Ward Moore: Bring the Jubilee

August 8, 2020

613q34K95KL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_     Here is a curiosity, written in the year I was born, and which I have just read for the fourth time: a counter-factual, or alternative history, in which the Confederacy wins the Battle of Gettysburg and thus the American Civil War, which becomes the War of Southron Independence.

The novel tells the tale of a strange, rootless and wandering character, Hodge Backmaker, who lives in the backward and rundown northern part of the continent, seventy years after the end of the War. One of the best things about this novel is the sense of atmosphere: the economic and social decay and depression is sketched out initially and never stops being gradually fleshed out into a very convincing picture, and because the Confederacy is both wealthy and remote, we learn relatively little of life there. The northern states operate a system of indentured labour, where the poor basically sell themselves into serfdom in order to survive.

The alternative history genre is a curious one, and one that has attracted me because of the ‘what if’ question, which, in many ways links to the broader genre of utopias: would our world be a better place if x had happened instead of y? And there is an interesting proto-utopian element in this story, a commune of scientists, researchers and intellectuals who escape the grimness of life in the north in their settlement at Haggershaven, and to which our hero eventually finds his way by a long and circuitous route, as a serious academic historian of the era of the Civil War.

What is also intriguing about the novel is the wealth of interesting and eccentric characters and the philosophical conversations they have. The plot itself, and its development, is so very unusual and unexpected that it hooks and grips, even though it’s not particularly action-packed, suspenseful or exciting. Each time I’ve read it, I’ve fairly quickly forgotten all about the book except for a memory that it’s really good and I’ll read it again one day.

The denouement isn’t particularly original, either, depending as it does on the now-famous, so-called ‘butterfly paradox’ in time-travel tales, but again, it’s very skilfully done as our hero historian travels back to see how, exactly, the South came to win at Gettysburg.

It’s a minor classic of its type and well worth your attention.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: