Okay, why am I, an American, referencing Guy Fawkes Night now, at the end of June? And what does the Halloween-esque English holiday have to do with Sherlock Holmes?
Oh, my goodness, you will not believe this… It’s tied into the chronology of the Canon. Seriously, it is.
1887, December: The first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, is published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual.
1888, September: The events of The Sign of the Four take place.
1889, early: John Watson and Mary Morstan are wedded. I have no concrete evidence for this assumption, but the stories that take place in the months following the wedding (e.g. “A Scandal in Bohemia,” “The Naval Treaty,” etc.) seem to place the happy event in early 1889 rather than late 1888. ’89, then, is the first year of Watson’s marriage.
1890, October: “The Red-headed League.”
1890, November: “The Dying Detective.” Watson places the event “in the second year of my married life,” which would be 1890 if it is true that he and Mary were wedded in ’89 and that the marriage referred to is his first rather than his second. (No bringing up the 3+ wives, please—I’m sure Doyle meant for Watson to have had only two.) Also, Mrs. Hudson informs Dr. Watson that Holmes cooped himself up in his room on Wednesday, three days before she came for Watson.
Now, here’s where it gets really cool.
My reason for DYIN being during Watson's marriage to Mary is twofold: one, the story potential of Culverton Smith working with Professor Moriarty is staggering; two (and far more importantly), Holmes would not have pulled such a stunt on Watson after all the consequences of Holmes’s faking his death. He would not have fooled Watson so a second time.
That being said, can there be a specific date for DYIN? Well, not actually, because we're never told whether it was early, middle, or late in the month. Still, there’s no reason why DYIN could not have taken place early in November, no matter the year, and that got me thinking. There’s a particular British special day that occurs early in November…
I checked out a calendar for the year 1890. It was a normal year (non-leap year) starting on a Wednesday. November 1st that year was a Saturday. Are you doing the math?
Guy Fawkes Night fell on a Wednesday in 1890.
When I saw that, I could have screamed my excitement.
Culverton Smith tried to infect Sherlock Holmes on November 5th.
This is, of course, assuming the year is right and the events took place early in the month. But what better day could Smith choose to defeat the Great Detective than a special day on the English calendar? Especially one associated with the words:
Remember, remember, the Fifth of November.
Culverton Smith would have ever after heard that and smiled at his victory over Sherlock Holmes, had the detective not beaten him at his own game. (And we already know it was in his character to gloat.) It was perfect timing!
In the end, it really is mostly conjecture with only a little bit of deduction, which naturally goes against Holmes’s grain. But if it were so, ah! if it were but so…
It’s certainly something neat to think about.