I still believe Doyle may have been the most gullible man who ever lived (Dr. John Dee being a distant second), and that his knighthood came from writing propaganda in defense of the indefensible, but I hadn't realized he was essentially a neocon, always ready to weigh in supporting any expansion of the Empire. The biographers try hard to argue that Doyle is Holmes, whereas a far better case can be made out for him being a Watson who thought he was a Holmes. They argue, with varying degrees of unsuccess, for the importance of Doyle's historical novels about the Hundred Years' War and other work, at one point raising the question of what would be "his place in literature" had he never written the Holmes stories. That, too, is easy for an outsider to answer: None. Without the Holmes series, he'd be about as well known today as W. W. Jacobs; it's his one enduring claim to fame. Finally, it was fascinating to see how the Doyle family --first his widow, then his son, and finally his daughter-- manipulated Doyle scholars for three-quarters of a century, dangling out the hope of access to 'the family archives' in return for biographers portraying A.C.D. the way his family wanted him portrayed (i.e., not as he was but as they imagined him to be).* This is the same archive the loss of access to seems to have driven Richard L. Green to suicide, his long-planned biography, decades in the researching, apparently still unwritten.
Quite aside from Doyle being an interesting fellow to read about, I was struck by some parallels to Tolkien studies.
First, like Doyle, Tolkien essentially created his own genre, reducing those who came before to precursors** and branding those who came after as successors.
Second, both Doyle and Tolkien enjoyed decades of popularity without academic support.
Third, each attracted the attention of a cadre of independent scholars, publishing in their own self-generated journals that only gradually, reluctantly, grudgingly over time began to gain some critical acceptance.
Still, I'm glad I'm a Tolkien scholar rather than a Doyle scholar. I'd rather defend "Goblin Feet" over THE COMING OF THE FAIRIES anyday.
*for example, none of the contributors to Lellenberg's book seem to be able to bring themselves to say that Houdini exposed Mrs. Doyle as a fraudulent medium -- a pretty big piece of evidence to suppress (one, and only one, does add a ftnt admitting that Houdini left an account of the incident that differs from Doyle's).
**one biographer's unflattering description of "The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes" (that is, the first generation of Doyle's imitators and successors) notes "To describe the stories as invariably clumsy would be to overgeneralize, but a brisk trot through them gives the impression of haste and disinterest, and sheer incompetence" -- which might stand as a fair description of several of the more famous 'in the tradition of Tolkien' fantasy series from the seventies and eighties and nineties.