Saturday, July 9, 2016

WTF? The first word in that has to be "Wisteria." Or maybe "Watson."


John H. Watson produces two stories. "Wisteria Lodge" prior to August, and "Bruce-Partington Plans" prior to December. He has put out nothing since 1904, and he will put out nothing more until 1910. His prior output usually comes in waves of a dozen or more tales. But in 1908, he just comes out with two.

Then one in 1910, two in 1911, and one each in 1913 and 1917, before dumping another dozen on the reading public in the 1920s. The years 1914 to 1918 were encompassed by World War 1, which seems to explain the post-1913 timing. But before that?

1908 is a puzzler, because it's when, after four years, Watson decides to publish "Wisteria Lodge," one of the more deeply flawed tales of the Canon, as its very first sentence is an obvious lie. Or revealing of even bigger lies.

"I find it recorded in my notebook that it was a bleak and winder day towards the end of March in the year 1892."

Any halfway-bright Sherlockian will quickly recognize that March of 1892 was a time when Sherlock Holmes was still thought dead by everyone in the world except his brother Mycroft. Off Reichenbach Falls in May of 1891 and back on Baker Street in spring of 1894. To think that Watson would just casually make such a mistake about such a very serious gap in his friendship with Holmes -- and then claim it was recorded in his notebook -- is mind-boggling.

In previous conjectures, I have supposed that "Wisteria Lodge" did take place in 1892 and that a delirious Watson was imagining Holmes as Watson himself was called upon by John Scott Eccles to solve a mystery. But this morning, I started to wonder . . . was Watson's problem actually in 1892 or 1908?

Where was Watson in 1908? We know Sherlock Holmes is in his Sussex villa with the bees. We know Doyle, Watson's agent, was happily enjoying a new bride and soon to produce a new son. But Watson?

"At this period of my life the good Watson had passed almost beyond my ken," Holmes himself wrote in "Lion's Mane." "An occasional week-end visit was the most I ever saw of him."

One might deduce from the fact that Watson only visits his retired friend on weekends, that Watson is working still. Holmes is living well in retirement. Doyle is doing fine. Yet Watson seems to be stuck in a Monday-Friday job at this point in his life, despite the success of his writings and bit of celebrity.

And why would he be in such straits?

A gambling addiction? The demands of a too-free-spending spouse?  Does whatever the reason also coincide with his near barren writing period between 1904 and 1910.

The clues within "Wisteria Lodge" make it seem almost like a pastiche -- that hideous date, the fact that Holmes complains of being bored since they "locked up Colonel Carruthers" (a weird amalgam of Colonel Moran and Bob Carruthers of two other cases). Was the Mrs. Watson of that time so demanding that when her exhausted husband couldn't produce an additional story for added income, she wrote her own, then badgered him into the much better "Bruce-Partington Plans" later that year?

Among the Sherlock Holmes stories, "Wisteria Lodge" will always be one of the weirder ones, with a backstory that is surely stranger still. Further analysis is going to be needed, I think.


  1. Watson says 'I find it recorded in my notebook...', but does not say that HE did the recording. 'Tis a puzzlement.

    1. Hmmm, good point. Maybe Mrs. Hudson was sneaking some things in there!

  2. I suppose 'printer error' has been a popular explanation.