Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sometime In Winter...Or Not

Recently I had to do a chronology column for my home club's newsletter, and the topic was 'The Adventure of the Golden Pince-nez.' (GOLD) I found out, once again, that even when given the date by Watson for a story there always seems to be disagreement. Not as much in this case, as in others, but certainly a level of it.

Part of the reason might be the slight ambiguity with the timeline, but basically we are told when the case occurred. That should settle it, but it doesn't.

In the first paragraph we find that Watson is reviewing “the three massive manuscript volumes which contain our work for the year 1894” and going over cases from that year. In the second paragraph we see that “[i]t was a wild, tempestuous night towards the close of November.” Sounds relatively cut and dried. Late November 1894.

The chronologists almost unanimously agree with November of that year, but I find that a good number of them stopped short of committing to the time of the month. Those that do seem to have no problem with it being late, but I have a gut feeling that tells me they don't want to be more exact due to one tiny snag - there was no gale recorded in lower England in late November of 1894. And it is this one fact that causes the small divisions.

I pulled down the chronology books that I have to see what everyone had to say. I found
that of all of them E.B. Zeisler is the one who gives the lengthiest explanation for his reasoning. (Not that that is surprising.)

My favorite piece was written by Gavin Brend in his fantastic book My Dear Holmes: A Study in Sherlock. He gets right to the point with this line: "The date is given." No dispute, no controversy. Watson gives the date, and Brend has no problem with it. Another who gave it no attention at all is June Thomson in her book Holmes and Watson. She more or less passes it over and devotes no words to the date. Apparently she was okay with it as well.

John Hall lists it on the first page of his thin chronology book as one of the "six cases [that] should cause no difficulty at all." (For the record the others are SPEC, FINA, DEVI, BLAN, and LAST.)

Our old friend William S. Baring-Gould uses his usual weather reports to find a date, but goes against the part about it being late. He finds that the dates of November 14th and 15th fit just fine with his research, but really doesn't try very well to correlate those dates with "late" November. (Jay Finley Christ agrees with Baring-Gould, by the way.) Interestingly, though, it is the exact same info that Zeisler uses to come up with his date. He is infamous for having his own little way of going against the grain, and this time it is no different. What does he say? The 27th...of October. How? Well, let's see what he has to say about it.

I'll say here that Zeisler spends the most time on this story. He hammers his logic home by pouring over and examining every minute of Holmes' involvement and coming up with a timeline that seems to prove his point. Here, in bullet points, is what he says.
3:15 pm - Hopkins receives wire to go to Yoxley Old Place (herein YOP)
5:00 pm - Hopkins reaches YOP
(The above is the info he gave Holmes)
6:00 am - Holmes takes train to YOP
8-9:00 am - Holmes and Watson arrive

It would seem, according to Zeisler, that Holmes and Watson must have taken a slower train than Hopkins did (to the same location) as Watson tells us it was a long, tiring ride. By Hopkins' account he got to YOP in around 45 minutes. Once they all got off the train they ate a quick breakfast and them got in a trap to get to their destination. What Watson says about that buggy ride is where Zeisler begins to vary in his dating.

Watson says:
"...when we started upon our journey. We saw the cold winter sun rise over the dreary marshes of the Thames and the long, sullen reaches of the river, which I shall ever associate with our pursuit of the Andaman Islander."

Here is Zeisler's response to that:
"The indication is that they saw the sun rise over the Thames shortly after they left Charing Cross, since during the pursuit of the Andaman Islander they had been within ten miles of London. Hence they saw sunrise within the first ten miles of their journey. The train left London at 6:00 A.M., and even allowing for slowness and many stops, the first ten miles could not have taken as long as an hour; hence sunrise must have been before 7:00 A.M. Sunrise on November 15, 1894, was at 7:20 A.M. and was even later on every later date in the year, so it could not have been as late as this. Since no other days in November could fit this data we must look at October. In October of 1894 the only two days which meet the meteorological requirements are the 27th and 28th, on the latter of which the sunrise was at 6:49 A.M. And the 27th actually is towards the close of the month. "November" is a slip. The story begins Saturday, October 27th, 1894."

I love this kind of reasoning and research, but it really doesn't sit well with Watson's use of the word 'winter.' I find no fault with it being late November, but there’s no indication of an actual date. To get that you must determine when the “close of November” falls. Is it the last week of the month, or the penultimate one? I don’t think it means the last week. But, where to from there?

Hopkins mentions the “latest editions” (newspapers) but doesn’t specify that it was the same day’s papers or from days past. I got the impression when reading it that he was talking about the same day. Therefore, we aren’t talking about a weekend. Outside of that, we have nothing.

(I'm not ignoring the "gale" part, but I am going to say it could have been nothing more than just a storm. Those are considerably more common, especially in lower England.)

So, can we conclude anything? Well, I’m going with the middle of the week. Watson usually mentions whether a story is at the beginning or end of a week. For my money I’m going to say that this case begins on Wednesday, November 20, 1894.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if you're familiar with "Under the Darkling Sky: A Chrono-Geographic Odyssey through the Holmesian Canon" (2010) by the now sadly late John E. Weber. It's published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box and along with Zeisler is my favorite chronology. He agrees with Baring-Gould on the date. Weber also extensively used the weather reports in The Times and has this to say:

    "The closest we can come is the report for Wednesday November 14 '...unsettled generally, squally and rainy...a great deal of rain had fallen in all parts of the kingdom...sever gales on the southeast and east coasts of Kent.' This satisfies the meteorological aspects perfectly, but it is in the middle of the month rather than at the close. it is not the first time we have been confounded by the compounded vagaries of both the weather and the calendar, and if Watson has anything to say about it (which he most definitely will), it won't be the last. Ultimately I feel that as the climate conditions on the 14th are in such accord with the narrative that there should be no reason to move the case back into October as Zeisler has done. I would rather move the case by two weeks in a stated month than move into another month altogether, and although there may be times when this is the only practical option, I do not feel that that is the case here."

    I highly recommend Weber's book. If you like excellent scholarship and excellent writing, you can't do much better. It may be pricey, but worth every cent.