“A CURIOUS COINCIDENCE OF DATES”
Taking matters at face value, one might wonder why Sherlock Holmes’ best and only friend wrote not a word of him during his three-year absence after purportedly going over the Reichenbach Falls.
The reality is that it was during that three-year hiatus that the bereaved Watson did nearly ALL of his writing about his friend. According to dates, Watson had published only two stories before Holmes disappeared.
Consider the dates left by Doyle in Canon, compared to the publication dates of the stories:
The very first story – a novel “A Study in Scarlet,” was published in 1887, six years after Holmes and Watson met in 1881;
“The Sign of Four” was published in 1890, a year before Holmes disappears;
Holmes presumably disappeared over the Reichenbach Falls on April 24, 1891;
The first of the short stories, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” appears in The Strand Magazine two months later, in July 1891. The first anthology of short stories, which would come to be known as “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” was first published in October 1892. Holmes - as far as Watson knew - was still dead.
“Silver Blaze,” the first in what would become the anthology of cases known as “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,” appeared in The Strand in Dec. 1892. Holmes is still presumed dead. “The Final Problem” appeared in Dec. 1893.
So as far as Watson knew, all the while these reminiscences were being written, Holmes no longer existed in the world! Meanwhile the public was being led to believe that Holmes actually existed!
When riots broke out over the death of Sherlock Holmes, the man himself had already been “dead” for two years without Watson ever letting on!
Let us continue to unravel this scarlet thread:
Holmes revealed his existence to Watson in 1894, yet for seven long years, the public remains in the dark, at least as far as Watson is concerned. Watson writes not a single word of his friend until 1901, when “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is published. This is, of course, about a case that occurred prior to Holmes’ “death.”
The public doesn’t learn that Holmes is indeed in the land of the living until “The Empty House” is published in September 1903.
A month later, in October 1903, Holmes retires to beekeeping on the Sussex Downs and, with the exception of “The Lion’s Mane” (a story Holmes writes himself) and “His Last Bow,” (which is written in third person), we know nothing further of his activities. All of the stories in the last three anthologies of “The Return,” “His Last Bow” and “The Casebook” are cases from earlier days.
What are we to make of these amazing revelations?
My pet theory is twofold:
Holmes was not happy with Watson’s first two attempts as his Boswell. He proclaims as much in the opening paragraphs of “The Sign of Four” when he criticizes how Watson wrote up “A Study in Scarlet.”
Holmes’ displeasure – along with his detestation of the public eye - was so great he forbid Watson from writing anything more about him…and consequently, Watson didn’t.
After Holmes presumably died, Watson probably felt this injunction of silence was lifted from him. He began publishing “The Adventures” and “The Memoirs” with the desire and intention to immortalize his brilliant friend and also, probably, as a form of grief therapy.
After Holmes returned in 1894, he no doubt demanded once again that Watson stop writing about him and so – with the exception of “Hound,” Watson didn’t. So during all the time that the public still believed Holmes to be dead he was, in fact, very much alive and on the job! In fact, according to Watson he had his best year – 1895 – during this second period of publication blackout.
The public doesn’t learn Holmes is alive until a month before his retirement, after which time one presumes Holmes lifts his injunction against Watson’s efforts, and Watson writes the bulk of the rest of the Canon. These later stories, however, are about earlier days.
What are we to make of this astounding situation? How could Holmes’ fame spread across the world, bringing him his most successful cases and providing him with his busiest year (1895), if the bulk of the public still believed he was dead?
If anyone has any brilliant theories, I’d certainly love to hear them!
Uhm… Brilliant? None.
- Lestrade and the others officers in the Police of course knew of Holmes’ coming back from the deads, so a lot of work could have come to him directly or indirectly through them.
- This presumably triggered a sort of word-of-mouth advertising, which could have grown exponentially, bringing more and more private clients directly to Holmes’ door.
- [By the way, these were presumably the ways in which Holmes found his cases before Watson published anything about his work, as we may gather from what we are told in STUD]
- As for the cases dealing with secrets of State and other “sensitive” topics, Sherlock Holmes had a brother in the Government (who also, on occasions, WAS the government), so presumably the “right” people knew where to find him soon after his return.
- Even if Watson didn’t publish any more chronicles of Holmes’ cases after his return, it’s highly possible that the newspapers published the news of the incredible resurrection of a certain consulting detective, as they had certainly published the news of his death, some information about his murderer, Professor Moriarty, and the letters from Moriarty’s brother, in defence of the latter (FINA). After all, we know that newspapers every now and then took some interest into Sherlock Holmes, as his name was a front page title when he got attacked by ruffians sent by baron Adelbert Gruner (ILLU).
Some more considerations:
- As Holmes, albeit liking to credit some police officer with the results of his work, never attempted to keep himself really concealed after his return - the people who needed him could always find him, and he worked even more than before, as you correctly state - we might even presume that what he REALLY disliked was not so much the fact that his name and his work were publicly known and aknowledged, but - maybe - the way WATSON had to make them known, his “too sensational” and “not enough scientific” style in describing his exploits (as he often said, reproachfully, to his friend), and the EXCESS of attention they brought to him.
- That is, Watson probably started to write a lot about Holmes only when he believed him to be dead, because during his “life” Holmes, being disappointed of Watson’s literary efforts, possibly prohibited any further publication after the very first stories were published. With Holmes dead, Watson decided to resume his role as chronicler and biographer, probably out of several reasons: to celebrate and commemorate a man he greatly admired and to whom had been bound by a strong friendship; to find an outpouring for his grief (and remember that, after some time, to the grief for Holmes’ disappearance was added the grief for Watson’s wife’s death); maybe also to supplement his incomes, if his medical practice were not so flourishing, or didn’t anyway provide him enough money for his needs (just as Doyle himself did). When Holmes returned, he “silenced” Watson both by asking him to keep quiet, because he didn’t want any excessive attention from the public, and by having his medical practice bought, for a princely sum, by a distant relative of his (NORW).
- When Holmes finally retired, he lifted his veto, presumably because, having Watson got married again, he knew that his friend needed the extra income provided by the publication of his stories, and maybe also because he knew that Watson was genuinely pleased to make his work known to the public. And now that he, Holmes, was living in the countryside, he at least had no reasons to fear an assault by adoring fans and too nagging want-to-be clients.
Ok, as usual I wrote too much… Sorry!
I’ve written a long post in reply to this and tumblr crashed on me. Hate it when this happens!
So now I’m gonna do it all over again, hopefully as a shorter version :p
In The Second Stain, Watson says something which contradicts the above a little bit:
I had intended “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange” to be the last of those exploits of my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, which I should ever communicate to the public. This resolution of mine was not due to any lack of material, since I have notes of many hundreds of cases to which I have never alluded, nor was it caused by any waning interest on the part of my readers in the singular personality and unique methods of this remarkable man. The real reason lay in the reluctance which Mr. Holmes has shown to the continued publication of his experiences. So long as he was in actual professional practice the records of his successes were of some practical value to him,but since he has definitely retired from London and betaken himself to study and bee-farming on the Sussex Downs, notoriety has become hateful to him, and he has peremptorily requested that his wishes in this matter should be strictly observed.
So it would mean the reverse is true.
I’ve been re-reading the canon and the above paragraph caught my eye in light of the ‘Rat Wedding Bow’ and ‘is Season 3 gonna be the last one of BBC Sherlock’ hysteria, because here it Watson (or rather, Conan Doyle) going ‘BOOO’ to the fans yet again, and scaring them into believing this collection will be the last. (Which of course it wasn’t, there were two more, and the ominously titled ‘His Last Bow’ only the second to last). So I guess it’s fated that Sherlockians progress from scare to panic, then minute relief, then yet again the agony of wait…. *sigh* I just feel very strongly emphatic these days to the Victorian Sherlockians….
Anyway - again I digress from the original topic of the post, which is to say that somehow, in my personal ‘headcanon’, Watson’s timeline of getting his stories published is not the same with their original date of publication in the Strand magazine by Conan Doyle.
That’s just how I reconcile all these inadvertences, because - even though all you said above is quite believable, there are other facts to contradict it, like the quote from ‘The Second Stain’ above; then there’s the many instances when Holmes appears grateful and very willing to have Watson chronicle his every move (‘I am lost without my Boswell’, ‘a trusty comrade is always of use and a chronicler still more so’), promising him a case which he would be quite happy to record, etc etc. He does complain at times that Watson embellishes the stories and turns what should have been a discourse on the science of deduction into a series of tales which the public may appreciate, but it seems at the same time he is complacent in the fact that Watson is the best he’s got as a chronicler ;p Besides, Sherlock Holmes was also famous even before the events in The Final Problem, and with just two stories presumably published at that time, I don’t know.
Of course you’re right: when one reads these quotes from the Canon, it’s quite evident that Watson’s chronology is different from Strand’s chronology.
If we had wanted to address the topic in a sensible way (but do we really ever want to? …), we should just have sighed and said: “Oh, dear, another example of Doyle messing up timelines!” - Because this, of course, is what actually happened. Just so!
But OF COURSE, we can’t make things so simple - can we? ;-)
So, the game is: try and find a sense where there is none. WHEN you play this game, you try to find reasons for unreasonable contradictions. So, to continue on the previous line of (not)reasoning, we might explain away this statements by Watson as
1) Holmes telling Watson white lies to be kind and cheer his friend’s ego up, by telling him how indispensible a biographer he was.
2) Watson referring (in SECOND) to the stories he published during the Great Hiatus, which spread Holmes’ reputation and had a relevant role in allowing him to get a lot of clients after his return, because meanwhile he had grown even more famous than he was before (and the newspapers presumably immediately published the news of his “resurrection”).
3) Watson trying (again in SECOND) to contain an excessive request for new stories by the public - which could as well have bothered Holmes, even if he had agreed to Watson publishing some of his cases.
Of course this is actually just an exercise at glass-climbing! (I’m afraid this is not an idiom, in English, but I believe it is a good metaphor nonetheless…) One of the series: “Ok, let’s see if we can mess things up even more than Conan Doyle did!”. But it’s fun!
The sensible answer, instead, would be that:
1) as you said, the Canon has its own internal chronology, which doesn’t coincide with publication’s chronology and has actually nothing to do with “real world” chronology;
2) this canonical chronology is itself pretty well messed up: Doyle was even able to set a story (right now I can’t remember which, but I’m sure of the year!) in 1892, when Holmes was officially dead!
3) this because Doyle didn’t give a crap for coherence, precision or accuracy: he just wrote what he fancied, the moment he fancied, and as quickly as possible, because he had “more important works” to write than Sherlock Holmes! Ah!
… All this considered, I’ve reached the conclusion that we holmesians not only are a bunch of nutters, but that masochism is another requisite to get into the club…
Haha, you are quite right.
Oh, I see what you did there now…. I somehow fell into the trap of taking it all seriously, lul :d However, your second ‘glass-climbing’ theory seems to me quite believable, so… *adjusts headcanon* I absolutely refuse to even consider theory number 1, that would make me a sad puppy indeed :<
By the way, that story set in 1892 is Wisteria Lodge. Damn, the timeline gives me headaches :P
For the entire of this crazy plot-thread, please click on the above link. All I can say is do I ever love this stuff. Love is too weak a word! If this is insanity, who wants to be sane? I just had a few more coins to toss into this glass in response to this surmise:
2) Watson referring (in SECOND) to the stories he published during the Great Hiatus, which spread Holmes’ reputation and had a relevant role in allowing him to get a lot of clients after his return, because meanwhile he had grown even more famous than he was before (and the newspapers presumably immediately published the news of his “resurrection”). Response: Watson referring to the “Adventures” and the “Memoirs” in SECOND sounds quite plausible to me. And the newspapers! I ignored the newspapers. Of course they would have written about Holmes’ exploits, even if Watson was forbidden to do so, as they did in “THE ILLUSTRIOUS CLIENT” when they proclaimed “Murderous attack on Sherlock Holmes!” Just because Watson couldn’t write didn’t mean the “ubiquitous reporters” couldn’t fill the gap. :D
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