Friday, February 12, 2010

Canon Chronology

We've had a bunch of snow in our area today, so I spent some time taking pictures of my efforts at chronology. I've only gone through a few of the stories so far, but I hope to find time to continue through all sixty Holmes stories.

I mentioned before that I needed to do a chronology of the canon, because I can't find a chronologist that I agree with. Even though I do have perpetual calendars to look up days of the week, I find that I need to visually see the months and years in question, so I have begun charting them out using a Post-It Note calendar. Basically I choose a month and year that seems suggested by the story, then I find the starting day on my perpetual calendar, and fill in the month on the Post-It Note calendar. After that, I reread the story and take notes, placing them in appropriate places on the page. Some stories require more than one page to work out all the possibilities.

I started with SPEC first, since it's the story I know the best, and it has so much information that I needed to organize. There's not only what happens in April 1883 to keep track of, but also Julia's death two years ago, their mother's death eight years ago, and the family history in India. We can only guess at how long Roylott was in prison for killing his butler, but Helen Stoner makes it sound like it must have been several years.

After that, I started to go in the publication order for the stories, beginning with STUD. Watson gives no specific date when he meets Holmes, just giving a vague impression that it's some months after he returned to England and then a while longer until their first case begins on March 4th. Most people make it March 4, 1881, because that's nearest to the Battle of Maiwand in July 1880. (This is further backed up by the Mormon section of the novel which gives a date of 1860, and Jefferson Hope says it happened twenty years ago.)

I also put some historical notes on the left margin about the Second Anglo-Afghan War, and the probable dates for Watson to come to London. The case itself seems simple since it only stretches over a couple of days, but there is a slight problem because March 4th, 1881, is a Friday. Yet Watson includes a newspaper account claiming that the 4th was a Tuesday. Also, Jefferson Hope is to appear before the magistrates on Thursday, which seems rather slow, given that Hope was captured on Saturday. So has Watson fudged the date for some reason? Did the case actually take longer, waiting for the Irregulars to find Jefferson Hope, and Watson left that out for a quicker, more dramatic conclusion? These are questions I'll leave open-ended and come back to later when I've read through more of the stories.

Some stories give almost no clues about their date, so all you can do is put a big question mark and just note whether Watson seems to be living with Holmes or living elsewhere. Then there are stories like SIGN, which is crowded with too much detail. Just look at this calendar page! I had to color-code it to keep straight the details about the Sholtos, Mary Morstan's history, Jonathan Small's history, and the present-day action of the novel.

And of course this is without even getting into the problem of the Baker Street Irregulars not aging in years, Watson and Holmes discussing STUD as if it were their only case together, Watson not knowing about Holmes's monographs, and Holmes speaking as if he's never had a case in France before! So I set aside Chapter 1, and the Irregulars, as Watson's deliberate attempt to obscure the truth, and I try to tackle the mystery that Mary Morstan brings.

Watson keeps giving us clues that make it seem like SIGN is set in 1888, and yet he leaps from July to September, and he reports too few pearls. Also, I discovered on my reread that the mystery actually takes place over four days. It seems shorter, because there are a couple of days where Holmes is doing nothing but waiting for his Irregulars to spot the boat, and Watson is doing nothing but visiting Mary Morstan. Even oysters apparently become important, because Holmes orders it for dinner, but oysters by law could only be obtained from September through April, which would exclude the summer month of July. I don't know if I want to hang the whole date just on oysters, though.

I was practically relieved to tackle SCAN. The notorious problem about SCAN is that Watson says it's March 20, 1888, but this is too early for him to be married and living away from Baker Street. This date (a Tuesday) also doesn't fit with Holmes's statement that they have three days until Monday. So I move it to March 20th, 1889, but it's still off by a couple of days. Maybe he's not counting the weekend because he assumes that the engagement announcement needs to be in to the newspaper by a certain time, and that Irene wants to act before then. I don't know. At least it puts SCAN after SIGN, where it belongs.

I was glad that Dorothy Sayers had previously done work proving that REDH takes place in October, and that the newspaper article dated in April was wrong. She suggested that the newspaper was instead from August and that all the redheaded men congregated in the streets during the bank holiday on August 4, 1890. Still, I had to see this for myself, so I worked out the (nearly) nine weeks of Jabez Wilson's job, starting from August. Then I did it starting from April, and compared where they ended.

August indeed makes more sense. Then you have to tackle the problem of Jabez Wilson's pay of £4 a week, and how he always gets it on Saturday. And yet the payday that he discovered the sign stating that the Redheaded League was dissolved is not Saturday at all. But this can be fixed if the handwriting on the sign is bad, and Watson, referring to it months later, mistakes October 4 for October 9.

Watson also dates REDH in 1890, which is the year that Holmes and Watson had only three cases together, according to FINA. So you must always be careful what other cases you date here. Even though Holmes refers to a conversation that he and Watson had about Mary Sutherland, you cannot conclude that her case was recent, because that may be poetic license by Watson. He's trying to tie all the Adventures stories together as a set, and tie them to the first two novels as well, by namedropping them. He only outgrows this habit during the Memoirs series.

Another fact I discovered on rereading REDH--Watson is no longer living in Paddington. He says he goes home to Kensington. Why and when did he move his practice? Before I caught this detail, I had thought Watson only moved to Kensington after Holmes's faked death, and that Watson spent 1891-1894 there. But clearly I was wrong. It surprises me that Doyle was able to get this Kensington detail right when he finally resurrected Holmes in EMPT, which he did not publish until 1903. You'd think that would be enough time for Doyle to forget and make up a new location, like he made up a new location for Watson's wound in SIGN.

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