- Paperback: 496 pages
- Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (January 23, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805066845
- ISBN-13: 978-0805066845
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 25 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,623,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle Paperback – January 23, 2001
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Despite (or because of) the tremendous success of his Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle always tended to play down their value and importance in his life. Just before his death in 1930, he drew a memorable sketch of his life's work. Conan Doyle portrayed events from his life as a series of packing cases being loaded onto a wagon and pulled by a flea-bitten workhorse. Perhaps the heaviest case of all, notes Daniel Stashower in his fascinating biography Teller of Tales, is the one that reads "Sherlock Holmes."
Stashower's intent is to show that Conan Doyle was not Sherlock Holmes, and that his life consisted of much more than the now ridiculed spiritualism to which he devoted much of his later years. He succeeds to a surprising degree, convincing us that The White Company and Sir Nigel (forgotten novels that Conan Doyle thought were his best) are indeed worth reading. As for the spiritualism, Stashower meticulously places his subject's long fascination with it into a compassionate and fully researched social context. We come away certain that Conan Doyle (along with many other worthy citizens of the period) really believed in it. --Dick Adler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
An elementary life of the writer, historian, and activist who wanted to be remembered as more than just the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Novelist Stashower (Elephants in the Distance, 1989, etc.), like many fans of the Great Detective, is somewhat disappointed that Holmess creator tried so hard to live him down. Still, Conan Doyle's latest biographer has immersed himself in all his works, from Professor Challenger's proto-sci-fi adventures, Brigadier Gerard's Napoleonic exploits, and assorted historical novels, to his detailed nonfiction and obsessive Spiritualist outputnot to mention, also, the authors phenomenally active life. The origins of Holmes are well enough known: for example, how the young Edinburgh-trained doctor, languishing in a Portsmouth practice, decided to write a detective story, basing his hero on his old medical school lecturer, Dr. Joseph Bell. Stashower offers no revelations about this or other aspects of Conan Doyle's early life, though by keeping a clear sense of context, he does scour the self-deprecation that Conan Doyle cast over them later. Indeed, if Conan Doyle had not made the serious career error of trying to start an ophthalmology practice in London, Stashower argues, he might well have remained a general practitioner with a literary sideline. Even as Sherlock Holmes took off in the Strand magazine, the author valued other projects more, such as his historical novels. And as he turned his prodigious energies to other interestsfor instance, skiing in the Swiss Alps, running for a seat in Parliament, enlisting as a medical officer in the Boer War, campaigning against wrongful convictions (notably the cases of George Edalji and Oscar Slater), and finally, SpiritualismStashower can suggest only that Conan Doyles crusading zeal served as a replacement for his early, lost Catholic faith and that his belief in the Cottingley fairy hoax could be rooted in his institutionalized father's own fancies. A doggedly thorough investigation, though missing a few psychological clues. (b&w photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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"Even so, he would come to have qualms about this “murderous harvest,” as he called it. “Yet amid all the excitement—and no one who has not held an oar in such a scene can tell how exciting it is—one’s sympathies lie with the poor hunted creature. The whale has a small eye, little larger than that of a bullock, but I cannot easily forget the mute expostulation which I read in one, as it dimmed over in death within hand’s touch of me."
Conan Doyle's creation of Sherlock Holmes is related in vivid fashion, as is his fascination with spiritualism. This book covers his very active life in great detail. It is to be recommended to anyone curious about the writer of one of the most influential themes of the modern world.
The extended Doyle clan were prosperous Irish-Catholic families, who had a prominent position in the art world. Charles Doyle, Arthur's father, a chronic alcoholic, was the only member of his family, who apart from fathering a brilliant son, never accomplished anything of note and was institutionalized for the greater part of Arthur's life. At the age of twenty-two, Charles had married Mary Foley, a vivacious and very well educated young woman of seventeen.
Mary Doyle had a passion for books and was a master storyteller. Her son Arthur wrote of his mother's gift of "sinking her voice to a horror-stricken whisper" when she reached the culminating point of a story. There was little money in the family and even less harmony on account of his father's excesses and erratic behavior. Arthur's touching description of his mother's beneficial influence is also poignantly described in his biography, "In my early childhood, as far as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life."
It is safe to say that Arthur Conan Doyle turned his life's adventure into literature. As a whaling crew's physician and adventurer, he walked on ice floes, killed seals, and nearly drowned. As a merchantman's crew physician he explored the coast of Africa and battled typhoid among the crew and within himself. As a war correspondent, as a medical volunteer in during the Boer War, as WWI front line army administration observer, he always wrote for himself, his familiar and then later turned the adventure into fiction or military history.
Made famous by Sherlock Holmes, Doyle created other popular characters such as Professor Challenger and Brigadier Gerard. Challenger visited The Lost World
and Brigadier Girard a variety of Victorian Era conflicts. Doyle wrote and invested his theatre plays, sometimes writing well and making returns on his money, other times not. Critics give Doyle recognition for his combat scenes in The White Company and in his administrative reports from the European and Italian Fronts of WWI. In three instances, Doyle challenged judicial convictions of those whom he felt to be innocent or unrepresented before the bar. Establishing a reputation that would be today called an Innocense Mission, he investigated and paid from his own pocket judicial appeals in capital and non-capital crimes.
Throughout his life, he felt infuriated, challenged, and intrigued by the spiritual realm. Having been sternly educated in a Jesuit school, exposed to other cultures view of death in his travels, and finding evidence of an afterlife in his own life's experiences, Doyle practiced Spiritualism. Mediums using automatic writing and channeling spirits were apart of the last three decades of Doyle's life. In part, having lost sons and nephews in WWI, his investigation of Spiritualism gave him some comfort. Spiritualism came to the fore during the 1830s and continued to be matter of scientific investigation by early psychologists through until 1930s in both Europe and America.
Hale and hardy throughout his life, Doyle eagerly embraced sports but not hunting. An avid but unskilled driver of the new automobile, he wrecked a vehicle near his house and was pinned under the car in such a fashion that his back carried the weight of the vehicle. After several minutes his nearby friends lifted the auto off of him and he slowly walked away from the accident. With his reputation for great strength, none of his friends were surprised that his back could carry the weight of vehicle for several minutes and not collapse his chest.
Stashower's biography is well worth reading for its glimpse into the Victorian Era and its description of a writer's life well lived.
ACD propelled himself into dozens of crusades, including the Boer War, several legal cases and even the 1926 disappearance of Agatha Christie. He ran for public office. He bounced between practicing medicine, going on expeditions, lecturing in Europe, North America, and Australia, writing meticulously researched historical fiction, trying his hand at poetry, producing theatrical efforts, publishing propaganda-laced political tracts, relentlessly championing spiritualism, and playing sports. To know him only as the creator of Sherlock Holmes and Watson is to leave about 90% of his life unacknowledged. Living to be a bit over 71 years old, the subject of this biography finished his days in 1930 as a promoter for spiritualism and life after death; in direct apparent conflict with the logic of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle insisted (even when scientific and eyewitness proof emerged to the contrary) that he had a sense of duty to publicize the benefits of the psychic world. My only major criticism of this book lies in the amount of space Stashower devotes to ACD's desire to go down in history as a "religious reformer"; much of the detail was overwritten and repetitious, qualities that did not appear in the book at large. (On the other hand, if it has to be said, where else would one expect to find it?) Another small criticism: A saga like this needs more photos!
"Teller of Tales" is not a hagiography. Stashower finds plenty of serious contradictions in ACD's long writing career. Doubts remain about Conan Doyle's state of mind during his last decade, once he lost loved ones in WW I. Stashower does a fine job of weaving real-life people (especially figures such as Houdini, Kipling and Harte) and events into Conan Doyle's life. Disappointments in his private affairs are handled in a sensitive manner. Where the author cannot find references, he has the courage to say so. Another surprise: While ACD allowed Sherlock Holmes to dismiss Poe's Dupin as "very inferior" to himself, Conan Doyle readily acknowledged a reverential debt to Poe ("master of all") and his fictional detective.
This is a full-rounded portrait of what turns out to be a widely misunderstood man. I'm definitely onboard to read whatever book Stashower next produces. Oh, and: Sursum Corda! ("Lift up your hearts!")