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Talking with Arthur Conan Doyle

Posted on 20 April 2010, 20:34

With reference to my last blog, I’ve been talking with Conan Doyle about his parents; or trying to. As a therapist, I’m well aware how rarely people are able to speak truthfully about their parents, and this was certainly my experience of Conan Doyle, who struggled with this.

The reality was that his father was an alcoholic who spent the last 15 years of his life in various institutions in Scotland. The cause of his death was given as ‘epilepsy of many years standing’. In his memoirs, however, Doyle makes no mention of this, speaking only of his father’s painting gifts and his sensitivity.

What were his true feelings? His fictional work points to deep shame and anger. His story called ‘The Sealed Room’ involves a father who, unable to pay his debts, locks himself in a sealed room, takes poison and dies there, not wishing to place yet more stress on his wife who has a heart condition. While ‘The Japanned Box’, another of his tales, features a man who lived a life of drinking and gambling, sitting by a phonograph several times a day, playing back his dead wife’s pleadings not to indulge in the drinking which had ruined him as a young man.

In his fiction at least we find a world of locked rooms, thick walls and dark secrets; a world where the dead wield power over the living; where advice is tragically unheeded, where alcohol destroys and where pain lives on.

The pain Doyle couldn’t acknowledge was buried in his fiction. Van Gogh’s approach was a little different: more next time.


If there was no tragedy would there be an artist ? I find that most writers drank but Doyle did not as the example of his father was too painful. Freud and how our parents had made a mark on us. So much pain in the world but so much beauty seems to accompany the miserable !

Gina Savchuk/Jones, Sat 15 May, 07:26

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