9. An Exciting Christmas Eve, or, My Lecture on Dynamite

'An Exciting Christmas Eve, or, My Lecture on Dynamite' is a semi-comic short story, written by Conan Doyle in summer 1882 and first published in December 1883.

You can read the stories here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=An_Exciting_Christmas_Eve.

The episode can be heard here: http://doingsofdoyle.podbean.com/.



After a successful, and inadvertently eventful, student career at Heidelberg, Herr Doctor Otto von Spee, expert in explosives, has settled down to a peaceful life as a private tutor and research scientist in Berlin. However, his peace is shattered one wild and tempestuous Christmas Eve when he is called out unwillingly on an emergency medical errand, which results in an impromptu lecture to a particularly dangerous audience...

Writing and publication history

Written in summer 1882 and first published in the Boy’s Own Paper in December 1883.

Republished in Every Boy’s Monthly in Feb-March 1905.

J. M. Gibson and R. L. Green, The Uncollected Conan Doyle (1982).


International terrorism, Nihilism and Fenianism

Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_I_of_Russia.

Tsar Alexander II (1855-1881), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_II_of_Russia.

Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite (1833-96). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Nobel

James Stevens, Fenian leader (1825-1901). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Stephens_(Fenian)

R. L. Stevenson & F. Stevenson, More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter (1885), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/More_New_Arabian_Nights:_The_Dynamiter.

Oscar Wilde, Vera; or the Nihilists (c. 1880), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vera;_or,_The_Nihilists.

Vera Zasulich, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vera_Zasulich.

Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (1862), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fathers_and_Sons_(novel).


Semi-autobiographical elements

Feldkirch, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feldkirch,_Vorarlberg.

Stella Matutina, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stella_Matutina_(Jesuit_school).

O. D. Edwards, The Quest for Sherlock Holmes (1983).


The Anarchists

Friedrich Staps, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Staps.

Felice Orsini, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felice_Orsini.

Francois Ravaillac (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7ois_Ravaillac.

Tsar Paul I, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_I_of_Russia#Assassination.

Cesare Lombroso, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cesare_Lombroso.


Related Conan Doyle works

'A Night Among the Nihilists' (1881), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=A_Night_Among_the_Nihilists.

'Touch and Go: A Midshipman’s Story' (1886), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=Touch_and_Go:_A_Midshipman%27s_Story.

'That Little Square Box' (1881), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=That_Little_Square_Box.

'The Winning Shot' (1883), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Winning_Shot.

'The Silver Hatchet' (1883), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Silver_Hatchet.

'A Pastoral Horror' (1890), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=A_Pastoral_Horror.

'The Great Keinplatz Experiment' (1885), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Great_Keinplatz_Experiment.

'Danger! Being the Log of Captain John Sirius' (1914), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=Danger!.

'The Story of the Man with the Watches' (1898), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Story_of_the_Man_with_the_Watches.


Sherlockian connections

'A Study in Scarlet' (1887), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=A_Study_in_Scarlet.

'A Scandal in Bohemia' (1891), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=A_Scandal_in_Bohemia.

'The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter' (1893), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Adventure_of_the_Greek_Interpreter.

'The Adventure of the Red Circle' (1911), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Adventure_of_the_Red_Circle.

'His Last Bow' (1917), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=His_Last_Bow.

'The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez' (1904), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Adventure_of_the_Golden_Pince-Nez.

Chris Redmond, ‘Nihilism, NKVD, and the Napoleon of Crime’ (Sherlock Holmes Journal, v.7, n4, p.104-7).


Absurdist anarchist stories

R. L. Stevenson & F. Stevenson, More New Arabian Nights: The Dynamiter (1885), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/More_New_Arabian_Nights:_The_Dynamiter.

Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime (1887), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Arthur_Savile%27s_Crime_and_Other_Stories.

G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Was_Thursday.

Jack London, The Assassination Bureau (1916), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Assassination_Bureau#Original_novel.

Eugene Moret, An Anarchist (Strand Magazine, 1894).


Next time on the Doings of Doyle…

Conan Doyle’s ‘A Straggler of ‘15’ (1891) and the stage adaptation of the same, ‘Waterloo’ (1894). Read them here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=A_Straggler_of_%2715 and https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=A_Story_of_Waterloo



Thanks to our sponsor, Belanger Books: www.belangerbooks.com.

Image credits: Thanks to Alexis Barquin at The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopaedia for permission to reproduce these images. Please support the encyclopaedia at www.arthur-conan-doyle.com.

Music credit: Sneaky Snitch Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/


  1. Dear Mark and Does of Doings of Doyle, many thanks for this unusual Christmas story! A wonderful feast and discovery, at least for me! Best wishes and Happier New Year to all of us, Marcus

  2. Dear Mark,

    I really liked your piece, and learnt a lot. Especially the Feldkirch connection. I grew up along the shores of Lake Constance, Bodensee, a mere 35 minutes drive from lovely Feldkirch.

    You are indeed right that under the watchful eyes of Jesuit priests and scholars Conan Doyle spent nine months studying German. He plays the bombardon, a massive tuba like horn, in the brass band of the Stella. And it was his writing that took first, timid shapes in Feldkirch. It is an established fact that Conan Doyle wrote his own gazette when was at the Stella Matutina. The British Library owns the two surviving issues of "The Feldkirchian Gazette" which are written entirely in Conan Doyle's hand-writing in violet ink, compiled in two exercise books. Announced as "A scientific and literary monthly magazine" it contains numerous verses as well as longer contributions. He was hopeful that he would continue with more literary products as he ends the October volume thus, “October’s papers kindly greet you. Thanking you with all its heart. This the first time that it meets you, may you never, never part (…).” Whether Feldkirch was one of Conan Doyle’s first early literary steppingstones or even the formative first year of the future author needs to be debated elsewhere. Maybe something for the Doings of Doyle to pick up next year!

    Philipp Schöbi, a literary geek, professor of mathematics and very well read in the many Feldkirch literary connections of which Arthur Conan Doyle's stay is only one, wrote a well researched essay in his book about Literary Feldkirch: Philipp Schöbi, Das Literarische Feldkirch, Hohems – Vaduz - Wien: Bucher Verlag, 2018, p. 36 -44, 102 – 108. It's in German though.

    Best wishes,



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