If It Had Happened Otherwise

I’m on vacation, but I’ll still post this.

It even has some World War One material relevant for today.

This was, I believe, the first collection of academic alternate histories ever done and featured various famous historians and literary writers of the early 20th century.

This is a Raw Feed, so my historical ignorance is not as great as 29 years ago.

Raw Feed (1987): If It Had Happened Otherwise, ed. J. C. Squire, 1931, 1972.if-it-had-happened-otherwise

“Introduction”, J.C. Squire — Brief comments on academic alternate history treatises.  Emphasizes importance of causality chain beginning with trivial event (brilliantly explored in Bradbury’s “Sound of Thunder”) and how we almost always think of alternate histories as undesirable worlds to our own though this obviously depends on cultural/moral/political point of view.

“Introduction”, John Wheeler-Bennett — Brief comments on history of alternate history as literature and valid historical speculation. (His definition of alternate histories are peculiar. He includes political sf like Fail-Safe.)  He also writes on why he likes sub-genre.

If the Moors in Spain Had Won“, Philip Guedalla — Like most essays in this book promise to be, this story (told in excerpts from travel books, history texts, diplomatic papers, and newspapers) this is a rich source for alternate world ideas. The work not only develops its premise but wryly comments on historical study:  chance events of little seeming significance to change things drastically, the events of our history were not inevitable, over reliance on economic factors in studying history, and belief that events in our history were for the best.

If Don John of Austria Had Married Mary Queen of Scots“,  G.K. Chesterton — A rather muddled piece of writing (part of problem could be I’m not familiar with the fine points of English history) whose purpose seems to be less constructing an alternate history than an edifying Christian legend of true love (which, evidently, the rest of us mortals can not achieve due to the Original Sin) in Don John and Mary’s marriage. Chesterton’s portrayal of Mary (perhaps because he is a Catholic) seems very idealized though he does seem to validly suggest Mary was a charming, beautiful, vigorous monarch. Chesterton seems to think their marriage would have included England in a greater community (that would have been created with the marriage) of a Europe with Christian traditions and morality and Renaissance vigor and questioning. He seems to attack Puritan influence on England as culturally mordant and brutal. He does have a satirical wit in regard to the question of history and study. He also has a valid point when he says we should consider personal motives such as attraction (and, unspoken, sex) as well as great abstract motives of diplomacy and economics. (A similar point as to Ward Moore’s saying history is made by people obsessed with the trivial.)

If Louis XVI Had Had an Atom of Firmness“, Andre Maurois — A witty alternate history based on changing Louis XVI from a vacillating weakling to a stubborn, purposed man who keeps his minister Turgot around (instead of dismissing him after two years) to institute reforms and defuse the French Revolution. The consequences for America (it remains a colony of England and eventually becomes the political capital of the Empire) and (there’s a very interesting novel in the last premise) France (no Napoleon) are profound. The part with Historian’s Heaven was very witty as was the angel explaining the presence of alternate histories all driven by individual will (brief foray into aborted Revolution was interesting too). Maurois seems to be setting forth a determinist view of history in that certain political states seemed to be reached no matter what coups and battles are fought and won (within a century or two and varying amounts of suffering). This is an Augustinean-like view of human progress. Enjoyable alternate history and informative about real French history.

If Drouet’s Cart Had Stuck“, Hilaire Belloc — Alternate history that supposes Louis XVI escaped Revolutionary forces to rejoin his forces and hold kingdom. The outcome is not as happy as it might seem. Reforms are never enacted, and France becomes a de facto protectorate of England due to intermittent political unrest (the monarchies of Europe don’t want their subjects to get any revolutionary ideas). Lack of reforms worsens problems and France becomes even more economic inefficient. Belloc’s wit was at his best parodying foppish English editors, diplomats, and travelers with their petty concerns about royalty and clubs. He also does a good job of satire in parodying government attempts to make defeat sound like victory (editorials in paper). However, Revival of Holy Roman Empire, while interesting (and revealing how prevalent and widespread the dream is), was unclear and muddled. Perhaps, I’m too ignorant of background to appreciate it.

If Napoleon Had Escaped to America“, H.A.L. Fisher — More of a satire/comment on Napoleon’s arrogant, ambitious personality than an alternate world. This world branches off from ours when Napoleon escapes to America as he really  wanted to. Napoleon takes Bolivar’s place in liberating South America. While he prattles on about liberty, he sets up dictatorships with aristocracies. Interesting that Napoleon wants to conquer with cultural ideas.

If Byron Had Become King of Greece“, Harold Nicolson — Main point of interest was Byron’s strange personality and interesting. Even so, I know so little of his life that that I can’t appreciate the possibilities of insight and wit on his character. I also don’t know much about (well, nothing actually) the Greek Revolution. Interesting idea but afraid main thrust doesn’t interest, and I can’t appreciate allusions.

If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg“, Winston Churchill — Interesting and rather utopic vision (Churchill, after all, does have a thing for “English speaking peoples” hence the ESA) of consequences of South winning (through Lee’s brilliant emancipation of blacks) Civil War. The diplomatic intrigues in England during war are interesting but (as with most essays in this book) I know too little to appreciate speculation on alternate events. Did learn about actual course of Gettysburg battle and importance. Liked speculation (Did Ward Moore use this essay as a jumping off point for Bring the Jubilee?  I think he did.) of North and South as armed camp and South’s expansion south into Mexico. However, I find expectation of ESA and greater United States of Europe (How that idea keeps cropping up from across the Atlantic) unrealistic but interesting.

If Booth Had Missed Lincoln”, Milton Waldman — Interesting alternate history that reveals problems Lincoln was facing in Reconstruction with his fellow Republicans. It also makes the point that (and very well though one would like to think Lincoln would have prevailed if he had lived — certainly his approach to Reconstruction was valid in terms of the nation’s ultimate health) a historical figure’s ultimate reputation can be a function of when they die. Waldman’s portrait of Lincoln is vivid and disturbing in its plausibility. One of the better efforts so far in this anthology.

If the Emperor Frederick Had Not Had Cancer”, Emil Ludwig — Informative mainly for details of German history particularly  in regard to Bismarck’s importance. Kaiser Wilhelm’s foolish diplomatic and military posturings are avoided by his father’s rule. Like so many authors in this book (and not surprisingly for a book written mainly in 1932), Ludwig images a diplomatic utopia (or perhaps not that unrealistic given his and other authors’ premises of things going only slightly different — a few cells, in this case, going renegade) that avoids the great conflict of 1914-1918. To underscore the point, a much wiser man ascends to the throne after Frederick’s death on August 1, 1914 — the start of the Great War in our time.

If It Had Been Discovered in 1930 That Bacon Really Did Write Shakespeare”, John Squire — A look at the consequences of proving Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays (with witty references to lines from certain plays taken, I presume, from Baconian “scholarship”). The strangest (in that it deals with literary alternate history –  albeit far reaching economic consequences for Stratford-upon-Avon) essay in the book so far. Broadly satirical with character-type names such as Dumbell and Nitwit (also blasts at high society). Not sure it was poking fun at Baconian faction or literary scholarship (presumption that middle-class, money-minded can’t be artistic) or both. Liked how Shakespeare’s reputation salvaged (through some more spurious reasoning).

If the General Strike Had Succeeded”, Ronald Knox — Almost of a meaningless value to me knowing nothing of the General Strike. Newspaper seems to depict life in a rather totalitarian (controlled food distribution and censorship) England of communism/socialism stemming from a silly aggrandizement of the manual labor.

If:  A Jacobite Fantasy”, Charles Petrie — A rather uninteresting alternate history (for me) in which Bonnie Prince Charles gets throne. It would have been much more interesting if long-range consequences would have been dealt with more instead of just details of Restoration.

If Napoleon Had Won the Battle of Waterloo“, G.M. Trevelyan — A not terribly interesting speculation detailing the Napoleon of Peace after a victorious Waterloo.  Political detail outside my scope of knowledge and interest.

If Archduke Ferdinand Had Not Loved His Wife”, A. J. P. Taylor — In some ways, the best essay in book. Taylor’s “sharp agate-point of history” is not an event but emotion: Ferdinand’s devotion to his wife. The famous historian, while not constructing an alternate history, asks an important question that disputes traditional view WWI was inevitable. Taylor says relations were thawing:  England and Germany were moving closer, France was becoming less belligerent towards Germany, and a natural-alliance of the three countries against Russia was expected. Saber-rattling was not foolish and begging for war; it was a diplomatic maneuver that had worked in times past. Taylor postulates four causes (minor and large) for conflict but none traditional: Ferdinand’s love, his car stopping after taking wrong path (and allowing his assassination), railroad timetables, and the Schlieffen plan.




2 thoughts on “If It Had Happened Otherwise

  1. Pingback: Roads Not Taken | MarzAat

  2. Pingback: What If? | MarzAat

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