'I see you have quite gone over to the supernaturalists' : the spiritual and scientific Arthur Conan Doyle

Beck, David Michael

November 2012

Thesis or dissertation

© 2012 David Michael Beck. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This thesis examines the mistaken premise that Arthur Conan Doyle abandoned rational enquiry in order to embrace the supernatural, including spiritualism. It explores how Doyle’s diverse fiction and non-fiction define potentially supernatural phenomena as originating in the natural world. Consequently, for Doyle, the supernatural did not exist. This thesis investigates how Doyle advocated that new undetected natural laws could be investigated by science to establish unusual phenomena, including the existence of fairies and spiritualism. Through a reading of Doyle’s autobiographical, medical, detective, imperial and science fictions this thesis traces his scientific trajectory from gothicised supernatural to spiritualism. It considers how mental illness and addiction can provide heightened perceptions of potentially supernatural visions. It also examines how Doyle’s interpretation of medical realism gothicised sexual transgression that eventually led to him challenging his early creation of a religious schema that incorporated natural selection. At the core of this thesis is a metaphor from ‘Lot No. 249’ that demonstrates Doyle’s belief that the shadows that darken the limits of the natural world could be illuminated by science. This thesis uses Doyle’s metaphor to examine Sherlock Holmes’s role in The Hound of the Baskervilles that provides the detective with a method to investigate unusual phenomena. Doyle’s romance of imperial exploration and scientific medical self-experimentation merge with his interest in unusual phenomena. This enables an examination of Watson’s experience with a deadly drug in ‘The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot’ that can be read as an encounter with a spirit-entity. This thesis continues by examining Doyle’s science fiction stories that include his belief that circumstantial evidence and eye witness testimony should be utilised to sway scientific scepticism. The thesis concludes by noting how the author finally embraced spiritualism through ideas of spiritual salvation amidst a world doomed by their material pleasures, before briefly examining Doyle’s belief that science could still explain unusual phenomena by adapting technology.

Department of English, The University of Hull
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