View Full Version : Earliest known work dealing with alternate history?
02-16-2005, 03:12 PM
Inspired by BrainGlutton's thread. There seem to be two kinds of divergent history stories: type A) one where time travellers directly or indirectly interfere with events in the distant past, creating alternate timelines (example, Bradbury's A SOUND OF THUNDER and type B) where a divergent timeline is conceived of owing to apparently random changes in events and extropolated for its own sake, (say, Harris' FATHERLAND.)
I assume those have antecedents. What are they?
02-16-2005, 03:19 PM
IIRC, there was a book in the early 1800s which discussed what life would be like if Napoleon had won at Waterloo. It was a series of essays by historians, and the early alternate history book tended to be of that nature.
Murray Leinster's "Sideways in Time" was an early piece of alternate history in the SF genre; it was published in 1934 and is often cited as one of the first fictional alternative history stories (i.e., not historians writing essays).
02-16-2005, 03:27 PM
The earliest example of alternative history appears to be Book IX, sections 17-19, of the Livy's History of Rome from Its Foundation. He contemplates the possibility of Alexander the Great expanding his father's empire westward instead of east, and attacking Rome in the 4th century BC.
The earliest alternative history published as a complete work, rather than an aside or digression in a longer work, is believed to be Louis Napoléon Geoffroy-Château's French nationalist tale, Napoléon et la conquête du monde, 1812-1823 (1836). In this book, Geoffroy-Château postulates that Napoleon turned away from Moscow before the disastrous winter of 1812. Without the severe losses he suffered, Napoleon was able to conquer the world. Geoffroy-Château's book must have been popular in France, for the subsequent years saw many similar novels published.
In the English language, the first known complete alternate history is Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "P.'s Correspondence", published in 1846 and which recounts the tale of an apparent madman and his purported encounters with various literary and political figures of the 1840s. At novel length, the first alternative history in English would seem to be Castello Holford's Aristopia (1895). While not as nationalistic as Napoléon et la conquête du monde, 1812-1823, Aristopia is another attempt to portray a utopian society which never existed. In Aristopia, the earliest settlers in Virginia discovered a reef made of solid gold and were able to build a utopian society in North America.
02-16-2005, 03:39 PM
From Uchronia - the Alternate History site (http://uchronia.net/bib.cgi/oldest.html)
Oldest Alternate Histories
This section lists alternate histories written before the genre could be considered a genre. Arguments can be made for a number of possible dates marking a possible genre beginning point, from the 1931 publication of J.C. Squire's anthology If It Had Happened Otherwise to the 1953 publication of Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee. The date chosen here is 1939, the year that L. Sprague de Camp's original short story of "Lest Darkness Fall" saw publication, an event which effectively made alternate history fiction a sub-genre of science fiction.
The increasing number of alternate histories which saw publication from the mid-1930s on are presumably a result of the generally respectful treatment given the subject by the essayists in Squire's If It Had Happened Otherwise and by historian Albert Toynbee in three essays included in his A Study of History.
The first allohistorical novel would seem to be either Benjamin Disraeli's The Wondrous Tale of Alroy (1833) or Geoffroy-Château's Napoléon et la conquête du monde, 1812-1823: histoire de la monarchie universelle (1836). There is valid question as to whether Alroy is truly allohistorical, in which case the Geoffroy-Château is certainly the oldest known allohistorical novel.
The earliest allohistorical short story is apparently Nathaniel Hawthorne's "P.'s Correspondence" (1845).
Other pre-1850 items listed below are not entirely alternate history but contain allohistorical digressions within larger works.
c 35 BCE — Livy (Titus Livius). Ab urbe condita.
1732 — Lesage, Alain-René. Les Aventures de Monsieur Robert Chevalier, dit de Beauchêne, capitaine de flibustiers dans la Nouvelle-France.
1791 — Delisle de Sales, Jean-Baptiste-Claude. Ma République [vt Eponine, ou De la république].
1813 — Pignotti, Lorenzo. Storia della Toscana sino al principato: con diversi saggi sulle scienze, lettere e arti.
1833 — Disraeli, Benjamin. The Wondrous Tale of Alroy [vt Alroy: or, The Prince of the Captivity, a Wondrous Tale].
1836 — Geoffroy-Château, Louis-Napoléon. Napoléon et la conquête du monde, 1812-1823: histoire de la monarchie universelle [vt Napoléon apocryphe].
vBulletin® v3.7.3, Copyright ©2000-2013, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.