How Arthur Conan Doyle Created and Tried to Kill Sherlock Holmes

An illustration from Beeton’s Christmas Annual for A Study in Scarlet. Wikimedia

2. A Study in Scarlet was not well received at first

The magazine publication of Doyle’s first novel did not generate immediate interest. It did receive some laudatory critical reviews, and in the summer of 1888 its publisher released it in book form. The book sold sufficiently to justify a second edition in 1889, and an American edition the following year. In 1890 Doyle submitted a second novel, The Sign of the Four. The work was commissioned for a new magazine, a British version of the popular American Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. Meeting with the publisher at a dinner also attended by Oscar Wilde, Doyle at first hesitated to return to his fictional detective, but was attracted by the sum offered.

The dinner resulted in Wilde receiving a commission for a work as well, which led to him writing and submitting The Picture of Dorian Gray. The Sign of the Four appeared in Lippincott’s in February, 1890, in both the British and American editions. Wilde’s work, the only novel he ever published, appeared in July of that year. The two Holmes novels established most of the features exhibited by the detective for the remainder of Doyle’s stories in which he appeared, including his use of cocaine, his fondness for tobacco, his prodigious physical strength, and his indifference to women. Playing the violin and bouts of melancholy also appeared, as well as the disheveled state of the quarters which he shared with Dr. Watson.