Sherlock Holmes is the most rational and scientific detective of them all. So why did his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, passionately believe in ghosts, fairies, and telepathy?
Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle is now best remembered as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, his creation has long taken on a life of his own and Sherlock Holmes is one of only a handful of truly globally renowned literary characters (he’s on an elite list along with characters such as Dracula, James Bond, or Tarzan, for example). But Arthur Conan Doyle was so much more than the creator of Sherlock Holmes. He was one of the greatest genre writers of his, or any, time. He wrote historical fiction, Gothic tales, horror, adventure stories, nautical tales, and much more besides (read more on Conan Doyle here and here).
What is far less well-known today, is that Arthur Conan Doyle was a spiritualist, a fervent supporter of a movement which claimed to be able to communicate with the dead.
Arthur Conan Doyle and Spiritualism
Conan Doyle spent the latter decades of his life engaged in various aspects of Spiritualism: attending seances, talking with mediums, taking spirit photographs, passionately defending the movement from skeptics and detractors. He even set up The Psychic Bookshop, on Victoria Street in central London. He wrote a history of Spiritualism and relentlessly advocated for, and funded, the movement. This has often been overlooked or ignored by fans of his writing, particularly given that it is so at odds with the beliefs of the rationalist Sherlock Holmes.
So, what exactly was Spiritualism and why was it such a major part of Victorian and early-twentieth-century thinking? Why did Conan Doyle convert so publicly to the movement? How different is reading Sherlock Holmes when you are aware of this?
Listen to Words To That Effect Episode 2 and find out. My guest this week is Professor Darryl Jones, of Trinity College Dublin.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s Gothic Tales, ed. Darryl Jones, is published by Oxford University Press and can be found here
Wasteland (Everything Fall)
Berth (Everything Fall)
Tide (Everything Fall)
Billions (Everything Fall)
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Lost World
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Complete Sherlock Holmes
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