Bring the Jubilee is an unusual book, in that it posits that rather than losing the American Civil War, the Southern states won the war following victory at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Told from the point of view of a time traveling historian trapped in our time line’s version of 1877, this novel is a fascinating reimagination of history.
The alternate 20th century into which the central character of Hodge Backmaker is born is a fascinating one. The former Confederate states have built an empire which reaches to the tip of South America, which the remains of the United States are impoverished and weakened. The Southron States, as they are styled, have abolished slavery, left the North a backwater, conquered southward through Mexico and into Central America, and developed technologically along slightly different lines than those familiar to us. Hodge is intent on becoming an historian, and in his alternate 1940s travels to New York City in an attempt to find a place in a university. After some misadventure, he arrives in Pennsylvania at the Haggershaven compound, where a time machine is being perfected.
Given the opportunity to test the machine, Hodge travels to what is widely considered to be the moment in the Civil War at which the South wins, and inadvertently alters his own future. No longer able to return to his own time, he must live out the remainder of his days in our reality, in which the Confederacy lost the war.
Overall, Bring the Jubilee is a compelling and thought-provoking story. I found my relative ignorance of the history of the American Civil War to be a limitation which I will have to address at some point in the future, but not so much so as to impede my enjoyment of the tale.
Moore’s alternate world was meticulously thought out, and I found myself wishing that he had used the character of Hodge Backmaker to explore it more thoroughly, especially the subplot revolving around the “Grand Army” the guerrilla terrorist organisation in residence in his alternate, defeated, and downtrodden northern United States. Even a greater span of narrative spent on the world stage of the time, or perhaps more time spent in the Confederate States and their putative golden age would have been of interest. This could have been accomplished by sacrifing much of the Haggershaven subplot, which to my mind needlessly diluted the impact of the story.
The time travel elements, and the problem of paradoxes, were well-handled, so much so that it surprised me to remember that when Moore was writing Bring the Jubilee in the early 1950s, this subject matter was not the well-travelled ground that it now is. It’s always distressing and even possibly humbling to me to learn, at my advancing age, that I and others around my age did not invent all of the really fascinating notions of speculative literature. It’s rather humbling to find that my father’s generation was already there, fifty and sixty and seventy years before.
When I first learned of Bring the Jubliee I obtained an inexpensive copy of the first edition from 1953, and I have to say that this may have helped with the overall reading experience, as the browned and aged paperback lent a certain sensory quality to reading this book that I’m not sure the Kindle for iPad would have matched. It’s an experiment worth repeating, if you’re so inclined.
All in all a fascinating novel well told, with a few flaws, but one which has not really dated despite being written some sixty years ago. Recommended, four and a half stars.
Originally reviewed 19 May 2012.
Find your copy of Bring the Jubilee at AbeBooks.com.