Time Benders: The Man with the Twisted Lip

Most anyone who has spent some time in the study of the Sherlock Holmes stories knows of at least some of the problems associated with trying to put the cases in chronological order or even pinpoint the date of a single case. One such notable dilemma of the latter kind occurs in ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip.’

Early in the story Watson writes the following: “One night – it was in June, ’89.”

It appears to me that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had already heard some of the criticism of his accuracy as to certain trifling details in the stories, such as dates, for he seems to be tweaking his audience with this exchange in the opium den between Watson and his friend Isa Whitney:

___”My God! It’s Watson,” said he. He was in a pitiable state of reaction, with every nerve in a twitter. “I say, Watson, what o’clock is it?”

___”Nearly eleven.”

___”Of what day?”

___”Of Friday, June 19.”

___”Good heavens! I thought it was Wednesday. It is Wednesday. What d’you want to frighten a chap for?” He sank his face on to his arms, and began to sob in a high treble key.

___”I tell you that it is Friday, man. Your wife has been waiting this two days for you. You should be ashamed of yourself!”

___”So I am. But you’ve got mixed, Watson, for I have only been here a few hours, three pipes, four pipes – I forget how many. . . .”

As it turns out, 19 June 1889 actually is a Wednesday! Later, when Watson meets Holmes in that same opium den, Holmes presumes that Watson must think Holmes has been smoking opium, but, perhaps, it is Watson who has been much affected by the den’s atmosphere on this night!

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