Saturday, December 27, 2014

Baring-Gould's Folly

"I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes on the second morning after Christmas..."

It's pretty easy to determine that Watson was talking about the 27th of December, but what was the year? All The Canon tells us is that it was after 'The Man with the Twisted Lip' (TWIS), 'A Case of Identity' (IDEN), and 'A Scandal in Bohemia' (SCAN). Taking a look at the chronologists shows that there is a large number that place it in 1889, including me. (A total of 18, to be exact.) Only one places it in 1888, and four put in in 1890.

The one placement that is curious is where the eminent Sherlockian William S. Baring-Gould puts it in his famous Annotated Sherlock Holmes. He says the year is 1887. The reason that he does so is mainly because of his dating of TWIS. His placement of that case causes him to be alone in his dating on a number of cases around that time, but even in the face of total disagreement he holds his ground.

Part of Baring-Gould's reasoning is that he thinks Watson is married to mysterious wife No. 1 at this time. (Something else almost no one agrees with.) However, he does say in annotation no. 11 that there is evidence for 1889, and does the same in BLUE, but seems to disregard this evidence. Two of the biggest problems with 1887 for TWIS is that Holmes actually mentions that year in conversation, and that he (Baring-Gould) ignores something else that happened around that time that should have been mentioned but wasn't. Bradley & Sarjeant point out that Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee would have been on the 20th & 21st of June 1887. That's just two days after Baring-Gould's date. It seems that the preparation and excitement for such a large celebration would have gotten some mention, and yet it doesn't.

As stated before, there are only a few who disagree with 1889 for BLUE. Yes, there is a problem with the day of the week, but you can insert any reason you want into the argument for why Watson made that mistake. One other large piece of evidence for BLUE being that year is that the case is mentioned in 'The Adventure of the Copper Beeches' (COPP), and that one is (again) almost unanimously agreed upon as occurring in early-to-mid 1890.

When I tackled the story in my chronology column a couple of years back I found no reason to disagree with December 27, 1889. However, a lot of dates might get changed if anyone ever comes up with a reasonable conclusion to the Wives of Watson problem. Until then I cannot see a reason to doubt The Good Doctor's date.

(I didn't intend to tackle this case quite so quickly, but given the date I had to. You understand.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Let's Just Start At The Beginning, Shall We?

The genesis of Holmes' detecting - 'The Adventure of the Gloria Scott' - [GLOR] is a good place to start when discussing the problems of Sherlockian chronology.

The story itself is actually a story-within-a-story. Holmes is relating the tale to Watson "one winter's night on either side of the fire." There is no way to tell when they are sitting around that fire, and it isn't necessary to know. (A few have tried, though, and come up with some decent arguments with very little evidence.) The part we're interested in is the part that concerns the ship the Gloria Scott, Holmes' old friend Victor Trevor, and Victor's father.

What we know of what Holmes calls "the first case in which I was ever engaged" is that it all started "during the first month of a very long vacation." Later in the same paragraph we find that it is autumn. We also know that Holmes is in college, and that he has been conducting some experiments in organic chemistry. If you read more you find other little references that would seemingly help date the thing, but in the end you discover that none of them make any difference until you solve the biggest problem in the case. What is that? Well...

When the senior Trevor sees Hudson (an old shipmate) for the first time in a long time, Hudson says, "it's thirty year or more since I saw you last." Why is that a problem? Later in the narrative we find that Hudson and Trevor had committed mutiny in the year 1855 when the Crimean War was in full swing. If you take the 30 years (or more) Hudson refers to and add it to 1855 you get 1885 at minimum. That causes a lot of problems in the Sherlockian Canon. How? If this story takes place while Holmes is in college then we should be talking about the mid-to-late-1870's. If we accept 1885 as correct then it means Holmes could not have met Watson in A Study In Scarlet [STUD] in 1881 (or 1882, 1883, or 1884 as some chronologists believe) and that Holmes must be about 10 years younger than what we thought. It also means that every single story that has been dated to between 1881 and 1885 must be wrong.

Okay, you say, what if it's just a mistake and he meant 20? There is evidence of that. Trevor later says that "for more than twenty years we have led peaceful and useful lives." That 'number' when added to 1855 would certainly work a lot better. The argument here is that Mr. Trevor didn't correct Hudson when he said 30. But, there is more evidence for the 30. Senior Trevor himself says during his explanation of what happened that "the laws were more harshly administered thirty years ago than now." So, which number do you believe? Since both men talk about it it's not as easy to dismiss. If only one had I might lean toward believing that 30 is just an error that happened somewhere in handwriting or typesetting. (I hate using those excuses.) However, the 30 makes no sense. One would have to accept a number somewhere around 25 for it to work perfectly.

I never actually settled upon a date for this story, but everyone else has. Each had to basically ignore the 30 to get their date, but still the years range from 1873 to 1880 depending on which chronologist you're reading. Most place the year in the mid-to-late 1870's.

The reason no one can accept "thirty year or more" is (besides the reasons I gave above) that nearly every chronologist agrees with Watson when it comes to his date for 'The Adventure of the Speckled Band' [SPEC] as April of 1883. If that year is right then the events of GLOR (Holmes' first case) could not have happened in 1885. Also, 'The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual' [MUSG](another early case - 1878-1881 or so and pre-Watson) makes mention of STUD and GLOR in its text. That means those three stories all predated SPEC, and that means that GLOR had to have happened before 1883.

So, do you see how difficult it can be? This is Holmes' first case ever, and right away we have a problem. Luckily we don't have the same problem when it comes to dating his last case, but there is a lot of debate for the other 58.
We'll start tackling those next time.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why Isn't There A Definitive Chronology?

When I took up the challenge of trying to bring tranquility and peace to the chronology of The Canon I never realized that there was so much controversy and disagreement. I had only The Annotated Sherlock Holmes to work with, but knew from that publication that others had taken a swing at putting all of the stories in their own order. So, I began collecting every word I could on the matter. I have been able to put together a spreadsheet of almost two dozen different chronologies, and I can tell you that there is not a lot of agreement.

One of the timelines I always enjoyed reading was that of Sherlock Peoria's Brad Keefauver. Brad and I have spoken about the subject numerous times, and we've both mentioned the other in columns on the subject. The Keef was good enough to send me a listing of the stories that showed a breaking down of exactly what Watson gave us to work with. I am indebted to him for having done this as it keeps me from having to attempt it myself.

This blog was always about the Sherlockian chronology, but I struggled with trying to infuse my own thoughts and findings into Posts. As a result of lots of fretting over what to do with Historical Sherlock, I have decided to focus on the different chronologies that I have collected.

Below is a breakdown of the information that Brad gave to me. Once again, I love that this table exists. As much as I love this part of the hobby, I love even more when very detailed and in-depth work has already been done that I can access.

So, let me start off by asking if you know how many of the 60 original stories have a date that is absolutely unquestioned? A dozen? More? Less? Well, the answer is one. 'His Last Bow' (LAST) begins on August 2, 1914 - the start of World War 1. There are 5 others that are mostly agreed upon, but only one that is firm. (For the record the other stories are SPEC, FINA, GOLD, DEVI, and BLAN.)

The reason the other 50+ are not as certain is because of the amount of debatable, or conflicting, info that The Good Doctor records in The Canon. The are just as many "explanations" for the inconsistencies as there are the inconsistencies themselves - bad handwriting, typesetting errors, incomplete notes, outright misrepresentation of facts in order to protect someone, etc. When one is allowed to use any of these excuses to justify a date, you find a wide range of disagreement between two or more parties, and it keeps a definitive chronology from ever being devised.

As you can see, there is at times very little to nothing to go on (five stories with no dating implications what-so-ever) to quite a bit of data (eight with the year, month, and day). Add to that the inconsistencies I listed above and you find a wall of problems.

This is what faces chronologists. Everyone who has written one feels pretty certain about theirs, but a few have realized mistakes and given it a second try. Others have admitted in their books that what they have come up with will undoubtedly be scrutinized by later Sherlockians and are aware that their findings may come under fire.

The debating of theories and end results is the best part of this whole endeavor. A close second is finding a clue that everyone else has missed and using it to come to a completely original conclusion.

If you wish to read Brad's chronology, check out Chronology Corner on the Sherlock Peoria website.