Michael Dirda in The Paris Review:
Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (1859–1930), wasn’t knighted in 1902 for creating its protagonist, Sherlock Holmes, though many readers feel he should have been. The literary journalist Christopher Morley, founder of the Baker Street Irregulars, declared that he actually should have been sainted. In fact, Arthur Conan Doyle only reluctantly added Sir to his name—for his services and writings during the Boer Wars—because his beloved mother talked him into it. On his books he austerely remained A. Conan Doyle “without,” as he said, “any trimmings.” Such modesty is characteristic of this altogether remarkable man, one who gave his own stolid John Bull appearance, down to the military mustache, not to his Great Detective, but to the loyal Dr. Watson. Appropriately, Conan Doyle once named “unaffectedness” as his own favorite virtue, then listed “manliness” as his favorite virtue in another man; “work” as his favorite occupation; “time well filled” as his ideal of happiness; “men who do their duty” as his favorite heroes in real life; and “affectation and conceit” as his pet aversions. It should thus come as no surprise that Conan Doyle’s books are all fairly transparent endorsements of chivalric ideals of honor, duty, courage, and greatness of heart.
In Javier Marías’s charming volume of essays called Written Lives, the Spanish novelist retells a well-known story about the writer and his family. Sir Arthur was traveling by train through South Africa and “one of his grown-up sons commented on the ugliness of a woman who happened to walk down the corridor. He had barely had time to finish this sentence when he received a slap and saw, very close to his, the flushed face of his old father, who said very mildly: ‘Just remember that no woman is ugly.’ ” While no man is on oath for lapidary inscriptions, nearly every student of Conan Doyle agrees that as man, writer, and citizen he strove to live up to the knightly words etched on his tombstone: “Steel true, blade straight.”