Victorian Literature Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Tom Bragg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0018


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (b. 1859–d. 1930) was a Scottish physician, writer, and spiritualist most famous for being the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Extraordinarily prolific and multifaceted, Conan Doyle composed not only the Sherlock Holmes fiction, which comprises four novels and fifty-six short stories, but also fictional series about other recurring characters such as Professor Challenger; lengthy and detailed historical romances; numerous horror, mystery, science fiction and adventure stories; and a series of nonfiction books on spiritualist topics. He also wrote a history of the Boer War, for which he received a knighthood, and a popular autobiography. Though Conan Doyle considered his historical novels and later spiritual writings to constitute his most important work, today he is most read and studied for his contributions to genre fiction, especially the enduringly popular Sherlock Holmes series.

General Overviews

Articles and books discussing the Sherlock Holmes stories, adaptations, and pop culture manifestations are abundant. Critical takes on Conan Doyle’s other writings are harder to come by, although his work is often discussed in critical perspectives of contemporaries such as Kipling, Rider Haggard, and Stevenson. Below are listed a few places for the beginner to get started, as well a sampling of some of the most interesting recent articles. Hall 1978, Orel 1992, and Hodgson 1994 together offer a useful sampling of essays covering a broad range of Conan Doyle’s fictional works. Cox 1985 and Jaffe 1987 are simple and straightforward critical and biographical overviews. Eyles 1986 is an accessible and popular chronological account of Conan Doyle’s career, with the focus mostly on the Sherlock Holmes stories and phenomenon. Clausen 1984 situates Sherlock Holmes within late Victorian ideas of normalcy. Rosenberg 1974 is a semiclassic of Sherlock Holmes criticism, examining the stories for allegorical devices.

  • Clausen, Christopher. “Sherlock Holmes, Order, and the Late-Victorian Mind.” Georgia Review 38.1 (Spring 1984): 104–123.

    Clausen’s smart article connects the detective story as a genre with domestic desires for order and normalcy, with the detective figured as the repairer of fissures in the social order.

  • Cox, Don Richard. Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1985.

    Cox’s book provides a brief biography of Conan Doyle and a solid discussion of his work, with a focus on the Sherlock Holmes fiction. Though brief, the book adequately details Conan Doyle’s forays into historical fiction and other genres.

  • Eyles, Allen. Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. New York: Harper and Row, 1986.

    Published on the one hundredth anniversary of the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, this glossy, illustrated overview of the Sherlock Holmes mythos provides an unexpectedly thorough and considerate portrait of Conan Doyle the man. Though not a scholarly work by any means, Eyles’s survey is an accessible and informative place to begin a study of the Holmes phenomenon, examining the creation and development of the original stories as well as considering various multimedia adaptations.

  • Hall, Trevor. Sherlock Holmes and His Creator. London: Duckworth, 1978.

    Despite the title, this collection of essays by Hall explores Conan Doyle’s writings variously, not limiting itself to discussing the Sherlock Holmes stories. Like Jeffery Meikle’s article a few years earlier, Hall makes a scholarly and intelligent attempt to comprehend Conan Doyle’s spiritualist conversion.

  • Hodgson, John A., ed. Sherlock Holmes: The Major Stories with Critical Essays. Boston: Bedford, 1994.

    Anthology reprints some the most important short stories including “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Red-Headed League,” interspersed with interpretive essays. Novitiates should begin here for any critical overview of Sherlock Holmes.

  • Jaffe, Jacqueline A. Arthur Conan Doyle. Twayne’s English Author Series. Boston: Twayne, 1987.

    Books in Twayne’s English Author Series provide a brief, mostly chronological overview of the subject’s life and oeuvre. Jaffe’s book focuses especially on the Holmes fiction but pays ample attention to the historical novels and the scientific romances. Like most studies of Conan Doyle, the spiritualist writings of his late career are relatively neglected.

  • Orel, Harold, ed. Critical Essays on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992.

    An excellent and varied anthology that includes Stephen Knight’s “The Case of the Great Detective” and other oft-cited pieces on Sherlock Holmes. Also includes pieces on the other fiction and Conan Doyle’s place in the literary canon. Begin here for an overview of critical opinion on Conan Doyle. Authors include Dorothy L. Sayers, Andrew Lang, Arthur Morrison, and Lydia Alix Fillingham.

  • Rosenberg, Samuel. Naked is the Best Disguise. Indianapolis, IN, and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974.

    Rosenberg’s sometimes strange study examines allegorical devices at work in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Veering close to Sherlockian writing in its tone, import, and assumptions, the work is insightful enough to have become something of a classic in Sherlock Holmes criticism.

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