10 Things You (Probably) Don't Know About Arthur Conan Doyle

130 years ago, in December 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous literary creation appeared in the first of many books: A Study in Scarlet. Introducing Sherlock and Dr Watson, the book tells the story of an intricate murder plot, spanning generations and continents, which the two men must work together to solve.  

To celebrate the iconic sleuth’s first appearance, we’ve compiled a few fun facts about the book as well as Conan Doyle himself that (we think) you won’t have heard.

A Study in Scarlet wasn’t the original title

Conan Doyle had originally entitled his work A Tangled Skein and it received many rejections prior to its initial publication by Ward, Lock & Co in Beeton’s Christmas Annual, where it appeared under the title, A Study in Scarlet.

Initial sales were pretty poor

Despite its iconic status in the literary canon, contemporary audiences were said to be underwhelmed by both the story and the amateur detective. Only ten copies of the Beeton’s Christmas Annual where the story first appeared are said to have survived.

Contemporary audiences were said to be underwhelmed by both the story and the amateur detective

It was banned by an American school in 2011

As a result of complaints from parents regarding its critical presentation of Mormon society, the Latter Day Saints, schools from Albemarle County, Virginia took the decision to remove A Study in Scarlet from its reading lists in 2011.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a spat with George Bernard Shaw over the Titanic disaster

Apparently Conan Doyle and fellow novelist George Bernard Shaw had a public disagreement following the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Conan Doyle was said to be unhappy with what he deemed Shaw's dismissive comments about alleged acts of bravery from people on board as the ship was going down.

Conan Doyle was a bit of a sportsman

Conan Doyle enjoyed many different sports in his lifetime: he played as a goalkeeper for amateur team Portsmouth Association Football Team (now Portsmouth FC) under the pseudonym AC Smith, played cricket with Peter Pan author JM Barrie, and helped to raise awareness of skiing in Britain after learning from two locals following a move to Davos, Switzerland to aid his wife’s health.   

He believed in fairies

In 1917, cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths released five photographs which seemed to show them interacting with fairies. Elsie’s mother and father disagreed on the photos’ authenticity and when in 1919 it made its way into the public consciousness, Conan Doyle wrote of his belief that they were, in fact, authentic in The Coming of the Fairies. Wright and Griffiths would later admit that four of the five photos were fake.  

Holmes didn’t get him knighted

Despite the fame that (eventually) came with Holmes, that's not what brought Conan Doyle his knighthood. In 1900 Conan Doyle travelled to South Africa, working as a volunteer doctor treating wounded soldiers in a hospital in Bloemfontein. Upon his return he put his experiences on paper, producing the non-fiction pamphlet The Great Boer War, which was published in 1900. It was this, Conan Doyle believed, that earned him his knighthood in 1902.

Conan Doyle worked as a volunteer doctor treating wounded soldiers in a hospital in Bloemfontein

Conan Doyle was a dedicated advocate of Spiritualism

Conan Doyle was one of the most renowned public figures that supported the theories of Spiritualism, believing the spirit of the dead continued to exist and were contactable by the living. He published a number of books on the topic, including Wanderings of a Spiritualist and Our American Adventure. Conan Doyle did encounter some opposition to his convictions, however; most notably from famed American magician Harry Houdini.

There is a square named after the author in Switzerland

Meiringen, Switzerland was the scene of The Adventure of the Final Problem and in 1988 the town erected a statue of the famous detective within the village square. The square itself was later renamed Conan Doyle Place.

He came from a very artistic family

Conan Doyle came from a highly creative background. His grandfather was a celebrated caricaturist known as HB, who counted Charles Dickens, Walter Scott and William Makepeace Thackeray amongst his friends (and who rubbed shoulders with Queen Victoria and the future Edward VII!). Three of Conan Doyle's uncles were artists (Richard Doyle designed the first cover of Punch magazine, along with their masthead, which was used by more than a century) and so was his father. Conan Doyle's father, in fact, drew the illustrations for an 1888 edition of... A Study in Scarlet

Fancy reading about some more masters of deduction? We’ve got a Book List for that.

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