The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection Lancelyn Green Bequest

Conan Doyle's career

The life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle illustrates the excitement anddiversity of the Victorian period as much as that of any other figure of this period. He was: a surgeon on a whaling ship; a GP; an apprentice eye-surgeon; an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate (twice); a multi-talented sportsman; behind the development of recreational skiing in Switzerland; a formidable public speaker; a campaigner against miscarriages of justice; and the head of an extraordinary family. In his autobiography, he wrote: ‘I have had a life which, for variety and romance, could, I think, hardly be exceeded.’ He was not far wrong.

Conan Doyle was a Victorian in so many ways: he was fascinated by travel, exploration, invention, and all things modern, with conventional values such as chivalry, duty, and honour. By the time of his death in July 1930, he had himself become a celebrity, achieving worldwide fame and notoriety through the popular newspapers, photography, and film – media which had all developed during the Victorian period.

Conan Doyle’s career illustrated how Victorian he was, with the Brigadier Gerard series, Professor Challenger fictions, and historical novels such as Sir Nigel, in different ways illustrating nineteenth-century interests in the Napoleonic Wars, evolution, science, and the future, as well as the medieval past and national history. Furthermore, Conan Doyle’s relationships with other writers of his time showed just how much he was part of the Victorian, and Edwardian literary scenes:

  1. He was close friends with, J. M. Barrie, with whom he wrote an operetta
  2. He was a friend and confidante of George Meredith, the great Victorian novelist
  3. He formed a society to campaign for a change in the divorce law with Thomas Hardy, author of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge
  4. He holidayed with H. G. Wells (another one-time resident of Southsea and the author of The Time Machine and War of the Worlds) in Italy in 1898
  5. He shared Thanksgiving in Vermont in 1894 with Rudyard Kipling, during which time he taught Kipling to play golf

As his work with Thomas Hardy illustrated, Conan Doyle was also a campaigning figure: fighting for changes in the ways in which the army fought and operated, as well as successfully helping in the release of two prisoners convicted of crimes they did not commit, George Edalji and Oscar Slater.

Find out more about Conan Doyle and his family



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