Arthur Conan Doyle Didn’t Care Much For Sherlock Holmes

“A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.” —Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Five Orange Pips”

In A Nutshell

Arthur Conan Doyle felt that writing Sherlock Holmes was actually holding him back. Doyle preferred writing about history and felt that such works were much more important in the grand scheme of things. Eventually, to avoid the work and stress, he killed off Sherlock and attempted to move on to other projects. The fan response was incredible and with great reluctance he brought the character back to life.

The Whole Bushel

Before Arthur Conan Doyle was one of the most celebrated authors of all time, he was just a student learning to be a doctor. While Doyle was still studying, he found himself running short on cash and began writing to make up the shortfall. Even after he became a doctor, he still kept writing and eventually created the character of Sherlock Holmes.

Doyle started out writing Holmes adventures in the form of full-length novels, beginning with A Study in Scarlet. However, Doyle didn’t really care much for the genre in which Holmes was placed. He wanted to write about history and considered it much more important than detective fiction. In fact, he didn’t really consider his own work regarding Holmes to be high-class or worthy of much of anything. Doyle did like money though, and so he kept writing the stories. He eventually decided that he liked money even more and started writing short stories knowing that they would sell well in the magazine-heavy market.

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In time, his relationship with Holmes became less and less amiable. He wrote short stories that people absolutely loved, but for him they were not short works at all. For him, writing the adventures of Holmes was an incredible chore. He had to put an incredible amount of thought into a single short story due to the intricate plots and mysteries involved. And with further success came more deadlines and pressure. For his own sanity and to free himself from other projects, Doyle ultimately killed Holmes off in “The Final Problem.”

The backlash from the fans was incredible. Some accounts claim that people walked the streets with black armbands to mourn and protest the death of Sherlock Holmes. Another story says that Doyle was actually physically attacked by a woman with an umbrella for the sin of killing off his greatest character. Doyle was none too happy with this and didn’t relent on Sherlock’s death for awhile. At first he agreed to write The Hound of the Baskervilles, but set it before Holmes died. He also told the story mostly from Watson’s perspective with Holmes absent for most of the tale. This was clearly Doyle’s way of showing the fans how he felt about them dragging him kicking and screaming back into the world of detective fiction.

Doyle finally gave up, accepted the angry protests of his legion of fans, and allowed Holmes to truly come back to life. In the “Adventure of the Empty House,” Doyle wrote him back to life by claiming he had faked his own death to avoid his enemies, even though Doyle would easily have preferred he stay dead.

Show Me The Proof

PBS Mystery!: Doyle vs. Holmes
Wall Street Journal: Arthur Conan Doyle and the Burden of Sherlock Holmes

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