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Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters [Paperback]

Jon Lellenberg , Daniel Stashower , Charles Foley , Arthur Conan Doyle
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Book Description

7 July 2008

A collection of letters between Arthur Conan Doyle (author and creator of Sherlock Holmes) and his mother, covering most of his life, written between 1867 and the year of her death in 1921.

Doyle was raised almost solely by his mother in Dickensian circumstances, (his father latterly suffered from dipsomania and epilepsy and so spent much of his later life in asylums).

Since Sherlock Holmes's inception in 1887, he has been one of the best-known and widely read literary characters, and the subject of more radio and television shows and motion pictures than any other fictional character in history. Although Doyle and his Holmes continue to be much written about, talked about and adapted, this is the first time that this material, along with other personal papers, has ever been made available.

Conan Doyle although most famously remembered for Holmes, was also a physician, sportsman, public figure, war correspondent, pioneer of science fiction, psychic investigator, and prominent spiritual missionary.

These letters reveal fascinating portraits of Doyle: his trip to the Arctic aged 21 where he served as a ship's surgeon on a whaling ship; his unprofitable stint as a Harley Street doctor and his decision to abandon this in favour of writing, more money and the opportunity to help his mother to look after his many younger brothers and sisters; his friendships with J.M.Barrie (among others); his attempts to write material other than Holmes; and his involvement in the spiritualist movement – something that his mother, a devout Roman Catholic, was completely against.

‘Mam’ as he called her, was his most loyal confidant, and his letters functioned to a certain extent as confession and cleansing penance, until his mother’s death in 1921.

The collection is annotated by Daniel Stashower, award-winning mystery novelist and author of the recent Conan Doyle biography "Teller of Tales", and Jon Lellenberg, the U.S agent for the Conan Doyle estate.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 700 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (7 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007247605
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007247608
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 444,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859 and died in 1930. Within those years was crowded a variety of activity and creative work that made him an international figure and inspired the French to give him the epithet 'the good giant'. He was the nephew of 'Dickie Doyle' the artist, and was educated at Stonyhurst, and later studied medicine at Edinburgh University, where the methods of diagnosis of one of the professors provided the idea for the methods of deduction used by Sherlock Holmes.

He set up as a doctor at Southsea and it was while waiting for patients that he began to write. His growing success as an author enabled him to give up his practice and turn his attention to other subjects. He was a passionate advocate of many causes, ranging from divorce law reform and the Channel Tunnel to the issuing of inflatable life-jackets to sailors. He also campaigned to prove the innocence of individuals, and his work on the Edjalji case was instrumental in the introduction of the Court of Criminal Appeal. He was a volunteer physician in the Boer War and later in life became a convert to spiritualism.

His greatest achievement was, of course, his creation of Sherlock Holmes, who soon attained international status and constantly distracted him from his other work; at one time Conan Doyle killed him but was obliged by public protest to restore him to life. And in his creation of Dr Watson, Holmes's companion in adventure and chronicler, Conan Doyle produced not only a perfect foil for Holmes but also one of the most famous narrators in fiction. Penguin publish all the books about the great detective, A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, The Valley of Fear, His Last Bow, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, The Uncollected Sherlock Holmes and The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes.


Product Description

Review

‘Fairly hums with Conan Doyle’s trademark enthusiasm.’ Independent on Sunday

‘Superbly edited by three Conan Doyle scholars, (it) sheds new light on the writer's work and inner life, as well as his various love affairs and spiritualist crises…“A Life in Letters” is a monument to the enduring popularity of the occupant of 221b Baker Street and greatest investigator of all…This plum pudding of a book is essential reading to fans of Conan Doyle.’ Financial Times

‘The selected letters…convey an almost physical presence of the author, with his strange mixture of kindness and carelessness, overbearing self-confidence and depressive self-doubt.’ Economist

About the Author

Jon L. Lellenberg is the representative of Conan Doyle Estate Ltd, successor to the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's daughter and heir, Dame Jean Conan Doyle. He is one of the editors of Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters.



Charles Foley is Arthur Conan Doyle's great-nephew and executor of his literary estate. He was one of the editors of Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters. He lives in Sussex, UK.



Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930) was a Scottish writer and physician, most famous for his stories about the detective Sherlock Holmes and long-suffering sidekick Dr Watson. Conan Doyle was a prolific writer whose other works include fantasy and science fiction stories, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction and historical novels.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for Conan Doyle fans 25 Sep 2007
Format:Hardcover
This is the first book of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's private letters. It provides an intimate and unvarnished view of the famous author that should appeal to both serious Holmesians and casual readers interested in Conan Doyle.

These letters reveal details of everyday life not mentioned in biographies, and clarify events that many biographers tend to gloss over. We also learn some new things about the Sherlock Holmes stories, including the fact that two prominent Holmes fans encouraged Conan Doyle to continue writing them when he might have stopped.

As a Conan Doyle researcher, I produce FAQs and web checklists of Conan Doyle manuscripts and archival materials. I'd expected this to be purely a reference book but I ended up reading it straight through. Conan Doyle's style is very readable, and the editors provide excerpts from his autobiography and other details for a smoothly-flowing narrative that's interesting and engaging.

This book is an essential resource for every library. Anyone doing research on Conan Doyle or Sherlock Holmes will want to consult this volume. Even if you've already read a biography about Conan Doyle, you should read this book of his uncensored letters. You're certain to learn something new and get a fresh perspective on the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book 14 Jan 2013
By M. Wood
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a great insight into the life of Arthur Conan Doyle through his correspondences. It starts with his early letters back home when he was in boarding school as a boy.
If you've tried and failed to get hold of his autobiography because of the cataloguing error on amazon that means you get sent his complete collection of short stories instead, then this is a good alternative :)
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1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I read this book only recently to see whether or not Doyle was a gullible person (contrary to his Sherlock Holmes) as many authors, like Ruth Brandon in her book (1983) "The Spiritualists," judge him. The relevant material appears in the last chapter of the book, His Last Crusade.
His last quoted letter (of 27 December 1920) in the book appears in the last of the chapter, in which he wrote about his psychic experience with a medium, Mrs. Roberts, in Dunedin, New Zealand. Doyle apparently received a message from his dying mother in England through the medium. His mother Mary Doyle died on 30 December 1920.
Skeptics may be right to say that Doyle was gullible to have the psychic experience through the medium; if he was not, he did not receive the message.

Doyle believed in afterlife and hence, he did his last crusade to the end of his life at 71. If there really is an afterlife, the weight of Doyle's soul, if measured by Dr. Duncan MacDougall, might have weighed at more than 21 grams. By the way (if you do not mind), I recently published a technical paper to show theoretically the validity of MacDougall's experiment of measuring the change in weight at the moment of death in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 24, pp. 5-39; the Journal is on sale at amazon.com.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Company 8 Dec 2007
By Susan Rice - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It took me about a week to read this volume, and it became a very comfortable companion. I felt the three editors, men with uniquely close relationships with the life of Arthur Conan Doyle, were intelligent commentators on the material that hovered outside the actual letters, and made good decisions on what the reader needs to understand the text. I have read several biographies over a lifetime of study of Dr. Doyle's most famous creation, but I never before felt a real sense of kinship with the author. All knowledge had been perceived through the filter of each biographer's particular prejudices, not to mention the inavailability of much family material including these letters. Reading this book, I felt the full strength of his personality and the familial forces that had shaped his principles and politics. What's more, his sometimes puckish, sometimes ponderous sense of humor was demonstrated clearly to me for the first time.

Everything about the book -- the photographs and drawings, the clear and handsome style of each page, the careful index -- gave further examples of the intelligent, thoughtful decisions by its editors and publishers. Let me recommend this book.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for Conan Doyle fans 3 Nov 2007
By Randall Stock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is the first book of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's private letters, many of which have never been published. It provides an intimate and unvarnished view of the famous author that should appeal to both serious Sherlockians and casual readers interested in Conan Doyle.

These letters reveal details of everyday life not mentioned in biographies, and clarify events that many biographers tend to gloss over. We also learn some new things about the Sherlock Holmes stories, including the fact that two prominent Holmes fans encouraged Conan Doyle to continue writing them when he might have stopped.

As a Conan Doyle researcher, I've produced FAQs and web checklists of Conan Doyle manuscripts and archival materials. I'd expected this to be purely a reference book but I ended up reading it straight through. Conan Doyle's style is very readable, and the editors provide excerpts from his autobiography and other details for a smoothly-flowing narrative that's interesting and engaging.

Anyone doing research on Conan Doyle or Sherlock Holmes will want to consult this volume. Even if you've already read a biography about Conan Doyle, you should read this book of his uncensored letters. You're certain to learn something new and get a fresh perspective on the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unpublished Letters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 18 Nov 2007
By Dr. Joseph S. Maresca - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The presentation represents unique unpublished letters of
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The letters were written in the
1860s- some are dated others are not dated. There are
noted drawings and photos in the book including:

o drawings by John Doyle (the son)
o photo of Mary Kingsley Conan Doyle
o Conan Doyle as a country gentleman
o aboard "Eira" ship's master with Conan Doyle

The presentation describes how Conan Doyle dedicated the
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to Joseph Bell who
reviewed the work glowingly in "The Bookman". Clearly,
Conan Doyle learned some of the medical technology from
Joseph Bell. Nonetheless, Conan Doyle attended medical
school where he picked up a considerable body of knowledge
applied in the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

This is a wonderful historical document for academicians,
literary buffs, English students, students of literature
and students of the historical period of the 1860s.
The work is worth acquiring as a gift to the student
in your house.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars According to Doyle 20 Nov 2007
By Christian Schlect - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Three well informed editors have done outstanding work in presenting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's personal letters in a clean and understandable format.

While by its nature not a biography, this book certainly helps reveal the very robust, varied, and patriotic life led by the creator of Sherlock Holmes. It is also a touching study in letters of the lifelong love of a son for a devoted mother.

All Baker Street Irregulars, as well as students of English literature of the period, are encouraged to buy this book for their libraries.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's family letters are a revealing insight into the life of the creator of Sherlock Holmes 29 Jan 2008
By C. M Mills - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mention the name of Sherlock Holmes and the name of his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is instantly recalled. Doyle (1859-1930) was a fascinating man whose life story cries out for a biopic! Doyle was born in Edinburgh Scotland to an artist and his intellectually gifted wife Mary. Doyle's father died in an asylum suffering from alcohol and depression in 1893. His mother lived a ripe old age until 1920. It is to Mary Doyle, the mother he adored and confided in throughout his life, that over 90% of these fascinating letters are sent.Several of her own letters to favorite son Arthur are also included.
Doyle became a doctor graduating from the Edinburgh Medical School, traveled to the North Pole as a ship's physician and set up his shingle in the city of Portsmouth in the 1880s. It was during this period he began "A Study in Scarlet" which introduced Holmes and Watson to the British and American public. He also wrote several adventure stories and historical fiction works in homage to his literary idol Sir Walter Scott. His"White Company" about medieval Europe is still in print. While in Portsmouth he wed Louisa Hawkins who bore him two children Mary and Kingsley. Kingsley died from disease in World War I.
With his literary star rising, Dr. Holmes and his famiy moved to London. He there associated himself with the literary world of the day knowing such luminaries as George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Welles, Thomas Hardy, George Meredith. He also socialized with the aristocracy and once sat beside King Edward VII at a dinner.
Dr. Doyle was no stay at home writer. He served in the medical service during both the Boer War and World War I. Doyle enjoyed such varied sports as golf, tennis, cricket and skiing. He loved bicycling and owned a new fanagled motor car particpating in auto races. He and his famiily traveled widely across Europe. He often visited the United States. Doyle liked America and dreamed of a union between Great Britain and the United States. He caught the political bug twice running without success for a seat in Parliament representing an Edinburgh district. He was opposed to Irish Home Rule and along with his friend Winston Churchill was a strong advocate of the British Empire. He and his friend Rudyard Kipling glorified the British soldier.
The brilliant Doyle stuck his neck out by defending persons he thought had been wrongly convicted. He was an advocate for changing England's Divorce Law. He had an often rocky relationship with his five children but by all accounts was a good father. His first wife Louise died iin 1906 and after a brief time he married the lovely Jean Leckie. Jean and he had a happy marriage. They had three children: Denis, Adrian and Jean. It is uncertain whether his affair with Jean was platonic or not prior to the death of Louise.
Doyle was a very busy man who wanted to do away with Sherlock Holmes but continued writing stories of the great detective due to the public insistence for more Holmes adventures. During World War I he wrote a long history of the war which is little read. Science fiction works featuring Dr. Challenger were popular. Doyle was a friend of Baden Powell involving him in Boy Scout work. He was an Edwardian gentleman who was rich, famous and in love with his wife and family. He even delved in playwrigthing and his hero Sherlock Holmes was played on stage by William Gillette. The Holmes character was also seen on the slient movie screen.
World War I saw the death of his son, brother, brother-in law and other
relatives and friends. He increasingly became drawn to spiritualism. He broke with his friend magician Harry Houdini over the spiritualist movement. Doyle lectured widely in Britain, USA, Canada and Australia about spiritualism. He and his wife Jean both believed in seances. He was involved in several public debates concerning spiritualism writing books and articles to defend his position. Doyle was knighted in 1902 despite his objections. He died in 1930 being best remembered for those Sherlock Holmes Stories he thought were minor chapters in his literary oeuvre.
This seven hundred page compendium of the letters between Holmes, mother Mary and others has been edited by three experts on Doyle. Those experts are Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley. These editors put the letters in chronological order from the days when the Roman Catholic born Doyle was a student until 1920. The letters are connected by biographical narrative aiding the reader's understanding of what was happening in the life of Doyle and his interesting family.
The book is lavishly illustrated. If you want to learn about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle this book and the recently published "The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes" by Andrew Lycett are the two tomes you need! Elementary My Dear Watson! This book is a winner!
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