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The Clock that Went Backwards


Added Thu, 24/03/2022
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The Clock that Went Backwards

"The Clock that Went Backwards" is a fantastic short story by Edward Page Mitchell, which was first published anonymously in the newspaper "The Sun" on September 18, 1881.

This story is considered to be the first known case of mention in the literature of a mechanical device for time travel. It is also the first work in which a time paradox was used as the basis of the plot – that is, a situation in which a guest from the future does something in the past he visits that changes the circumstances of the future.

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A fantastic story Edward Page Mitchell's "The Clock that Went Backwards" (1881) is considered the first known case of mentioning a mechanical device for time travel in the literature. It is also the first work in which a time paradox was used as the basis of the plot – that is, a situation in which a guest from the future does something in the past he visits that changes the circumstances of the future.

The narrator recalls how Harry and his cousin visited his great-aunt Gertrude in Maine. She often told the story of her family, dating back to her great-great-grandmother, who migrated from Leiden to the Plymouth colony with a "Puritan refugee" in 1632.

Gertrude had a Dutch clock made by Jan Lipperdam in 1572, which stopped at a quarter past two, as long as the boys could remember. She claimed that the watch did not work because it was struck by lightning, and resisted all attempts by the boys to determine the extent of damage or repair.

One night, the boys see Gertrude winding up the clock, after which they go in the opposite direction. Until the clock stops, she says something, then switches the clock to 3:15, and then falls to the floor and dies. According to the will, the narrator receives all of Gertrude's possessions, while Harry gets only the watch.

The boys go to Leiden University, as Gertrude recommends in her will, and bring a watch with them. The philosophy teacher, Professor Van Stopp, gets close to the boys because of their interest in Dutch history. During a tour of historical sites, they visit the place where the city wall was breached on the last night of the siege of Leiden in 1574. The professor is surprised that Harry realizes the significance for the history of the person who discovered the breach in time, which allowed him to put up timely protection. If it were not for this man, Van Stopp argues, Spain would have suppressed the uprising in the Netherlands, and the "birth of the spirit of freedom" could have been postponed.

In the third year, Van Stopp visits the boys and asks about the clock. He is amused by the idea that they only work in the opposite direction. Referring to the Hegelian concept, he assumes that the sequence of the past, present and future is arbitrary. A thunderstorm is coming to the city. Van Stopp winds up the clock, ignoring the warnings of the boys who told him about the circumstances of Gertrude's death. A fireball appears and strikes the clock, stopping the mechanism and throwing the professor to the floor.

The narrator and Harry run away from home and find themselves in 1574, during the siege. The townspeople, who are on the verge of starvation and desperate that the fleet will not arrive to their aid in time, are arguing whether to accept the offer of amnesty from Francisco de Valdez. The crowd, which does not agree with this proposal, is going to get rid of Burgomaster Peter Adrianson van der Werf. Harry rushes to the aid of the mayor's daughter, who kisses him in gratitude and introduces herself as Gertrude. The crowd does not touch the mayor, who declares that he would rather die than surrender. The change in the wind direction revives the hope of the townspeople that help will arrive by morning. During the night, a crowd of people gathers on the streets of the city, waiting for the first ships to appear. Suddenly, explosions are heard, and panic begins: the townspeople realize that the wall has been breached, but do not know the exact location. The narrator quickly finds the mayor and tells him where to find the gap. When they arrive at the site of the breakthrough, they find that the attack has already been repelled. Among the defenders they see Jan Lipperdam, whose resemblance to Professor Van Stopp surprises the narrator. Gertrude tells her father that it was Harry who noticed the breach and thereby saved the city and the whole of Holland. The narrator begs Harry to return to their rooms, but Harry does not want to leave Gertrude. At this point, the narrator loses consciousness due to an arm injury sustained as a result of the attack.

Three days later, the narrator returns to the university in the present day. His arm is bandaged, and the seat next to him is empty. In his lecture, Professor Van Stopp reflects on the influence of the 19th century on the 16th century and asks the question: "If a cause generates an effect, does an effect never generate a cause?"

Phenomena in artwork: Chronorally

The mechanism that allows time travel in the work is an antique clock. Most of the time they stand, but if you wind them up in a thunderstorm, the arrows begin to move backwards. The journey into the past itself is described as follows:

.."The past, the present, the future – everything is intertwined with each other, and you can move back and forth, forward and backward."

He wound up his watch. The arrows spun from right to left with unimaginable speed. It seemed that we ourselves were spinning in their vortex. Infinity could fit in a minute, and human lives flew by every second. Van Stopp, arms outstretched, was spinning with the chair. The house shook again. At the same moment, a fireball flew over our heads, leaving behind a wave of acrid smoke and filling the room with blinding light, and crashed into the clock. Van Stopp was lying on his face. The arrows stopped.

The people who are in the room at that moment are transported to the past, to one of the key moments in the history of their state. There they perform actions that allow the story to go in the direction that will lead them to this journey in the future.

The reverse movement is not described. The narrator simply loses consciousness as a result of injury, and then describes the events that happened three days later in the present.

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