July 2004

Jack D. Crispin, Jr.

fiction

Caesar's Column by Ignatious Donnelly

Forward should be backward.

Okay, it's not a forward, but labeled as an introduction. I contend, though, that it is misnomered. An introduction, in a few pages, sets up the story and perhaps gives a little info on the author. Nicholas Ruddick's 30 page microanalysis of Caesar's Column by Ignatious Donnelly delves into the author's life, politics, heritage, previous works, interprets the novel and leaves the only question begging to be answered is to whether the man ever ate pickled beets for breakfast! It flavors the reading of the novel too strongly, and should follow the actual text, not precede it.

As to the novel itself, I worry that it is being touted as an early beginning of American science fiction. It is set about 100 years in the future
(1988), but nothing much has changed, scientifically. Yes, you have New York being illuminated at night be a magnetically induced aurora (and that was a good one) and documents (newspapers and restaurant menus) being projected on glass screens, but basic transportation is still horse and buggy, long distance communication is still letter or personal courier, and air travel is by dirigible.

The main predictions regard society, and even here there is nothing striking. Instead of something novel, it is just the worst elements of society becoming more prevalent. The old "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" saw.

Donnelly's story telling capabilities are no better. Long diatribes, whether depicted as conversation or in letters home, espouse his social doctrines. But he certainly tries to appeal to all tastes. There is romance, murder, torture, harems, aggressive women, and poison bombs. Somewhere in the book is a quote about his purpose for writing it: to do good and make some money. He was more successful at the latter.

This work, intro and novel, does give a good view of the man, Ignatius Donnelly, who was an interesting individual. Having failed politics and high society, he moves west and turns to writing sometimes controversial and sometimes questionable books to forge reentry into the world he lost. The book is best taken as a limited glimpse of the man and his times.

Caesar's Column by Ignatious Donnelly
Wesleyan Press
ISBN: 0819566667
384 Pages