The novel “Bring the Jubilee” by Ward Moore was published for the first time in 1953. It was originally a novella published in the November 1952 issue of “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction”.
Hodgins “Hodge” McCormick Backmaker was born in 1921 and has little in prospect for his life because the U.S. is in decline since losing the War of Southron Independence and have never developed from the industrial point of view. He likes reading and wouldn’t want to be a farmer all his life despite his mother’s disapproval.
In an attempt to fulfill his dream of living a life dedicated to knowledge, Hodge runs away from home and goes to New York hoping to be admitted to a university but he’s immediately robbed. However, he goes to work in a bookshop where he can read all the books he wants but he also gets involved in clandestine activities. After a few years, he moves to Haggershaven, in a quite unique community of scholars.
“Bring the Jubilee” is an alternate history novel in which the American Civil War was won by the South thanks to a key victory in the Battle of Gettysburg. This difference with the story we know has serious repercussions not only on North America but also the rest of the world.
The Northern states decay while the Confederacy of the Southern states becomes a great power but the split of the old U.S.A. and the impoverishment of the states that in our history contributed so much to the industrial revolution prevents the birth of many of the technological developments we know.
In “Bring the Jubilee”, the technologies that use electricity haven’t been developed and this leads to keep on using steam engines into the twentieth century. There are repercussions in Europe too, where Germany is a superpower and in France there’s an emperor.
This alternate world is somewhat underdeveloped also from a social point of view. In the twentieth century xenophobia is still strong so in Germany there’s a strong anti-Semitism even without the rise of Nazism while in America only white people have full citizenship and particularly in the U.S.A. Afro-Americans are a scapegoat for the defeat in the war and the consequent problems. In essence, Ward Moore turns upside down the the situation he’s seen in his country, in which the weight of the defeat was felt in the Southern states in various ways for decades.
It’s in the impoverished U.S.A. that Hodge Backmaker is born and grows up. “Bring the Jubilee” is his story, which he tells in first person. Hodge was born in 1921 but starts his biography in 1877, thus revealing that he made a journey back in time. The rest of the novel explains how he got to that point in a plot that, besides time travel, is linear.
Hodge is a guy who likes reading a lot but because he lives in a peasant society is considered weird. The start of his story is similar in some ways to that of science fiction fans so the reader will tend to sympathize with his situation.
Often in the stories told in first person the character used as a narrator is the only one well developed. Instead, in “Bring the Jubilee” characters are a strength because Ward Moore describes their behavior through Hodge but also for what they say. In this novel, action is limited while there are a lot of conversations and through them we understand the characters better.
Ward Moore is rather philosophical in the way he talks about history in “Bring the Jubilee” offering through his characters opposite ideas. The bookseller Tyss argues that history is predetermined while Enfandin, the consul of Haiti, is a supporter of free will. Hodge is insecure and his decision to become a historian is almost a way to simply observe what’s happening in his life without interfering. However, aventually he’ll discover that even lack of action may have consequences.
Obviously we can argue the plausibility of the world situation described in “Bring the Jubilee” but I think Ward Moore does a good job in describing the possible social and political consequences of the victory of the Confederacy in the American Civil War.
In my opinion, “Bring the Jubilee” is a really good novel that deserves to be considered a classic and a must-have for alternate history fans. Actually, I recommend reading it to everybody.