“Elementary, my dear Watson.” (Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle)
No other line in literature seems to be just as iconic as the one above. And no other author has ever created a detective as iconic as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
Arthur Conan Doyle was the second of seven children. He was born on May 22, 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He entered a Jesuit school, then attended Stonyhurst College. While he attended the college, he founded a magazine called The Stonyhurst Figaro. He left the college in 1875 after realizing that Jesuit education did not suit him. He rejected Christianity and opted to be agnostic.
In 1876, he started studying medicine. There, he met two people that inspired the character he is most known for. While in medical school, he earned money as a medical assistant in Sheffield, Birmingham, and Shropshire. He published his first two stories in 1879: “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley” and “The American Tale.” Doyle finished medical school in 1881, then enlisted as a doctor, and was sent to West Africa. Afterward, he started a practice with a colleague. The partnership failed, and he started his own ophthalmology practice. This gave him enough time to write. He married Louisa Hawkins in 1885, and she encouraged him to become a writer.
Doyle finished his first Sherlock Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet,” in 1887. It was bought by Ward Lock & Co for £25. It was published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in the same year. Doyle had the opportunity to have another Holmes story published, this time for Lippincott Magazine. He was hired along with popular author, Oscar Wilde. Doyle wrote The Sign of the Four, and Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Doyle had a breakthrough when he proposed new Sherlock Holmes stories for The Strand Magazine. These stories were published, among them “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Red-Headed League.” He managed to write for Strand for nearly a year. The Holmes stories were so successful that Doyle stopped his medical practice to become a full-time writer. He had intended to kill Sherlock Holmes off, but his plan was delayed.
In 1982, he and his family moved to Switzerland to help his wife, who was suffering from tuberculosis. During his time in Switzerland, he was inspired to write the story that started the road to Sherlock Holmes’s demise: The Reichenbach Falls. After twelve more stories, Holmes fell to his death in “The Final Problem.” This was followed by a public outcry, but Doyle was determined not to bring Holmes back to life.
Doyle took a break from Holmes and his writing, during which he had lectures in the United States and skied in the Alps. He also wrote The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard and Rodney Stone and became a war correspondent for the Westminster Gazette. His work in war correspondence inspired his novel, The Tragedy of the Korosko.
Sherlock Holmes finally returned in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Doyle created thirty-three more Sherlock stories in between September 1903 and March 1927.
In 1912, Doyle wrote The Lost World, which featured another character that he became known for: Professor Challenger. The character was featured in four novels, where he was stuck in South America discovering prehistoric flora and fauna.
Doyle wrote a second full-length novel featuring Holmes in 1914, The Valley of Fear. Doyle wrote more Holmes stories, the last twelve of which were compiled in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.
To date, there have been hundreds of Sherlock Holmes adaptations across various media. The latest adaptation is BBC’s Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson. The series, which is currently on hiatus after four seasons, places Doyle’s Victorian stories into the modern world. The series has already adapted some of Doyle’s most popular stories: A Scandal in Bohemia (A Scandal in Belgravia), A Study in Scarlet (A Study in Pink), The Sign of Four (The Sign of Three), and more. The first three seasons are available on Netflix.
Another ongoing adaptation is PBS’s Elementary, which stars Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Holmes and Watson respectively. Unlike Sherlock, Elementary does not directly adapt Doyle’s stories, rather, it brings most of Doyle’s original characters into the modern era as they solve various criminal cases.
It may have been plenty of years since Doyle walked this earth, but his characters are all but forgotten.
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