Let's talk about chronology, shall we? Now, I know what you're thinking - "But, Historical Sherlock, haven't we been doing that all along?" Well, my lovelies, not every time. I occasionally take little side trips on these posts, but today it's all about the main theme here. There's a new chronology of The Canon, and we're going to examine it.
Paul Thomas Miller is a Holmesian from the U.K. I'm afraid I don't know a lot about him, but I do know he's an active member in our hobby. Recently he put out a book called Watson Does Not Lie, which is a chronology based on the idea that...well, here's what he says on the back of the book:
"I was told the creation of a Holmesian Chronology is practically a rite of passage. I was told once you have managed to make sense of the sixty stories you emerge a rookie no more. I was told it is a task that improves you and your understanding of The Canon.
I'm not so sure...
Too many chronologists resorted to claiming either Watson lied, or could not read his own notes. Such ideas are scandalous. I wanted a chronology built upon the idea of Watson's words as facts. Since I could not find one, I created one."
Let me say now that I think that anyone who attempts to do a full chronology of the cases is to be applauded. It is a daunting undertaking. One not to take lightly. I'm not sure, however, about it being a rite of passage. But, I'm not here to bury Caeser...just his work. Let's start, shall we?
Whenever I get a new chronology (and I'm past the 25-of-them mark) I turn to two cases in particular because of their rather blunt assertions about dates (from Watson) that are completely wrong. One is 'The Solitary Cyclist' (SOLI). In this story The Good Doctor tells us "On referring to my note-book for the year 1895, I find that it was upon Saturday, April 23rd, that we first heard of Miss Violet Smith." As anyone knows who has followed me or any other chronologist, April 23rd, 1895, was a Tuesday. As such, I was anxious to see how Mr. Miller solved this problem.
He tells us that he is "forced by my narrative to turn hypocrite." He accepts the fact that the story's events did take place on a Saturday, and that...now follow me here..."In his haste to put the stories together for The Strand's deadlines, [Watson] erred when reading his notes and compounded two dates." To his credit, though, he says in an earlier paragraph that "I must accuse Watson of misreading his own notes. Just this once. Only once." Well, I'm glad we got that settled.
The other story I look at it is 'The Man with the Twisted Lip' (TWIS). In it Watson tells us that it was Friday, June 19th, 1889. June 19th, 1889, was a Wednesday. Mr. Miller looks at the case and reminds us of this exchange between Watson and Isa Whitney:
"I say, Watson, what o'clock is it?"
"Of what day?"
"Of Friday, June 19th."
"Good heavens! I thought it was Wednesday. It is Wednesday. What d'you want to frighten a chap for?"
He goes on to justify this by saying that Watson was just trying to scare Isa by making the date wrong, and that Watson told "a rare white lie" and that he is "no natural liar." I was already not impressed.
But, in order to give it somewhat of a chance, I read it straight through. It's quite an easy read, but I found myself shaking my head an awful lot. I'll give you one more example of his type of logic, and then I'll give you my final thoughts.
'Wisteria Lodge' (WIST). This case gives most chronologists fits because Watson tells us it happened in March 1892. Anyone who is even the tiniest bit interested in Sherlockian chronology knows that from 1891 to 1894 Holmes was on his Great Hiatus. The world, including Watson, believed him dead at the bottom of Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. How is this possible? Mr. Miller tells us that it did in fact happen when Watson says it did, and this is how:
"I'll wager Holmes and Mycroft used a hypnotist. Watson was hypnotised just before Holmes's return to make him think that living at 221b with Holmes was still the norm. He woke in his old room and the charade began. When it was times for Holmes to leave him again, Watson was hypnotised to forget the entire return."
Mr. Miller thinks that Holmes came back to work on a case, and then finds all kinds of "evidence" in the story to prove that he is right. It's doable, I think, since he wasn't dead, but the whole hypnotising thing? Sorry. It doesn't compute for me.
I will not say I'm not impressed by a few things. He does have dates that seem plausible, and he does go along with a number of others on some of the more acceptable timelines. But, Mr. Miller misses out on something huge. Something I've talked about before. It breaks down for me like this:
If you're going to write a chronology, you must look at every little detail in the stories. Mr. Miller does that (partially) but only when he needs further "proof" to back up his unusual dates for a case. Otherwise all he does is compare the stories on a thin level of weather reports and comparing dates with each other. He doesn't bother with any other details in the stories. He doesn't look at vernacular, or construction, or any other facet of Victorian London in order to find a correct date. This is an example of lazy chronology building, I'm afraid. If he wants his "rite of passage" and he believes this book gives him that, then more power to him. But, I will not look at this as a serious effort.
I said in my interview on I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere (at the 17:35 mark) that a thin chronology book is a problem. Mr. Miller's book is fairly thin. I was vexed by that when it arrived at my doorstep.
As a juxtaposition, in Mr. Miller's interview on that podcast (at the 40:30 mark and on for the next two minutes), he tells us that he has noticed something strange about these lines from 'A Case of Identity' (IDEN):
"The man sat huddled up in his chair, with his head sunk upon his breast, like one who is utterly crushed. Holmes stuck his feet up on the corner of the mantelpiece, and leaning back with his hands in his pockets, began talking, rather to himself, as it seemed, than to us."
According to him, this means that Holmes had two prosthetic feet. Yep. Fake feet. Ones he removed and sat up on the mantelpiece. It reminded me of an illustration I saw in PUNCH magazine years ago, and kept because it looked so comfortable and funny. (Though Mr. Miller thinks the position impossible.)
I'll end my torture here and say that the hardest part to swallow about this chronology is the debate about Watson's wives. Yes, this is a major stumbling block for anyone wanting to find a proper timeline for these cases, but Mr. Miller decides to not let the dates fight each other, and accepts each as an accurate item. As such, he finds that Watson was married six times. Yep...six. I should've stopped when I found out that little tidbit, but I'm a sucker for this part of the hobby. Even when a book comes out that will serve no purpose other than to lessen the efforts of others.
Here's the link for my interview:
Here's the link for his interview:
I will also add this review by a friend of mine:
I will happily put all of Mr. Miller's dates in my databases, and I will refer to them when the times comes. It doesn't matter if I agree with them or not, it's all about the debates and variations. His info will be a welcome edition, and I hope he does more with it as this is one of the few times people like me get to have our part of the community spotlighted...even if just for a moment.
I'll see you next month. I appreciate you stopping in, and as always...thanks for reading.