We men are such precise idiots. Especially male Sherlockian chronologists, myself included. So effing wrong.
So, let's talk The Sign of the Four.
Mary Morstan, a woman even Sherlock Holmes admires for her "decided genius" spells the timeframe of the story out for us:
"I received this letter this morning . . ." ("Post-mark London, S.W. Date, July 7" -- this part read by Sherlock Holmes himself.)
"About six years ago -- to be exact, upon the fourth of May, 1882 . . ."
"He disappeared upon the third of December, 1878 -- nearly ten years ago."
And yet, all it takes is one descriptive word from Watson alluding to a foggy night as "a September evening," and a goodly two-thirds of all the men trying to put a date to this case doubt Ms. Morstan and propose September alternatives. Bringing in the weather, grouse, and all sorts of other excuses to nullify a woman's clear statement of fact.
Ironically, this Sherlockian chronological patriarchy does believe Mary enough to keep the case in 1888, at which point, 75% of them start making a fool of Watson just to satisfy their biases when it comes to the next story, "A Scandal in Bohemia," which, Watson states with equal plainness, occurred March 20, 1888.
Why? Because Watson's monogamous marriage to Mary Morstan is apparently more sacrosanct than the woman herself.
"My marriage had drifted us away from each other," Watson writes of he and Holmes in that March of 1888 period. Watson doesn't mention that wife being Mary Morstan, but he has servants, country walks, and is apparently living well despite not having fully recovered from his war years yet -- side effects, one would suspect of this pre-Morstan bride. But how could he be married in March of 1888 for "Scandal" and a depressed, worthless-feeling bachelor in July of that same year for "Sign?"
Sherlock Holmes, of course.
What happened in March of 1888?
Sherlock Holmes met and was beaten by Irene Adler.
"There was but one woman to him," Watson wrote of her. And in March of 1888, Holmes not only was bested by her, but saw that woman marry a lesser man and leave the country.
John Watson wasn't called to Baker Street for a case in "A Scandal in Bohemia." He stops there to check on Holmes, whom he seems certain has been doing a lot of cocaine lately and spending much time in "drug-created dreams." He is delighted to find Sherlock with a case.
Enter Irene Adler, Holmes gets beaten, she's gone to America . . . and what do we find Watson writing about the after-effects of Holmes losing "the one woman for him" a few months later?
"Three times a day for many months, I had witnessed this performance . . ." Said performance being Holmes injecting himself with either cocaine or morphine -- the latter numbing agent an addition since the drug comments of "A Scandal in Bohemia." Holmes has done nothing but drugs since Irene Adler's departure and Watson has been with him the whole time until the start of The Sign of the Four.
When one allows the dates of "A Scandal in Bohemia" and The Sign of the Four to line up as they truly are and not be biassed by keeping Watson true to one wife or the publication order, one sees a story unfolding of Watson's love for Sherlock Holmes and his care over the self-destructive drug habits destroying an earlier marriage.
Looking back on those events with an open mind makes one realize just how bound the fanboys of earlier generation were by certain prejudices . . . prejudices enshrined by many a latter member of that same male-dominated Sherlockian culture, rather than being questioned.
But the times, they are a'changing. And the dates of Holmes and Watson as well.