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Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters
Synopses & Reviews
This remarkable annotated collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's previously unpublished private correspondence offers unique insight into one of the world's most popular authors. For the first time, Conan Doyle emerges from the shadow of Sherlock Holmes, revealing a man whose character and exploits rival that of his famous creation. In particular, Conan Doyle's correspondence with his mother exposes his endless search for fulfillment and success outside the Holmes stories.
At age sixteen Conan Doyle began studying medicine at Edinburgh University. Just months shy of graduating, he made the adventurous decision to accept a position as a surgeon on a whaling ship heading to the Arctic. He returned to Edinburgh, graduated, and struggled to establish his own medical practice while simultaneously writing and promoting his stories. He suffered years of disappointment as both doctor and author; yet, to his amazement, just two months after the first Sherlock Holmes short stories, he had garnered such a following that he completely abandoned medicine for literature.
As the public clamored endlessly for Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle explored other pursuits: He was a doctor during the Boer War, a World War I correspondent, and the foremost spokesman for Spiritualism. As his life changed, Doyle's correspondence with his mother remained constant. In his letters to "the Mam," Doyle shares the dismay he felt over the critical reception of his other writing, and as his irritation with the Holmes adventures mounts he announces his desire to kill off the character. She is his confidante and trusted counsel throughout her long life.
The editors are known for their expertise and scholarship on the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. Daniel Stashower is an award-winning mystery novelist and author of Teller of Tales, a widely praised biography of Conan Doyle. Jon Lellenberg is the U.S. agent for the Conan Doyle estate and author of The Quest for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Charles Foley is the writer's great-nephew and executor of the estate. Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters will be a must-have collection for readers interested in the author, Sherlock Holmes, and the Victorian era.
"This fascinating collection of previously unpublished letters from the creator of Sherlock Holmes offers a revealing glimpse of a Renaissance man fated to be overshadowed by his most famous character. Beginning with correspondence from Doyle as an eight-year-old in 1867, the editors offer a warts-and-all picture of his life until 1920, 10 years before his death, covering the author's frank accounts of life at a boarding school, his struggles as a young doctor and aspiring writer, and his political advocacy. Those seeking insights into the creation of Holmes may be disappointed; while Doyle's ambivalence toward Holmes is well known, this collection reveals the extent to which he viewed his character principally as a source of income rather than a lasting legacy. The editors — Doyle experts Lellenberg and Stashower, and Doyle's great-nephew Foley — have nicely balanced the content: the letters reveal Doyle's stiff upper lip when he lost a son during the Great War, and his sense of humor, as in a hilarious report to his mother on the birth of his daughter Mary. This will be essential reading for all fans of Conan Doyle and his sleuth. (Andrew Lycett's biography of Conan Doyle, The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes, is due from the Free Press this fall.) Illus. (Nov. 1)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, he was famed as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. But he was also the author of many other books, a missionary for spiritualism and a frequent defender of the embattled British Empire. As acts of imagination, Conan Doyle's reinventions of himself — physician, novelist, patriot, journalist, celebrity and occasionally even sleuth asked to solve real-life crimes... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) — rival his creation of the immortal consulting detective. A new biography and a new collection of letters display the many aspects of Conan Doyle's character, revealing in fresh detail the human being behind the waxed mustache and tightly buttoned waistcoat of his portraits. Andrew Lycett titles his comprehensive and surprisingly action-packed biography 'The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes,' but he doesn't skimp on his subject's other accomplishments. Conan Doyle complained for decades that his fictional detective's popularity kept the author from achieving better things, and Lycett demonstrates that Holmes was indeed only one child of a busy brain. He reminds us of the historical novels, including 'Micah Clarke' and 'The White Company,' as well as the science-fiction masterpiece 'The Lost World.' There have been several biographies of the writer who gave us some of our most potent imagery of late Victorian England and a character even better known than Huckleberry Finn. Lycett's, however, is the first to incorporate private family papers that became available only after the death in 1997 of the author's last surviving offspring, Dame Jean Conan Doyle. His map of his subject's private life is much better detailed because of it. We see Conan Doyle's flaws as clearly as his virtues: Alongside his dutiful financial support for his mother and siblings, for example, we witness how, while his first wife was dying of tuberculosis, he began an affair with the woman who became his second wife. It is difficult to write about Conan Doyle without contrasting Sherlock Holmes' rational genius with his creator's credulous zeal for the paranormal, especially spirit manifestations and communication through mediums. Often, Conan Doyle demonstrated all the intellectual rigor of a Shirley MacLaine, and no two books in the catalog of unplanned hilarity are more guffaw-inducing than his 'History of Spiritualism' and 'The Coming of the Fairies.' Yet Lycett nicely reveals the pathos behind Conan Doyle's commitment to spiritualism, which was an attempt to discover — after the deaths of his son, his brother and close friends — actual evidence of an afterlife, rather than depend upon faith. Lycett admires peripatetic writers; his subjects have included Ian Fleming and Rudyard Kipling. Like them, Conan Doyle spent a lot of time gadding about. He embraced skiing and bicycling when both were new enough to draw jokes from bystanders. He dug for fossils near Tunbridge Wells, clubbed baby seals in the Arctic, camped with his wife in Alberta, doctored wounded soldiers in Bloemfontein. Lycett is a diligent investigator with a good eye for the telling detail; his account of the Second Boer War is convincingly textured and buttressed with an understanding of strategy. Despite its wealth of detail, the book moves quickly. Unfortunately, Lycett conveys his tireless research in sometimes tiring or graceless prose. He begins countless sentences and paragraphs with an orphaned 'This,' as in 'This suggests' or 'This resulted in,' leaving the reader to backtrack while wondering, 'This what? This who?' Furthermore, Conan Doyle undoubtedly would have been outraged at Lycett's habit of referring to his subject as 'Arthur' for almost 500 pages. Surely Andrew would object if reviewers presumed such familiarity with him. Meanwhile, other scholars have been compiling a new collection of Conan Doyle's correspondence, resulting in the 700 pages of 'Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters,' edited by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley. Lellenberg has edited books about Conan Doyle, including a study of his earlier biographers. Stashower is himself a Conan Doyle biographer, author of 'Teller of Tales.' Foley, a great-nephew of the great man, is now executor of the estate. (In his gossipy afterword, Andrew Lycett provides a slanted account of some turf wars between this camp and his own.) The three together amount to a formidable encyclopedia of Doyleiana, and their introduction and commentaries keep us oriented during the lively but occasionally tedious one-man show. Now and then the editors' additions are superfluous or repetitive, but mostly they provide unobtrusive enlightenment. The editors also insert quotations from Conan Doyle's fiction for apt and amusing contrast. The new collection harvests, among other sources, the same windfall as Lycett's biography, but the subtitle seems a bit too comprehensive. Most of the letters in this volume are from Conan Doyle to his mother, resulting in an idealized self-portrait limited by what he was willing to tell 'the Mam,' as he called her. But their relationship was close, and throughout her life she hoarded letters from her increasingly famous son. They are an invaluable resource, full of vivid incidental details that bring the era to life. We see Conan Doyle from the age of 8, reporting (and sometimes exaggerating) his academic achievements and sporting triumphs at boarding school — and, the editors remind us, omitting the physical abuse he would recall in adulthood. In one mid-career missive to the Mam, we learn that on a U.S. tour in October 1894, Conan Doyle was treated to a harvest-themed banquet worthy of the Zenith Chamber of Commerce: 'the room lighted with hollowed out pumpkins, a great harvest moon in the corner, decorations of shucks of corn & maize, live sheep & donkeys &c round the walls, & the name cards printed as by some poor country printer. The waiters were all in farm dress with big straw hats.' Such details, trivial in themselves, remind us yet again how difficult it will be for a biographer to recapture the texture of an era when daily communication takes place mostly in ephemeral telephone conversations (although e-mail is now a primary source). They also demonstrate how casually Arthur Conan Doyle could bring a scene to life. We read biographies of him, after all, because we still read his books. His stories, especially the Holmes adventures, live: the heroic teamwork, the triumph of reason, the excitement and insight drawn from close observation, and not least the roaring fire protecting us from dangers that lurk in the fog. Michael Sims' most recent book is 'Apollo's Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination'; he is editing an Edwardian-era crime anthology." Reviewed by Michael Sims, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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A remarkable annotated collection of previously unpublished private correspondence from the creator of Sherlock Holmes
This extraordinary annotated collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?s private correspondence offers unique insight into one of the world?s most popular authors. Detailing Conan Doyle?s life from his beginnings as a country doctor to his struggle with the success of Sherlock Holmes and his ultimate calling as the foremost spokesman for Spiritualism, Conan Doyle?s letters expose his innermost thoughts on literature, world events, and matters of the heart. Under the stewardship of editors renowned for their expertise on both Conan Doyle?s life and the Sherlock Holmes stories, this remarkable volume reveals a man whose character and exploits rival that of his famous creation.
About the Author
The authors, Daniel Stashower, Jon Lellenberg, and Charles Foley, are premier scholars and experts on both Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. Daniel Stashower, most recently the author of The Beautiful Cigar Girl, is an award-winning mystery novelist, an Edgar Award winner and the recipient of the Raymond Chandler Fulbright Fellowship in Detective and Crime Fiction Writing. He is also the author of Teller of Tales, a widely praised biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Jon Lellenberg is the U.S agent for the Conan Doyle estate and coeditor of a number of anthologies of new Sherlock Holmes stories by mystery writers, as well as the historian of the Baker Street Irregulars. Charles Foley is the great-nephew of Arthur Conan Doyle and great-grandson of Mary Foley Doyle, as well as the present executor of the Conan Doyle Estate.
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