This week I finally finished reading and recapping the W. Clark Russell novel The Frozen Pirate for The Watsonian Weekly, which started out as a bit of a lark, but then turned into something a little more solid in terms of actually wondering if John H. Watson had read that very book.
In "The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips," Watson tells us that it's definitely September of 1887, and that he's reading "one of Clark Russell's fine sea stories." He talks about the storm outside of Baker Street blending with the text as he read, and The Frozen Pirate is a book full of storms. It was also published in 1887, along with two other Russell books, A Book for the Hammock and The Golden Hope.
Was Watson the sort of Clark Russell fan to pick up the latest work by the writer of The Wreck of the Grosvenor? Or did he just come into The Frozen Pirate upon hearing good things -- Russell's biographer, J.G. Woods did include The Frozen Pirate in his short list of Clark Russell's six best books, according to Wikipedia.
It surely seems like a strong contender for Watson's stormy September read, but now I'm feeling like I need to survey A Book for the Hammock and The Golden Hope to see the amount and quality of the storms depicted in each.
The writer of the Historical Sherlock blog, Vincent W. Wright once told me that he thought a true attempt at Sherlockian chronology would require working with every single detail of one of Watson's writings, and I think placing what exact Clark Russell story Watson was reading would fit into that sort of thorough analysis. And in the case of "Five Orange Pips," that might mean reading all three Russell novels for 1887, and possibly those before that, checking papers and magazines to see which novels would have been currently on sale . . . but is a solid conclusion even possible?
Since Russell had been writing sea stories for over ten years at that point, the number of books one would have to review totals as many as seventeen. (The magic steps-to-221B number!) And Watson could have been given a second-hand book, had a favorite he hung on to from years past . . . so many possible routes for that book to arrive in his hands are available!
But sometimes, as Sherlockians, we take those voids and fill them with our own beliefs. Personally, I've come to put The Frozen Pirate at 221B Baker Street and in Watson's hands on the night John Openshaw comes to call. It's my headcanon, yes, but it's also a pretty good choice, having just finished reading it.
And the John H. Watson I know becomes a little more fleshed out, as he plainly enjoyed the book, and seeing what was enjoyable in it for myself shows me just a bit more of him, in that crazy Sherlockian way of bringing our heroes to life.