Arthur Conan Doyle secretly hated his creation Sherlock Holmes and blamed the cerebral detective character for denying him recognition as the author of highbrow historical fiction, according to the historian Lucy Worsley.
Doyle was catapulted from “obscurity to worldwide fame” after his crime stories began appearing in a magazine in 1891, Worsley writes in the Radio Times. Eleven years later he was awarded a knighthood.
Yet “beneath the surface he was a discontented man”, according to Worsley.
Conan Doyle struggled to find a publisher for his Sherlock stories after initially approaching the intellectual Cornhill magazine. “Only after they, and two others, rejected Mr Holmes, was he finally accepted by a fourth, much trashier, publisher. They said the work was exactly what they were looking for: ‘cheap fiction’.”
Holmes was lucrative for Conan Doyle, but the author decided to kill him off once he had earned him enough money, sending him over a Swiss waterfall in 1893.
“A decade later, though, Arthur was lured to resurrect him when an American publisher offered him the equivalent of $1.6m,” wrote Worsley.
“Arthur must have hated himself. And he would have hated the fact that today, 93 years after his death, his historical novels lie unread, while his ‘cheap’ – but beloved – detective lives forever on our screens.”
Sherlock Holmes is the most popular fictional detective in history. Conan Doyle wrote four novels and 56 short stories about the mastermind’s pursuit of criminals using his observational skills and powers of deduction.
Most of the stories are narrated by Holmes’s sidekick, Dr Watson, who shared his quarters at 221B Baker Street.
The Sherlock Holmes stories have been adapted for stage, film and television, with Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Cushing, Roger Moore, Ian McKellen, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston and Jonathan Pryce among those who have played the deerstalker-hatted detective. Basil Rathbone played Holmes in 14 movies.
Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh and trained as a doctor before taking up writing. He was twice an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate, and became fascinated by spiritualism after the death of his son. The writer died of a heart attack in 1930, at the age of 71.