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  • Writer's pictureGareth Williams

Moral standards for a time traveller

One of the challenges facing my character, Richard Davey, when he finds himself living the remainder of his life from 1815, is the question of how to behave? Should he retain the attitudes and morality he absorbed and lived by in the 21st Century or should he adapt himself to the prevailing standards of 1815? It looks like a choice between being good and being bad, doesn't it? After all, he was a champion of women's education and equality. In 1815, married women had no legal status worth talking about.

So, let's assume he wants to do the good thing. Retain his moral compass as it was calibrated in the 21st Century. That should be simple, shouldn't it? Just keep living the way he had always lived.

That would be simple (if pointless) in a vacuum. But he is surrounded by men and women shaped by the mores of the early 19th Century. Much of the world still tolerates slavery. Class divisions determine life opportunities almost as much as gender.

More than that, his hero is Napoleon Bonaparte, a complex character to say the least. A child of the French Revolution (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!), he established a hierarchical empire that conquered a huge swathe of Europe and reintroduced slavery. A bleak record, to say the least, even if there was nothing so controversial about his actions from an early 19th Century perspective.

Well, Britain was taking steps to reduce the global slave trade. So, there were examples of more forward thinking to encourage Richard to take the good path, following his moral code, despite the views of those around him.

All of this is easy to say but harder to do. He can try to live as an example to others, in so far as he is in control of his actions. Even if no one else takes much notice. But he is likely to be ridiculed for being out of step with the prevailing morality of the time. This is the reality of any era. Indeed, many things he might think or do could land him in trouble or even on the wrong side of the law.

His problems only get more intense when he finds himself in Shaka Zulu's capital in the sequel to Needing Napoleon. The life of all his subjects rests in the hands of the Zulu leader. His word is law without possibility of appeal. He has shaped his society to wage a form of total war that will not be seen again until the global conflicts of the 20th Century. He had hundreds executed for not crying sufficiently when his mother died!

Richard's real challenge is to find a way to live a happy life in the 19th Century. Perhaps the only way to do that is to look at the world around him through 19th Century eyes? If he resists that approach, he may find himself ostracised, ridiculed, imprisoned or executed.

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