Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Study in Mistruths

Welcome to 2016. I know it's been a while since I Posted, but I am here now with a new resolve to do so every month. And since it is the first month of the year, I thought we might as well start at the beginning of The Canon - with A Study in Scarlet. (Also, let's act like there has been no hiatus on my part. All in agreement? Excellent.)
Recently I was thinking about what I like to call Watsonian mistruths. I'm not saying The Good Doctor lied intentionally just to lie, but that there were times he changed info so as to protect himself, Holmes, or a client or other entity. There do seem to be occasions, however, when the misinformation was wrong just to be wrong. Like it was made up for no real good reason. I'm not talking about changing an identity, or a date, to protect, but street names, locations, and even a whole learning institution. Let's take a look at what we can find in STUD.

Towards the beginning of the story, the third chapter to be exact, we find the title 'The Lauriston Gardens Mystery.' The debate around the true location of No. 3 Lauriston Gardens has been a matter of some debate for a long time. Some of the best minds to ever play The Game have taken it on, and so far no two people seem to agree on where it actually was.
The eminent Sherlockian H. W. Bell found a row of four houses on Brixton Road that he felt matched Watson's description of the place. These houses were numbered 314-
320. He figured that No. 318 was actually the mysterious No. 3 since it was the third house in the row.
Another famous searcher was Michael Harrison. He agreed that it was likely on Brixton Road, but found a different set of houses (this time five instead of four) that were numbered 152-160. He does confirm that there is a Lauriston Road, but that it is nowhere near Brixton Road.
A third well-known name in the hobby, Bernard Davies, said the location was a row of houses numbered 329-335 Brixton Road, on the east side, between Villa Road and St. John's Row (now St. John's Crescent) and that No. 3 is actually No. 333 in that grouping.
A gentleman named Colin Prestige felt that it could be found on Knatchbull Road, at Myatt's Field, which is about one half mile to the east of Brixton Road.
I can't see why Watson had to invent a fake address to use here. Yes, it was the scene of a murder, but other than that there is no real reason to hide the actual address. The residence was empty, and had been for some time judging by the amount of dust on everything and by the sparseness of the garden in front.

In the same part of the story we find a mention of Kennington Park Gate. This one is only kind of invented. See, Kennington Park exists, and it does have a main gate, but it has never been known as the Park Gate, but simply as Kennington Gate. In the 1850's there was a turnpike gate, but it had been removed by 1860. Either way, Watson gets a half point for this one. (The picture to the left is from around the middle of the 1800's, although it's hard to pin down the exact year. However, it is roughly around the time the above mentioned gate was taken down.)


We also see a reference to an Audley Court. It is said to be near Kennington Park near the site of the old turnpike gate, but Audley Court has never actually existed. Bernard Davies (remember him?) claimed that it was really Aulton Place, which was the combined name given to Aulton Passage and Grove Place. That name, however, was bestowed in 1893, some years after STUD. Not sure how Mr. Davies explained that.
Here again we have Watson making up a street name. This time, though, it is the address of a police officer. That certainly makes sense.

The next fictional place we hear about is a big one - an entire college.
York College is where Jefferson Hope said he worked as "janitor and sweeper-out" during his wandering years in America. The snag is that there is no such place. The great Sherlockian, Christopher Morley, believed that Hope was likely referring to the old medical college at New York University. Morley acknowledges that there is a York College in the States, in Nebraska. There is also a York University in Pennsylvania that was called the York Collegiate Institute at the time of this story (according to one Dave M. Hershey) but that is probably not what Hope meant. Any one of these could be correct, I suppose, but it really doesn't matter in this case chronology-wise. The dates for the story are fairly established by plenty of other internal evidence. If this mysterious college had figured in another case then it's true identity may have been helpful. Here it's just a made up place with no good cause.

In the next chapter Watson mentions Henrietta Street. Unfortunately, there is no street by that name near Brixton Road. There is, however, one in Cavendish Square and one in Covent Garden, but those locales are north of the Thames and a long way from the epicenter of STUD. This made up name has absolutely no reason for it. Nothing happens except a conversation. Watson...why?

In Part 1 Chapter 5 we find the following lines:
The old woman faced round and looked keenly at him from her little red-rimmed eyes. "The gentleman asked me for my address," she said. "Sally lives in lodgings at 3, Mayfield Place, Peckham."
Here again Watson uses No. 3 for a fictional address. Peckham has never had a Mayfield Place.
After that we find out that Enoch Drebber, the deceased, had stayed at Madame Charpentier's boarding house on Torquay Terrace. But, there is no such place. This is another half-point situation since it involves the dead and a business. Bernard Davies thought that perhaps this address was actually in Dover Terrace in Coldharbour Lane.

Halliday's Private Hotel is another fictional place. It is the scene of a murder in the case, and therefore Watson can be forgiven for the misleading name. Mr. Davies, again, tells us that the actual place this stands in for is Emm's Private Hotel at No. 56 Drummond St. (I couldn't locate any pictures of Emm's, but I do know someone named W.F. Mills lived across the street in 1888 and was the head of a charity - the Railway Benevolent Institution.)

After all the above examples we find ourselves in the part of the story that deals with the U.S. Here we see that living on one continent shows how someone can get bad info to put into the text. But, there are fewer examples of "mistakes" about this other land than there are about Watson's own home city. And they have better explanations for them.
He tells us in Part 2 that the Mormon Prophet, John Ferrier, was bound for the Nevada Mountains. Now, Nevada does have mountains, but they are not called the Nevada Mountains...at least not with both words capitalized. This one is not too far of a stretch, but it does seem that Holmes would have had a volume that would have covered this fact.
Along with this small error he talks about Sierra Blanco. There isn't a mountain named that anywhere, but there is a Sierra Blanca in New Mexico. It is an isolated peak, but it's there. Sierra Blanca is also the name of a short range in Colorado, but neither of these two is near the trail taken by the Mormons in their to Utah.
One diligent researcher decided that Sierra Blanco was the pseudonym for Oregon Buttes, near South Pass, Wyoming.

There are two other sketchy names in the story, but both get passes. Watson mentions a site called Eagle Ravine. This is easily excusable since it could have been a local name. Heck, where I grew up there was a rather large creek that ran nearby that had several different names. I'm sure one of them is the legal one, but any of them would get you there by asking. I'm not concerned with this ravine.
The other is The Great Alkali Plain. Jack Tracy, the writer of the book The Encyclopedia Sherlockiana, explains this away in a manner I cannot improve upon:
“The myth of a ‘Great American Desert’ between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains was an old one even at the time of the Louisiana Purchase, for explorers crossing the Great Plains bound for the Rockies often mistook the semi-arid but deceptively fertile buffalo lands to be uncultivable, and their unoptimistic reports were easily inflated into tales of a vast central wasteland.”

The ultimate question to ask here is whether or not these "misleadings" have any bearing upon the dating of this or any other story. Well, they can. Dating can be decided by the simplest, smallest mentions. It can be anything from an address that may have moved, or on a street/road/etc. that may have been under construction or renamed at some point. In the instances above it makes no difference at all, but at other times if Watson had given us actual addresses or real places then we would have another piece of data at our fingertips to help make a full and correct chronology. We're safe here, but what about other little problems like these? Well, we'll take a look at more next month.

Thanks for reading.

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