Nineteenth Century Time Travel Before H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”

by on November 8th, 2013
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H. G. Wells’ 1895 novel The Time Machine is considered to be the seminal modern time travel story. But, it wasn’t the first.

As we posted in our last two entries, time travel stories go way back. Here are some that were written closer to Wells’ era, before he wrote his influential novel.

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Rip Van Winkle (1819)
Rip Van Winkle falls asleep in Washington Irving’s classic story and wakes up 20 years later, completely missing the Revolutionary War. Irving is more interested in criticism of post-revolutionary America than issues we’d associate with time travel, and Winkle’s “travel” is mainly a device for him to become an outside observer to the social upheavals and societal changes brought about by the war and its aftermath. Although this story is considered a time travel story, in fact Winkle travels through time the way we all do – he’s just unconscious for 20 years of it. So technically it’s a bit of a stretch to call this story a time travel story.

The Forebears of Kalimeros: Alexander, son of Philip of Macedon (1836)
This novel by Alexander Veltman is considered to be the first Russian work of science fiction. In this book, the protagonist travels to ancient Greece on a hippogriff to discover ancient secrets to leadership and military success. He visits Alexander the Great and meets Aristotle and is fairly unimpressed, coming to the conclusion that people are the same no matter when and where they are.

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A Christmas Carol (1843)
In Charles Dickens’ classic tale, Ebeneezer Scrooge travels through the course of his life under the guidance of three ghosts and visits what was, what is, and what may be. Scrooge is merely an invisible witness to these time periods, but by what he learns he is able to alter the timeline. After seeing his life play out under its current course, when Scrooge is returned to his own time, he takes action to change his future.

The World As It Will Be (1846)
In Émile Souvestre’s book, a couple are taken to the year 3000 by a man named John Progress on a flying locomotive. In the future they discover marvelous things that we now take for granted such as air conditioning, subways, and telephones. The world is one nation with a capital in Tahiti. Eugenics and genetic engineering have become the norm, breeding specific types of humans for specific tasks. And corporations and the medical industry have immense government-influencing power.

The Clock That Went Backward (1881)
Written anonymously by Edward Page Mitchell and published in the New York Sun, this story follows three men who travel from the 19th century to the 16th, and play a decisive part in a battle between the Dutch and the Spanish.

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Paris before Men (1861)
Botanist and geologist Pierre Boitard was inspired by the new theory of evolution when he wrote this time travel story. A demon brings the protagonist back to the distant past, where he confronts dinosaurs and an ancient pre-human ape-like creature.

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El anacronópete (1887)
Gaspar y Rimbau’s novel is the first time travel story to feature a machine that travels through time, the “anacronópete,” an electric-powered cast-iron box. Don Sindulfo Garcia, the machne’s inventor, travels with a ragtag crew to various times and places, such as Spain in 1492, ancient China, the eruption of Vesuvius, and the time of Noah. One interesting element to this story is that there is a fluid generated on the machine to prevent its travelers from becoming younger as the machine travels backwards. At one point in the story this malfunctions, turning soldiers brought along to protect the crew into children. Another fun time travel element: Don Sindulfo discovers that a Chinese Empress he meets will later be reincarnated as his wife.

The Chronic Argonauts (1888)
Six years before H. G. Wells wrote The Time Machine, he wrote the short story The Chronic Argonauts in which a mysterious visitor to a Welsh village turns out to be a “chronic argonaut,” i.e. time traveler!

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)
In this novel by Mark Twain, a late-19th century American finds himself back in the time of King Arthur. He realizes that his knowledge of 19th century science and engineering has made him the smartest person alive, and he uses his knowledge to quickly rise to power.

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