Friday, March 31, 2017

Let Us Compare...

March is one of those months that has a special place in the heart of a Sherlockian/Holmesian. It happens to be the month where Holmes and Watson started their first case, A Study In Scarlet (STUD), together. There's not much doubt among chronologists that March 4 is in fact the date that they began working on it (though there are a scant few exceptions) and as such it is easy to do Posts about it over at Facebook.

But, there is some disagreement about the year. While a large portion of us like 1881, and with good reason, there are those who hold out that it was the next year. Or the next. Or even the next. So, I thought it might be interesting to look at the logic of a couple of different people and see why they like a particular year. I'll list their findings and we'll see how the same info can yield varying results.

In the first chronology book I ever owned, I Remember The Date Very Well, author John Hall likes 1881. His points of logic are:
- The Battle of Maiwand occurred in July, 1880 (an indisputable fact, by the way).
- Watson's journey home and subsequent recovery period from wounds and illness fits the timeline.
- The ship Orestes* that carried Watson home sailed into England in November of 1880.
- Accepts that it was March 4, 1881, from several references to it.
- Believes Watson's language suggests he was writing the case as it happened and not later from notes and is therefore reliable.
- Thinks references to days passing mentioned are vague and can be deciphered a number of ways.
*The name of the ship was the Orontes. Hall makes an error here. The Orestes did exist, but not for another 25 years.

Jay Finley Christ starts off his monumental book An Irregular Chronology of Sherlock Holmes on page 1 with our featured case. He provides one of the longer pieces about the dating of it, but I'll boil it down. He likes March 3rd, 1882. Here's why...

- The Battle of Maiwand suggests the year of the case has to be 1881 or 1882.
- The language and phrasing used seems to indicate a fairly long passage of time.
- Thinks the days of the week mentioned are not vague at all and prove the case couldn't have happened on Friday, March 4, 1881, but on Friday, March 3, 1882.
- Believes the newspaper account of the Drebber case was incorrect.
- Says a Neruda concert would fit better with 1882, and certainly not in 1883, given the weekday problem.
- Finds that all of the lounging and lack of visitors and such at Baker Street shows a much longer stretch of time and that 1882 fits that better, too.

A newcomer to the chronology game, Craig Marinaro, likes 1883 for STUD, but he is all alone in that belief. He published his chronology online in 2012, but hasn't put it in book form. The link is:
His findings are short:
- Uses evidence of the length of the partnership, mentioned in 'The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger' (VEIL), to work backwards and gets to 1883.*
*However, he says nothing about when they met except to say that in 1883 they had "already been roommates for several months by that point."

Brad Keefauver, on his website Sherlock Peoria, does think Holmes and Watson met in 1881, but that the actually case took place in 1884. His bullet points are:
- Thinks the newspaper wasn't wrong at all, and that when it said the 4th, it meant it.
- Believes that 4th, however, fell in 1884.
- That 1884 covers all of the time needed for everything to happen, including Watson's clipping out of articles about the Drebber murder and pasting them in his scrapbook.
- Knows this places 'The Adventure of the Speckled Band' (SPEC) before STUD, but thinks the latter was just lumped into one for publication and that no one would be the wiser.

This is my life. This the kind of thing I put up with. All of these people have the exact same story at their fingertips, and yet they all came up with a different year. I find it fascinating, but very hard to follow at times.

I have said before that I find Mr. Keefauver's logic to be clever and unique, and this time it's no different. I won't say I'm convinced, but intrigued. For now I think I'll stick with the whole thing happening in 1881. It's comfortable, and seems to fit all of the evidence (in my eyes). I will admit, however, that I have always been troubled by Watson's short timeline for everything. It does seem as though the span between meeting and the start of the case needed to be longer, but his vagueness and obscurity pull me back in and tell me to keep my butt firmly sat in 1881 due to lack of more evidence.

For the record, most chronologists go with 1881. Christ, Marinaro, and Keefauver all stand by themselves with their years, but nearly all of the others file in behind 1881 and stay there. (Some of their explanations take up pages and pages, though!)

I know I'm getting this out late in the month, but this is what I said we'd talk about, and we have, even if it took me until the 11th hour to get it done. As always, thanks for reading. I'll see you next month.