The Norwood Author - Arthur Conan Doyle and the Norwood Years (1891 - 1894) by Alistair Duncan

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The Norwood Author - Arthur Conan Doyle and the Norwood Years (1891 - 1894) by Alistair Duncan

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Category: Biography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A detailed look at the three years Conan Doyle spent while living in South Norwood, during the early part of his career as a writer.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 226 Date: March 2010
Publisher: MX Publishing
ISBN: 978-1904312697

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At the age of 32 Dr Arthur Conan Doyle moved from London to a house in South Norwood, at that time part of Surrey, in June 1891. It found him at the stage when he was torn between pursuing a career as an eye specialist and trying to make a living through his writing, after he had sold a few stories to magazines. Shortly before the move, he had been confined to bed for three weeks with influenza, and while recovering from what had briefly threatened to be a fatal illness (or so he believed), he took the decision to abandon medicine in favour of becoming a full-time author. A few Sherlock Holmes stories had been published, but the man with the deerstalker and pipe had yet to make an impact on the reading public, and his creator could not yet call himself an established writer. Nevertheless, within the next few years he and the fictional detective were to become household names.

Although much of his time at Norwood was inevitably spent in writing, he immersed himself fully in various aspects of local and community life. As a keen sportsman, he joined the Norwood Cricket Club at once and made a successful debut in an away game only five days after moving into the house. He also became a member of the Upper Norwood Literary and Scientific Society, just in time to become involved in the ramifications of a controversial appearance at one of its debates by the women's rights activist Annie Besant. Although he probably did not attend the occasion, her speech provoked uproar and several letters in the local press, mostly coming to her defence, after the chairman, a local clergyman, angrily denounced her. Within a few months, he had resigned and Conan Doyle was proposed as President.

Throughout the three years he was not only busy with local affairs and with his writing, but also away elsewhere in England and also abroad on business much of the time. It was also a traumatic time for him and his family, for in the same month his alcoholic father died, and his wife Louise was diagnosed with consumption. She was given only a few months to live, although she survived another thirteen years. At around the same time there was another 'death'. He 'killed off' Sherlock Holmes in his story 'The Final Problem', but such was the public outcry (and, perhaps more importantly, the temptation of further financial reward) that the detective was later resurrected to appear in what would be Conan Doyle's most successful and enduring story ever – though that is beyond the scope of this book.

His wife's declining health appears to have been the main factor in a decision to leave the area, and in September 1894 he left for the United States on a tour of speaking engagements. By this time the house had been put up for sale, and on returning to England he and Louise settled at Haslemere.

This book does an excellent job in detailing his activities as a resident of Norwood. There is a comprehensive choice of illustrations, both old and new, and appendices on relevant articles about him in the 'Norwood News' as well as his cricket performances. Also included is a brief note of what happened to him and his contemporaries in the ensuing years, and on how Norwood celebrates the legacy of their famous resident over a hundred years later, not least with an exhibition at the local Wetherspoons. The solid research has clearly been a labour of love, and the result is a concise volume with which no Conan Doyle enthusiast should be without.

Our thanks to MX Publishing for sending Bookbag a copy for review.

If you enjoy this, why not also try another book about the author by the same writer, Close to Holmes, which examines his London connections, or for a complete biography, The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, by Russell Miller.

Buy The Norwood Author - Arthur Conan Doyle and the Norwood Years (1891 - 1894) by Alistair Duncan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Norwood Author - Arthur Conan Doyle and the Norwood Years (1891 - 1894) by Alistair Duncan at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Norwood Author - Arthur Conan Doyle and the Norwood Years (1891 - 1894) by Alistair Duncan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Norwood Author - Arthur Conan Doyle and the Norwood Years (1891 - 1894) by Alistair Duncan at Amazon.com.

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