Another leitmotif is how would America be different had the South won the Civil War. One gem for this alternative history is the 1953 publication of Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore. In the novel’s first sentence, the narrator states, “Although I am writing this in the year 1877, I was not born until 1921.” It must be one of the strangest sentences in American fiction. But it makes sense when the novel is mainly set during the first half of the twentieth century. Moore’s conjured America is one of bleakness and of hopelessness with a hobbled economy and heightened social tensions. Confederate citizens rule over Northern subjects. Blacks, Asians and Jews are pressured to emigrate and indentured servitude prevails in the industrial centres. The major character, Hodge Backmaker, is fortunate to spend seven years living in a communal haven of creative people who would have been regarded as pariahs in the coarser society beyond its confines. As a history scholar specializing in the “War of Southrun Independence,” Hodge is given the opportunity to time travel to the site of the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the decisive battle that, in this alternative history, ensured southern victory. He is, however, warned that he must remain an observer. Inadvertently, he does become involved and with one altercation he wipes out his own personal history and changes the course of the war. Unlike the protagonist school teacher in Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (Simon & Schuster, 2011), who is able to retreat from 1963 America to the present, Ward’s time traveller cannot return to his former life living with his wife and fellow intellectuals. He is destined to live out his life in an America that resembles the historical reality of the late nineteenth century but one wherein he feels estranged and is regarded as an oddball eccentric.
|author Stephen L. Carter|
With the caveat that The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln: A Novel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) is not about the south winning the Civil War, it does follow in the tradition of writing an alternative history. Its premise is that Lincoln recovered from his wounds inflicted by John Wilkes Booth but his vice president Andrew Johnson did not. Failing to become a martyr, Lincoln becomes politically vulnerable. Like his weaker successor, the historical Johnson, Carter’s Lincoln becomes the target for an impeachment trial led by the Radical Republicans who contend that the “tyrant” did not sufficiently protect the freedmen and that he intended to usurp the powers of Congress. As he did with his previous four novels, Carter combines a murder mystery, a spy thriller and a courtroom drama. Part of the trial itself adheres to the historical record of Johnson’s impeachment trial, and sometimes the novel feels weighted down by the rules of evidence and the minutia of the court proceedings that Carter as a Yale law professor intimately knows.