it all. By examining a writer’s life and literary influences, we can see, clearly in Conan Doyle’s case, where his stories and characters came from. The layers are all deconstructed and spread before us. But the spark that animates the body, the “breath of life” that stirs the dust, remains invisible, discernible only through its unique creation. There will only ever be one Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, and aren’t we glad we had him?

  • Patrick Ewing
    Feb 15, 2017

    Excellent! While recounting the well known stories of how Sherlock Holmes came to be, the author has added many small details with which I was astounded to learn of for the first time.

  • Roberta
    Feb 21, 2017

    Good read for Sherlock fans.

  • Jenny
    Feb 17, 2017

    Meh. I was hoping for a lot more from this book, but found it difficult to get into and finish. It's awkwardly written and very, very dry. Some of the language and composition was choppy and clumsy. The book seemed to jump around a bit with had sections of going back and forth between topics. The book also spent a lot of time delving into biographies of (seemingly) everyone in Conan Doyle's life to the point where you couldn't figure out how this related to the creation of Sherlock. About 50 pag

    Meh. I was hoping for a lot more from this book, but found it difficult to get into and finish. It's awkwardly written and very, very dry. Some of the language and composition was choppy and clumsy. The book seemed to jump around a bit with had sections of going back and forth between topics. The book also spent a lot of time delving into biographies of (seemingly) everyone in Conan Doyle's life to the point where you couldn't figure out how this related to the creation of Sherlock. About 50 pages into it, I just said, "Who cares?"

  • Cathy Sprankle
    Feb 17, 2017

    This book is a must-read both for fans of Sherlock Holmes in any of his various popular culture incarnations and for anyone interested in Victorian England. In addition to learning about Arthur Conan Doyle's early years and the creation of Sherlock Holmes, I learned about the early history of the genre of detective fiction, the roots of the modern urban police force, and what people in Victorian England read for pleasure. I especially enjoyed learning about Anna Katharine Green, a very successfu

    This book is a must-read both for fans of Sherlock Holmes in any of his various popular culture incarnations and for anyone interested in Victorian England. In addition to learning about Arthur Conan Doyle's early years and the creation of Sherlock Holmes, I learned about the early history of the genre of detective fiction, the roots of the modern urban police force, and what people in Victorian England read for pleasure. I especially enjoyed learning about Anna Katharine Green, a very successful American author and one of Doyle's contemporaries.

  • Chris
    Feb 07, 2017

    Not much new here if you've read other books about Arthur Conan Doyle. The information about his father, though, was new and interesting to me.

  • Sarah
    Feb 21, 2017

    While the premise for this book is interesting, the execution feels haphazard and slipshot. A huge chunk of the second part is entirely devoid of Conan Doyle or Holmes, instead reciting the history of mystery/crime fiction. Rather than a biography, this reads more like a loosely-structured graduate thesis on the early days of Conan Doyle and the supposed sources and inspirations for Sherlock Holmes (the books leaves off before Conan Doyle is around 34). What information given is interesting, and

    While the premise for this book is interesting, the execution feels haphazard and slipshot. A huge chunk of the second part is entirely devoid of Conan Doyle or Holmes, instead reciting the history of mystery/crime fiction. Rather than a biography, this reads more like a loosely-structured graduate thesis on the early days of Conan Doyle and the supposed sources and inspirations for Sherlock Holmes (the books leaves off before Conan Doyle is around 34). What information given is interesting, and Sims's tone is engaging and pleasant; it just felt flimsy on content. I would rather have had a longer, more developed biography.

  • Alan Kercinik
    Feb 15, 2017

    I've been a Sherlock Holmes fan since high school, so this was a fun jaunt into the personal and cultural forces that led to his creation.

    As one would hope and expect from a book about such a subject, Sims has a keen eye for detail and deconstructing the ingredients that made Holmes Holmes.

    Even if you're not a fan, it's an intriguing look at inspiration and the act of creation, heady and boyant in the early days of Holmes' career and hold on the public imagination, before Doyle felt disenchanted

    I've been a Sherlock Holmes fan since high school, so this was a fun jaunt into the personal and cultural forces that led to his creation.

    As one would hope and expect from a book about such a subject, Sims has a keen eye for detail and deconstructing the ingredients that made Holmes Holmes.

    Even if you're not a fan, it's an intriguing look at inspiration and the act of creation, heady and boyant in the early days of Holmes' career and hold on the public imagination, before Doyle felt disenchanted and trapped by his creation.

    My one hope is that Sims continue with a complimentary volume, to show the lasting impact the world's most famous detective (sorry, Batman) had on both Doyle's world and the world at large.

  • Peter Goodman
    Feb 22, 2017

    “Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the creation of Holmes,” by Michael Sims (Bloomsbury, 2017). A brief biography of Arthur Conan Doyle and the history of the detective novel. Doyle (Sims calls him Arthur throughout) learned from Poe and the French novelist Émile Gaboriau, and before them with traces of detectives going back to the story of Daniel in the Bible (who determined that a group of priests were eating the food left for the god Bel). Sims describes the invention of the private detect

    “Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the creation of Holmes,” by Michael Sims (Bloomsbury, 2017). A brief biography of Arthur Conan Doyle and the history of the detective novel. Doyle (Sims calls him Arthur throughout) learned from Poe and the French novelist Émile Gaboriau, and before them with traces of detectives going back to the story of Daniel in the Bible (who determined that a group of priests were eating the food left for the god Bel). Sims describes the invention of the private detective---in fact, the invention of the concept of a police force, which was still pretty new in the late 19th century. Doyle modeled Homes---at least, his remarkable abilities of observation, deduction and induction---on Joseph Bell, MD, a physician who taught at Edinburgh University. Bell constantly astounded his students and colleagues by deducing tremendous amounts of information merely from looking at a person. Doyle himself was quite a character. He was physically brave, went on a whaling voyage when he was still basically a teenager, slowly began a small medical practice but kept writing. Eventually gets to “The Sign of Four,” which introduces Holmes and Watson to the world. Doyle fleshes out their characters: Watson is curious and engaged, Holmes very self-involved, arrogant, but brilliant. Meanwhile, Doyle’s father, Charles, a mediocre artist and minor civil servant, becomes an alcoholic and finally has to be institutionalized by his wife, Doyle’s mother. He continues to draw, actually creates the drawings in the original edition of “The Sign.” Doyle had been forced to assign the copyright to his publisher, so he earned very little on the book. But the stories became more and more popular, until Doyle is finally comfortably well off, with his wife and family. The story ends abruptly, after the publication of about a dozen stories. I actually started reading the acknowledgements as if they were another chapter! Sims says nothing about Doyle’s later life, or what goes on with Holme and Watson. He is interested primarily in the origin of the style, the detective, the technique. Quick, easy read.