Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Watson Lies

One of my difficulties with my novel DIM is deciding how much Watson knows at any point about Holmes's cocaine use and his love for Helen Stoner. Even though Watson is his closest, or even only friend, Holmes is annoyingly secretive. For example, if we accept that the Greek Interpreter story is set in 1888 (because Mycroft implies that Watson has published at least one story, STUD in Dec 1887), then Holmes has waited seven years to tell Watson that he has a brother. And in the second Mycroft story, Sherlock also confesses that he lied about what job Mycroft had. "I did not know you quite so well then." Really, you didn't know Watson enough in 1888? Holmes is such a lying bastard.

However, not many people notice that Watson is secretive too. SIGN is probably set in 1888 as well, and yet Holmes says that he had no idea that Watson had a brother until making his deductions from the pocketwatch. (It's odd that Holmes somehow knows that Watson's father has died some years ago, and yet he does not know of the existence of Watson's brother.) So either Watson withheld this fact due to shame about the brother's alcoholism, or Watson has lifted an anecdote from a much earlier year and inserted it into SIGN. He could very well be lying to us, the readers, even if he's incapable of lying to Holmes.

In fact, Watson has to be lying in the stories, even if all he does is use pseudonyms for every client. The current wikipedia article on Watson has a longish section on him as an "indiscreet chronicler" who reveals too many secrets of Holmes's clients. But maybe he didn't publish the full truth, you know? Maybe he changed the facts or the dates in his stories to fictionalize them? Then all his many supposed "errors" from faulty memory or nostalgic romanticizing would actually be deliberate efforts to obscure the truth.

The very reason for all the confusion about Watson's wife is the fact that he gives us contradictory information about his marriage, which led to Baring-Gould inventing a pre-Mary wife and to other Sherlockians trying to move SIGN years earlier. SIGN apparently takes place in 1888, but there is some inconsistency about it being July or September. FIVE takes place in September 1887, and Watson claims that his wife is visiting her mother (even though Mary is an orphan); also Holmes and Watson explicitly refer to the Sign of Four and the Sholtos, making clear that the wife in question is indeed Mary Morstan. In SCAN, Watson reunites with Holmes on March 20, 1888, and has been married for some months, even though this again is way too early in comparison to SIGN. Then Watson says that NOBL takes place in November, a few weeks before his wedding. Yet the STOC case goes into the whole rigmarole again, saying that Watson was so busy for three months after his wedding that he never visited Baker Street, until Holmes drops by unexpectedly in June. (So the wedding took place in the spring, not the winter?) Holmes even refers to Mrs. Watson needing to recover from SIGN, but neither of them refer to SCAN, as if they hadn't just reunited in March. If a man confuses his wedding date so publicly in print, isn't his wife going to be annoyed with him? Isn't Holmes going to be annoyed that Watson can't recall when exactly they had their poignant reunion after drifting apart? Of course, there's the other explanation... Holmes can't be angry because he doesn't know; he's dead.

In every story of the Adventures collection (originally published in the Strand from July 1891-June 1892), Watson writes as if Holmes is alive and currently commenting on each story as Watson publishes them. Note, he is clearly talking about the publication order. He cannot be talking about the order the events occur, because Watson gives us varying dates of the Adventures cases, ranging from 1883 to 1890. Chronologists who try to base their dating of the cases upon the order in which Holmes refers to them are on a wild goose chase. Holmes referring to the cases (at least in the Adventures) is total bunk. Watson has made this part up. By the way, what kind of masochist is Watson, to sit there imagining what Holmes would say to criticize his romanticism in the stories? All the while knowing that Holmes is dead! I suppose that maybe his grief is making him a little deranged and desperate even to pretend that Holmes is here. By the time of the Memoirs (from Dec 1892-Dec 1893), Watson doesn't include such recaps of his previously published cases so frequently, but he is still clearly lying by omission by not mentioning Holmes's death.

(In real life this mess is to be blamed on Doyle playing a cruel trick on us. When he published FINA in Dec 1893, he wrote that Holmes's death occurred in May 1891. Why didn't he just say the death occurred in May 1893? Or even that December? By reaching back over two years in time, Doyle was effectively saying that every story from SCAN onward was published after Holmes's death; we just didn't know it at the time. We lived in blissful ignorance.)

To add to all this insanity, when Holmes returns in EMPT, he says that he read Watson's account of FINA a few months after Reichenbach. No you didn't, Holmes. Watson published FINA two and a half years after you "died." And if Holmes's fake death depended so much on Watson publishing the account, then it miserably failed, because Watson didn't publish the news until long after. (Holmes's story of hiding out from Moriarty's henchmen doesn't hold water either, because he admits that Moran saw him escape Reichenbach and therefore knew he was alive.) The chronological problems just get worse and worse until either we concede that it's just fiction, and Doyle didn't care about getting any of the details right, or we concede that Watson is flat out lying to us.

Of course, that doesn't make it easier for me to just throw out all chronology and say that Watson lied to us about everything. He's probably a fine honest man in most respects. I still have to read through the stories and find reasons WHY he would lie to us and WHEN, and HOW MUCH. (Just as I'm trying to figure out how much Holmes would lie to Watson. For instance, when he stops corresponding with Helen Stoner, Watson might notice and ask him about it. Holmes can lie initially, saying that her fiance Percy objected to it as being inappropriate, especially after the visit to New York, and Watson might believe Holmes at first, but would he not begin to suspect after a while? Especially if he read any notice in the papers that Helen's engagement ended? Surely, he'd like to go find out what happened or whatever? Surely Holmes would stop him out of jealousy? So I have difficulty deciding how much Watson might figure out, as I am trying to portray him as shrewd in some things but emotionally blind in some other ways, like how he reacts in the Lyons hotel in REIG.)

Sometimes I can't stand thinking of Watson being all silent and strong and lying constantly. He ought to have someone he can confess the truth to, surely? Often, in sentimental moments, I can even hear his heartache in Barry Manilow's song "Even Now." Just picture it, after the grief of Holmes's "death."

Even now I think about you as I'm climbing up the stairs
And I wonder what to do so she won't see
That even now,
When I know it wasn't right,
And I found a better life than what we had,
Even now I wake up crying in the middle of the night
And I can't believe it still could hurt so bad

And then I get mad at Holmes all over again for his faked death! Surely Watson cannot take all this misery by himself. So sometimes I think of writing a scene where Watson does have someone in whom to confide his feelings. Presumably a gay person so that he can confess about their affair in 1887. I think sometimes of Oscar Wilde, whom Doyle met at a dinner before writing SIGN, but then I think, no, I don't want to use a famous person like that; Watson would not feel close enough to such a stranger. So sometimes I think that Murray, Watson's orderly, would finally come back from the Army to visit Watson and to confess that his "devotion" was not strictly platonic. Then Watson would be forced to politely decline his advances, but be reminded of the past affair. How reticent would he be? how honest? Would he ache to discuss with someone his complex feelings of guilt and love?

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