Defend ACD - Who decides literary importance?

Arthur Conan Doyle must be the most popular under-appreciated author of recent times. During many of the discussions about Undershaw and why the home of such a famous writer should not be accorded the same level of reverence as that shown for the houses of Dickens and Austen it was suggested that Conan Doyle was simply not in the same class.

A great man and author

This of course begs the question – by what criteria are you determining class? If it’s longevity then the case for Conan Doyle being up there with Dickens and Austen is very strong. If it is frequency of screen adaptation then Conan Doyle is, I think, streets ahead. So exactly by what criteria is he deemed inferior?

Is it because his most famous work was in short-story form rather than novels? Or is it really down to a combination of snobbery and mockery? Is Conan Doyle ranked low by the self-appointed guardians of literary history because he is most famous for his work in the crime genre? These fools need to look at his other output. You should be measured on what you have produced not just what you are known for. You should also be measured by the impact that your work has on people. A person’s body of work is great if it moves people en masse not just if it moves the self-appointed arbiters of literary taste.
Countless adaptations
Arthur Conan Doyle’s non-fiction work on the Boer and First World Wars may be largely forgotten, his work on spiritualism and fairies may be mocked but they still exist and are still read (even if only by a few). Beyond doubt is the fact that his creation of the characters of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, Professor Challenger - and their adventures - has moved and entertained people from day one. Other authors and film makers owe, whether they appreciate it or not, a debt to Conan Doyle for laying the ground rules for so much of modern crime writing and drama. Yes, people will say, Poe invented the genre but Conan Doyle, in my opinion, really made people properly take notice of it and a lot of what you can see in modern crime has parallels to Conan Doyle’s work.

Entirely relevant to today

Continually popular - even adored

ACD inspires people to guard his memory...

...even in court

His characters are popular "in person" as well as on screen

If anything, Dickens and Austen are in Conan Doyle's shadow today rather than the other way round. Maybe that is what literary snobs just cannot stand.

Not in the same class - my foot!!

For more information on Arthur Conan Doyle and his time at Undershaw please refer to my book, An Entirely New Country which is available through all good bookstores including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Classic Specialities, and in all electronic formats including iTunes, Kobo, Nook and Kindle .

The Norwood Author is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Waterstones UK, Amazon UK,  Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon Kindle, iBooks for the iPad/iPhone, Kobo Books, Nook.

Close to Holmes is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USABarnes and NobleAmazon UKWaterstones UKAmazon KindleKoboNook  and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.

Eliminate the Impossible is available from all good bookstores, in many formats worldwide including Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, Amazon Kindle, Kobo, Nook and iBooks for the iPad/iPhone.


  1. I am a Sherlockian, but recently I have been reading some of Doyle's other works. Long ago I had read the Professor Challenger stories and liked them (although I am not a fan of Challenger converting to Spiritualism). Within the past year I read the complete Brigadier Gerard--wonderfully entertaining stories of action and humor; "Rodney Stone", which reads very much like Jane Austen--a Regency age coming-of-age comedy-of-manners page-turner but with boxing replacing romance; and the short story collections "The Captain of the Polestar" and "Round the Red Lamp", which show Doyle to be the master of the form and showcasing his interests in love in all its manifestations, the sea, medicine, horror and the supernatural, and humor. We Sherlockians may only have 60 stories that we have read many times, but there is much more to Doyle, and I've only dipped my toe in the waters. He was a multifaceted writer and man and he certainly is in the same class as Dickens and Austen.

  2. I do think that Doyle is at least as worthy of note as Robert Louis Stevenson. RLS is perhaps a better comparison than Dickens or Austen as being a closer contemporary. Both had a wide-ranging sets of memorable characters and milieus, and have somewhat settled down with a few very famous highlights, and a good deal of other works still very much worthy of reading. I believe that RLS was considered somewhat "popular" at the time, too. And if not "Haute" literature, at least the sort of thing which gets folks started reading novels, instead of comic books, at a young age. ACD, RLS, (and Jules Verne in translation, too, to go Challengerishly scifi), suffer from rampant juvenilization of their works, which lessens the overall impression of their public image.
    Continuing on the Scottish theme - perhaps ACD's historical work, especially the medieval, may be compared to (fellow knight) Sir Walter Scott?
    And across the Channel, with the dashing Brigadier Gerard - is ACD perhaps the English Dumas?
    Are any of these other authors: Stevenson, Scott, Verne, or Dumas, themselves less worthy than Dickens and Austin? And, doesn't ACD have characteristics of them all?

    1. Well said. ACD would have appreciated the comparison with Scott.