• Straight Talking English

FREE SAMPLE: Arthur Conan Doyle

The man who would become one of the most famous writers of the Victorian era was born in 1859 in Edinburgh at the height of the British Empire. He was brought up mainly by his mother, and she instilled in him that he was in some way destined to do great things. From the age of six he would write stories and poems, though he did not enjoy the classical education he received at his strict Jesuit boarding school. He later wrote:

‘It was the usual public school routine of Euclid, algebra and the classics, taught in the usual way, which is calculated as leaving a lasting abhorrence of these subjects. To give boys a little slab of Virgil or Homer with no general idea of what it is all about, or what the classical age is like, is surely an absurd way of treating the subject. . . My classical education left me with a horror of the classics, and I was astonished to find how fascinating they were when I read them in a reasonable manner in later years.’

Sadly, he wasn’t ready for what he found when he came home. His mother has replaced his father with a lodger, twenty years younger. His father was very much alive, of course, but Charles Altamont Doyle was fighting his own battles outside of his family home.

‘Charles Doyle [once] had the perfect life: a reliable job, a budding artistic career, and a large loving family. However, Charles had a weakness—riddled with feelings of inadequacy, and low self-esteem, Charles found solace in alcohol. Over time, he became so addicted to drink that his health began to decline. He started to suffer from both physical and mental exhaustion which resulted in the loss of his job at the Scottish Office of Works in June of 1876. Over the next several years, his condition deteriorated rapidly into acute delirium tremens. In addition to the delusions and hallucinations usually associated with this condition, Charles also suffered from epilepsy and bouts of depression. After years of failed rehabilitation, he was committed to a mental institution in 1881. He would spend the next twelve years in asylums for the mentally ill.’

Arthur, or AC as he preferred to be known, later reflected on his father’s illness when he wrote his autobiography.

‘My father's health had utterly broken, he had to retire to that Convalescent Home in which the last years of his life were spent, and I, aged twenty, found myself practically the head of a large and struggling family. My father's life was full of the tragedy of unfulfilled powers and of undeveloped gifts. He had his weaknesses, as all of us have ours, but he had also some very remarkable and outstanding virtues. A tall man, long-bearded, and elegant, he had a charm of manner and a courtesy of bearing which I have seldom seen equalled. His wit was quick and playful. He possessed, also, a remarkable delicacy of mind which would give him moral courage enough to rise and leave any company which talked in a manner which was coarse. When he passed away a few years later I am sure that Charles Doyle had no enemy in the world, and that those who knew him best sympathized most with the hard fate which had thrown him, a man of sensitive genius, into an environment which neither his age nor his nature was fitted to face. He was unworldly and unpractical and his family suffered for it, but even his faults were in some ways the result of his developed spirituality. He lived and died a fervent son of the Roman Catholic faith.’

AC went on to attend medical school, graduating as a doctor in 1881. One of the interests that informed his life was travel, and the year before he qualified he took a job on a whaling ship to the Arctic Circle as the ship’s medic. He absolutely loved it.

‘When you do come upon it, it is a wonderful sight. I suppose it is the largest assembly of creatures upon the face of the world—and this upon the open icefields hundreds of miles from the Greenland coast. Somewhere between 71 deg. and 75 deg. is the rendezvous, and the longitude is even vaguer; but the seals have no difficulty in finding the address. From the crow's nest at the top of the main-mast, one can see no end of them. On the furthest visible ice one can still see that sprinkling of pepper grains. And the young lie everywhere also, snow-white slugs, with a little black nose and large dark eyes. Their half-human cries fill the air; and when you are sitting in the cabin of a ship which is in the heart of the seal-pack, you would think you were next door to a monstrous nursery.’

The next year, he joined a similar ship journeying to West Africa. He did not enjoy this nearly as much.

‘It is a very monotonous view, for whether it is the Ivory Coast or the Gold Coast, or the Liberian shore, it always presents the same features—burning sunshine, a long swell breaking into a white line of surf, a margin of golden sand, and then the low green bush, with an occasional palm tree rising above it. If you have seen a mile, you have seen a thousand.’

Upon returning to the UK, he set up a medical practice in Southsea, Portsmouth as what would now be called a GP.

Here, the narrative of AC’s life must digress slightly. The views he held would today be seen as offensive and controversial. He’d been writing fiction since childhood, but from his time as a GP one of his public letters survives, defending the Contagious Diseases Act (which allowed doctors to give medical examinations to any woman without consent in case she had an STI).

‘Last week a large transport entered Portsmouth Harbour with time-expired men from India. Upon the same day several diseased women left the hospital presumably with the intention of meeting that transport, and there was no law to prevent it. I say that if an unfortunate soldier, coming home to his native land after an absence of years, and exposed to such temptations, should yield to them, and entail disease upon himself and his offspring, the chief fault should not lie at his door. It surely emanates logically from those hysterical legislators who set loose these bearers of contagion, and their like, upon society. For fear delicacy should be offended where no touch of delicacy exists, dreadful evils are to result, men to suffer, children to die, and pure women to inherit unspeakable evils. Loose statements and vague doctrines of morality may impose upon hasty thinkers, but surely, when the thing is reduced to its simplest terms, it becomes a matter of public calamity that these Acts should be suspended for a single day, far more for an indefinite period. The apostles of free trade in infection have worked to such good purpose that within a few weeks the streets of our naval stations have become pandemonia, and immorality is rampant where it lately feared to show its face. Property has depreciated near all the public-houses since the suspension of the Acts, on account of the concourse of vile women whose uproar and bad language make night hideous. I venture to say that, were the old laws enforced again to-morrow, there would still in a hundred years' time be many living who could trace inherited mental or physical deformity to the fatal interregnum which the champions of the modesty of harlots had brought about.’

When he was not curing the ill of Portsmouth or sharing his opinion in letters, AC found time to court and marry his wife while she was in mourning for her father.

‘After the funeral, Conan Doyle asked permission to call one Louisa Hawkins, ostensibly to help her in her grief, at the lodging house. She accompanied him on his evening walks and listened, spellbound, to the stories of his travels and adventures. Louisa, known as Touie, was 27 years old, almost two years older than Arthur, sweet natured, round faced, with curly brown hair and blue-green eyes; like all well-brought-up young women, she was an accomplished needle-woman and a competent pianist. . . In April they became engaged. The speed of their courtship, extraordinary in the Victorian era, was never explained.’

At this point he began to send off stories which he’d been writing between seeing patients to publishers. In an 1892 interview he fondly remembered his intentions as he tried to turn professional.

‘I was determined to test my own powers to the utmost. You must remember that I was still following medicine. Novel writing was in a great measure a congenial pastime, a pastime that I felt would inevitably become converted into a profession. I devoted two years to the study of fourteenth-century life in England — Edward III.'s reign — when the country was at its height. The period has hardly been treated in fiction at all, and I had to go back to early authorities for everything. I set myself to reconstruct the archer, who has always seemed to me to be the most striking figure in English history. Of course, Scott has done him finely and inimitably in his outlaw aspect. But it was not as an outlaw that he was famous. He was primarily a soldier, one of the finest that the world has ever seen — rough, hard-drinking, hard-swearing, but full of pluck and animal spirits. The archers must have been extraordinary fellows. The French, who have always been gallant soldiers, gave up trying to fight them at last, and used to allow English armies to wander unchecked through the country. It was the same in Spain and in Scotland. Then the knights, I think, were much more human-kind of people than they have usually been depicted. Strength had little to do with their knightly qualities. Some of the most famous of them were very weak men, physically. Chandos was looked upon as the first knight in Europe when he was over eighty. My study of the period ended in my writing, 'The White Company,' which has, I believe, gone through a fair number of editions already.

I made up my mind to abandon my practice at Southsea, come to London, and Start as an eye specialist — a branch of the profession of which I was peculiarly fond. I studied at Paris and Vienna, and, whilst in the latter city, wrote 'The Doings of Raffle Haws.' On my return to London I took rooms in Wimpole-street, had a brass plate put on the door, and started. But orders for stories began to come in, and at the expiration of three months I forsook medicine altogether, came to Norwood, and started writing for THE STRAND MAGAZINE.’

His first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, took a little while to be published but it was a huge success, establishing him as a respectable and promising author. The Sign of Four, which followed in 1890, put him even further into the limelight as the glowing reviews came in. The number of subscribers to the Strand, the magazine in which the shorter Sherlock Holmes stories were serialised, had a huge boom in subscribers, largely due to the public fascination with the great detective.

By 1893 AC had reached the end of his tether. He felt like the Holmes stories were taking his attention away from the historical fiction he wanted to write. He promptly killed off Holmes to great public outrage, which he later justified in an interview.

‘I was still a young man and a young novelist, and I have always noticed that the ruin of every novelist who has come up has been effected by driving him into a groove. The public gets what it likes, and, insisting on getting it, makes him go on until he loses his freshness. Then the public turns round and says: 'He has only one idea, and can only write one sort of story: The result is that the man is caned; for, by that time, he has probably himself lost the power of adapting himself to fresh conditions of work. Now, why should a man be driven into a groove and not write about what interests him? When I was interested in Holmes I wrote about Holmes, and it amused me making him get involved in new conundrums; but when I had written twenty-six stories, each involving the making of a fresh plot, I felt that it was becoming irksome this searching for plots—and if it were getting irksome to me, most certainly, I argued, it must be losing its freshness for others.

I knew I had done better work in other fields of literature, and in my opinion The White Company, for example, was worth a hundred Sherlock Holmes stories. Yet, just because the Sherlock Holmes stories were, for the moment, more popular, I was becoming more and more known as the author of Sherlock Holmes instead of as the author of The White Company. My lower work was obscuring my higher.

I therefore determined to stop my Holmes stories, and as my mind was fully made up I couldn't see any better way than by bringing Holmes to an end as well as the stories.

I was in Switzerland for the purpose of giving a lecture at the time when I was thinking out the details of the final story. I was taking a walking tour through the country, and I came to a waterfall. I thought if a man wanted to meet a gaudy kind of death that was a fine romantic place for the purpose. That started the train of ideas by which Holmes just reached that spot and met his death there.

That is really how I came to kill Holmes. But when I did it I was surprised at the amount of interest people took in his fate. I never thought they would take it so to heart. I got letters from all over the world reproaching me on the subject. One, I remember, from a lady whom I did not know, began 'you beast.’

From that day to this I have never for an instant regretted the course I took in killing Sherlock. That does not say, however, that because he is dead I should not write about him again if I wanted to, for there is no limit to the number of papers he left behind or the reminiscences in the brain of his biographer.

My objection to detective stories is that they only call for the use of a certain portion of one's imaginative faculty, the invention of a plot, without giving any scope for character drawing.

The best literary work is that which leaves the reader better for having read it. Now, nobody can possibly be the better—in the high sense in which I mean it—for reading Sherlock Holmes, although he may have passed a pleasant hour in doing so. It was not to my mind high work, and no detective work ever can be, apart from the fact that all work dealing with criminal matters is a cheap way of rousing the interest of the reader.’

Killing off Holmes would not solve AC’s personal drama, but would instead mark the start of an even more controversial time in his life. In 1900, AC joined the Boer War as an army medic.

He was motivated to join by a mixture of patriotism and by wanting to write a history of the war as it happened. AC worked at one of the most brutal hospitals, dealing with thousands of wounded and dying, but overall enjoyed the experience as it enabled him to connect with other parts of the Empire.

‘It had been a war of surprises, but the surprises have unhappily been hitherto invariably unpleasant ones. Now at last the balance swung the other way, for in all the long paradoxical history of South African strife there is nothing more wonderful than the way in which these two sturdy and unemotional races clasped hands the instant that the fight was done. The fact is in itself a final answer to the ill-natured critics of the Continent. Men do not so easily grasp a hand which is reddened with the blood of women and children. From all parts as the commandos came in there was welcome news of the fraternisation between them and the soldiers; while the Boer leaders, as loyal to their new ties as they had been to their old ones, exerted themselves to promote good feeling among their people. A few weeks seemed to do more to lessen racial bitterness than some of us had hoped for in as many years. One can but pray that it will last.

The surrenders amounted in all to twenty thousand men, and showed that in all parts of the seat of war the enemy had more men in the field than we had imagined, a fact which may take the sting out of several of our later mishaps. About twelve thousand surrendered in the Transvaal, six thousand in the Orange River Colony, and about two thousand in the Cape Colony, showing that the movement in the rebel districts had always been more vexatious than formidable. A computation of the prisoners of war, the surrenders, the mercenaries, and the casualties, shows that the total forces to which we were opposed were certainly not fewer than seventy-five thousand well-armed mounted men, while they may have considerably exceeded that number. No wonder that the Boer leaders showed great confidence at the outset of the war.

That the heavy losses caused us by the war were borne without a murmur is surely evidence enough how deep was the conviction of the nation that the war was not only just but essential—that the possession of South Africa and the unity of the Empire were at stake. Could it be shown, or were it even remotely possible, that ministers had incurred so immense a responsibility and entailed such tremendous sacrifices upon their people without adequate cause, is it not certain that, the task once done, an explosion of rage from the deceived and the bereaved would have driven them for ever from public life? Among high and low, in England, in Scotland, in Ireland, in the great Colonies, how many high hopes had been crushed, how often the soldier son had gone forth and never returned, or come back maimed and stricken in the pride of his youth. Everywhere was the voice of pity and sorrow, but nowhere that of reproach. The deepest instincts of the nation told it that it must fight and win, or for ever abdicate its position in the world. Through dark days which brought out the virtues of our race as nothing has done in our generation, we struggled grimly on until the light had fully broken once again. And of all gifts that God has given to Britain there is none to compare with those days of sorrow, for it was in them that the nation was assured of its unity, and learned for all time that blood is stronger to bind than salt water is to part. The only difference in the point of view of the Briton from Britain and the Briton from the ends of the earth, was that the latter with the energy of youth was more whole-souled in the Imperial cause. Who has seen that Army and can forget it—its spirit, its picturesqueness—above all, what it stands for in the future history of the world? Cowboys from the vast plains of the North-West, gentlemen who ride hard with the Quorn or the Belvoir, gillies from the Sutherland deer-forests, bushmen from the back blocks of Australia, exquisites of the Raleigh Club or the Bachelor's, hard men from Ontario, dandy sportsmen from India and Ceylon, the horsemen of New Zealand, the wiry South African irregulars—these are the Reserves whose existence was chronicled in no Blue-book, and whose appearance came as a shock to the pedant soldiers of the Continent who had sneered so long at our little Army, since long years of peace have caused them to forget its exploits. On the plains of South Africa, in common danger and in common privation, the blood brotherhood of the Empire was sealed.

So much for the Empire. But what of South Africa? There in the end we must reap as we sow. If we are worthy of the trust, it will be left to us. If we are unworthy of it, it will be taken away. Kruger's downfall should teach us that it is not rifles but Justice which is the title-deed of a nation. The British flag under our best administrators will mean clean government, honest laws, liberty and equality to all men. So long as it continues to do so, we shall hold South Africa. When, out of fear or out or greed, we fall from that ideal, we may know that we are stricken with that disease which has killed every great empire before us.’

Years later, his experiences would emerge in a wildly offensive fashion. Two years before his death, in 1928, he revisited South Africa.

‘At a memorial commemorating the 26,000 women and children who had died in British concentration camps, he was told the inscription, in Afrikaans, blamed the British for their deaths. He objected loudly. It was a disgraceful assertion he said; the women and children were being fed even while the British were fighting the men’

In case of any doubt, Doyle’s objections were completely incorrect, as was later definitively proved.

‘The death rate for Boer civilians in the concentration camps in South Africa exceeded this by a factor of 10. It’s well established that 28 000 white people and 20 000 black people died in various camps in South Africa. Between July 1901 and February 1902 the rate was, on average, 247 per 1000 per annum in the white camps. It reached a high of 344 per 1000 per annum in October 1901 and a low of 69 per 1000 per annum in February 1902.’

Upon his return to the UK from the Boer War, Doyle had another situation to deal with: he had fallen in love with a woman who was not his now terminally ill wife.

‘In 1897, at the age of 38, he fell in love at first sight with Jean Leckie, a beauty 14 years his junior, and, as his letters home show, he would much rather indulge in romantic pursuits such as writing poetry, playing music and throwing parties to impress his new love, than attend to Holmes.

Conan Doyle did not tell his mother the reason for his new interests immediately, but in the way lovers do, he used any excuse to include his beloved's name on the page. In 1899 he told how he had had lunch with her parents, who gave him an exquisite Christmas present of a diamond and pearl stud. He also embarked on a book about a man, a mistress and a wife called The Duet. It is easy to see the source of his inspiration.

By June he could no longer keep his relationship with Jean secret and was rapturising to his mother about it, assuring her that he would never cause his wife any pain. Yet it is tempting to read the next lines as a confession that he and Jean were already physically involved. “She is as dear to me as ever,” he wrote about Touie, “but there is a large side of my life which was unoccupied, but is no longer so.” Are those words proof that, having given up marital relations with his wife because of her illness he had turned to Jean instead?

Mary Doyle was more concerned with stopping her son from going to report on the Boer War. All her entreaties failed, and by April 1900 he was in South Africa writing long letters from the front.

“There are only two things for which I wish to return to England,” he wrote. “One of them is to kiss my dear mother once more.”

The other, presumably, was to see Jean. By August he was back in London and seeing a good deal of his girlfriend. He took her to Lord's for the cricket, causing a terrible family row when they bumped into his sister Connie and her husband. Arthur explained that the relationship was strictly platonic and they all agreed to meet the next day. Then, as he revealed petulantly to his mother, Connie pleaded a toothache and refused to meet. Conan Doyle, though in the wrong according to any social mores, was outraged.

“I refused to speak further on such a sacred matter,” he declared to Mary Doyle, flattering her that though she was sensitive enough to understand the real situation, others—like his sister—were intolerably petty-minded.

Mary sided with her daughter. But soon Arthur had given up all discretion and was telling his mother about golfing breaks where Jean would turn up.

“Jean came down,” he wrote breathlessly. “We had such a healthy, innocent time.”

He even invited Mary to chaperone Jean on these breaks. And, surprisingly, she agreed. It looks as though Touie, too, was becoming aware of his infidelities. Suddenly Arthur was complaining to his mother that his wife had dropped plans to go to France for her health as usual, and was insisting on going to Torquay, where he'd have to join her. He suggested that his mother, now in league with him, should invite Jean to Scotland, where he would visit them both. Since he had an avid social life in London—his regular contacts included Winston Churchill—the now famous author took a room near Charing Cross, and it is tempting to think that he saw even more of Jean. He also started taking his mistress on sentimental journeys alone back to his first postings in his new car.

It was Jean, not poor Touie, languishing with worsening TB, who had taken to fussing about his own failing health. “It is a fateful, heavensent thing and inspirational,” he wrote his mother about their love. Mary clearly agreed, for she had started sending the woman in her son's life gifts of family jewellery. Indeed, his mother seems to have accepted their relationship so completely that Arthur even sent her Jean's love letters to read. While Touie's health declined, Arthur spent more time away from home with his “darling J”, without a single reproach from Mary.

Her priority was that he should accept the knighthood he had been offered, even though he maintained he did not want it, declaring that even if the three people he loved best in the whole world—Jean, his sister, Lottie, and his mother—were all down on bended knee, he wouldn't accept it. His wife is noticeably not mentioned.

Of course, Conan Doyle did accept a knighthood in October 1902, and managed to remain extraordinarily prolific as a writer despite juggling mistress, family and public life, for this was the year Sherlock Holmes finally made a comeback, in The Hound Of The Baskervilles. Meanwhile, his wife was coming to terms with his affair, because before she finally died, delirious and paralysed in 1906, she instructed her daughter to give her father her blessing if he married again. Condemned to a year of mourning, Conan Doyle fell into a depression until he married Jean the following September.’

AC was a person who needed personal projects to keep him busy on top of writing. Despite some of his more unsavoury views, in his role as head of the Divorce Law reform group he helped to create equality for men and women who wanted to leave their marriages.

‘Of the hundred thousand of each sex who are now separated by law, and yet forbidden to marry anyone else, the causes of separation are many, but I should think that cruelty and habitual drunkenness predominate. My argument is that the existence of this great number of enforced celibates must have a subversive effect upon public morals, and incidentally a depressing influence upon that dwindling birth-rate which everyone deplores as a national disaster. After a fitting interval the separation should, as I hold, be changed into absolute divorce.

As to theology being the root of all the mischief, that was clearly borne out at the Commission, where the objections to reform were based largely upon theological considerations. We have had a striking object-lesson from India of late as to the folly of founding a practice upon texts. It is stated that a million widows have been consumed in the rite of suttee because the original direction in the sacred books were misread “fire,” when it was actually “altar.” It is a terrible and apposite example of the danger of allowing sayings uttered in a foreign tongue, under different conditions, in distant lands and far-off days, to hamper our common sense and to throw a blight upon living men and women.’

An interest in archaeology led to the writing of the classic ‘The Lost World’, and after researching naval ships AC recommended issuing sailors with life jackets, a new innovation which doubtless save thousands of lives. When assessing Doyle’s actions, it always seems like a good deed or notion is counter balanced by something that we in the twenty first century would find appalling.

In 1914 the First World War broke out. In his role as a writer he visited the trenches in 1916 to document the conditions and raise morale.

‘Carried away by blind patriotism, barely a critical word passed his lips or emerged from his pen. The Allies were doing a superb job: the soldiers were cheerful, doughty and in fine fettle; the generals were all fine leaders, far-sighted, infallible and gifted tacticians.’

Later that year, one of his friends, Sir Roger Casement, was arrested for smuggling weapons into Ireland in order to start an insurrection. He was promptly tried for high treason. Doyle leapt to defend him… by claiming that by being homosexual he was mentally ill and therefore should not be tried.

‘To him, Casement’s homosexuality was pathological, a sign of ‘mental disorder’’

Tragically, AC’s son Kingsley died of pneumonia only two weeks before the Armistice was signed, ending the First World War. In February of 1919, the same epidemic killed AC’s brother. This horrific loss might have been the trigger for his final and strangest obsession, spiritualism.

The belief that the dead could be contacted through séances or other methods led to the downfall of his respectability as it led to him appearing more than a little kooky. Take this introduction to a non-fiction text, for example:

‘There was one memorable night when I walked forth with my head throbbing and my whole frame quivering from the villa of Mr. Southey at Merthyr. Behind me the brazen glare of Dowlais iron-works lit up the sky, and in front twinkled the many lights of the Welsh town. For two hours my wife and I had sat within listening to the whispering voices of the dead, voices which are so full of earnest life, and of desperate endeavours to pierce the barrier of our dull senses. They had quivered and wavered around us, giving us pet names, sweet sacred things, the intimate talk of the olden time. Graceful lights, signs of spirit power had hovered over us in the darkness. It was a different and a wonderful world. Now with those voices still haunting our memories we had slipped out into the material world—a world of glaring iron works and of twinkling cottage windows. As I looked down on it all I grasped my wife's hand in the darkness and I cried aloud, “My God, if they only knew—if they could only know!” Perhaps in that cry, wrung from my very soul, lay the inception of my voyage to the other side of the world. The wish to serve was strong upon us both. God had given us wonderful signs, and they were surely not for ourselves alone.’

Doyle would come to the media forefront one last time after his conversion to spiritualism by publicly declaring that fairies were real. The famous hoax ‘Cottingley Fairies’ photos were sent to AC’s desk and he absolutely jumped on the story, arguing fervently that fairies were all around us. Kirsten McQuinn takes a sympathetic view to Doyle’s increasingly odd beliefs:

‘I think it’s a natural thing to wonder why anyone would think that those photos were real, and certainly why someone like Conan Doyle, who created arguably the most logical character in literature, believed it. But I think we also have to realize that, at the time, the world was just coming out of World War I and spiritualism was having a really big moment. . . Spectral or spirit photography was also highly in fashion at the time as well. Many thought that cameras could pick up images that human eyes couldn’t. Many people were also bereaved by the war. As a result, people would pay a sh**load of money for a photograph of a loved one who died in the war. Spirit photography was perhaps a more modern extension of the Victorian practice of death photography. Given the contemporary interest in spiritualism, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch that people would believe that fairies could also be photographed as well as spirits of the dead.

Belief in fairies, the unseelie, the Little Folk, the fae, and whatever else you want to call them is simply in the bones of the earth in certain parts of the world. Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, generally the Celtic lands, all happily have a still-thriving feel of the otherworldly. British literature from centuries past bears out a strong belief in the existence of fairies or other such beings. It’s really no wonder. You try coming up a hill in the early morning and seeing a stone circle or tower rise out of the mist, and tell me you don’t believe in fairies. I’m as atheist as they come and *I* believed in fairies when I wandered through the mist and up the side of Glastonbury Tor and saw the whole place shrouded in mists. Fairies are f**king real in places like that. To a person who was deeply invested in the spiritualist movement, such as Conan Doyle and many others at the time were, the belief in fairies and spirits seems a natural response not only to their cultural and historical surroundings, but also to the lingering traumas of war. As with all myth and legend, fairy stories serve a purpose and fulfill a need on some level. The Cottingley fairies filled some kind of need in people, and Arthur Conan Doyle was no exception to that need.’

Sadly, this turn towards more eclectic beliefs made his final years rather lonely.

‘Sir Arthur during the latter part of his life presented an heroic and at the same time somewhat tragic figure. For the past few years he had devoted virtually all his time to the propagation of spiritism, and was recognized as one of the great leaders of the world in that belief. Because of his association with this crusade which he himself characterized as an unpopular one, he gradually lost some of his old-time literary friends who saw no virtue in spiritism and were inclined to look upon him as an eccentric’

Wonderfully, his spirit allegedly attended his own funeral and spoke to the masses via a psychic.

AC may have had his bad points, but regardless he was a giant in terms of influence in Victorian Literature, and creator of one of the most iconic characters of all time.

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