"Most people think Marv is crazy. He just had the rotten luck of being Born In The Wrong Century. He would've been right at home on some ancient battlefield, swinging an axe into somebody's face. Or in a Roman arena taking a sword to other gladiators like him. They'd have tossed him girls like Nancy back then."
There's a certain type of character who yearns for Ye Goode Olde Days, when things were more exciting, or simpler, or better in some other way. Or maybe they feel they'd fit in better in a time other than their own. Or maybe they're just history buffs and would like to have been around when all that history was happening. Maybe it's the romance they miss.
Or maybe the character is an inventor ahead of their time who just can't convince anyone that their crazy ideas could make a benefit for mankind, or a sci-fi buff who only wishes that all those stories about spaceships and flying cars were real, or a subculture waiting for the time when the world will be ready for them.
No matter what the reason, though, this character feels that he or she was born in the wrong century.
Characters of this sort often find themselves involved in Time Travel adventures — maybe they jump at the chance to test out some new time travel technology; maybe they're selected because their knowledge of the era will be useful to their fellow time travelers; maybe they just want to travel through time so badly that the fabric of spacetime folds itself for them for no adequately explained reason. Sometimes, these characters learn that the time they wanted to live in isn't so great after all, but just as often they don't. If so, they may choose to stay.
Note that this trope usually involves characters who live in modern industrialized democracies where they have a great deal of freedom and luxuries, which can make their nostalgia hard to take seriously. Characters from a crapsack country ravaged by plague, famine, or an evil dictator, are probably justified in feeling this way, but are rarely depicted unless they live in a future dystopia. Alternatively, like in the page quote, these characters are people who would like to return to a time when physical violence was a good pathway to fame and fortune.
Meanwhile, outside of science fiction and fantasy, characters like this are just stuck in the present day. Sucks to be them.
Such people do exist in Real Life, by the way; the time travel part, on the other hand, is probably not Truth in Television. Compare with Fan of the Past and Disco Dan. See also Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used To Be for cases governed by Nostalgia Filter or The Theme Park Version of "Ye Goode Olde Days".
In a Batman and Martian Manhunter team-up in Detective Comics in 1997, Wally Dalbert, a 27th century thief who commited his crimes by travelling backwards in time but had no way of travelling forwards, eventually settled to become a philanthropist in 19th century Gotham, where he had previously indicated he would feel more at home.
Subverted by time-travelling foes of The Flash, Abra Kadabra and Professor Zoom, who travelled to the 20th century because they felt out of place in their own eras, and turned out not to fit in very well there either.
Played with in the case of Klara Prast of the Runaways, who travelled forward in time from the early 20th century. On the one hand, she doesn't miss her old life of being married to (and exploited by) her abusive alcoholic husband at the age of eleven, or the persecution she used to suffer because of her plant-controlling abilities. On the other hand, she finds many aspects of the modern world baffling (it doesn't help that her guide to modern world is Molly Hayes, whose own understanding of the world is rather spotty.)
The story takes Sally Sparrow's attraction to old things and fleshes it out, to the point where she's a history major. Which is terribly convenient, since she marries Dr. Watson and lives the rest of her life in the first half of the twentieth century.
Beth Lestrade and her father, Michael, are big history buffs, especially regarding Victorian Britain. Justified in that they're descended from the original Inspector Lestrade.
In Back to the Future, Doc Brown longed to be back in the days of the Wild West, which he manages to visit in Back to the Future Part III.
This is the whole premise of Midnight in Paris; the protagonist feels like he would have loved to live in 1920s Paris, only to find a way to visit that era. There, he falls in love with a woman who wants to live in the 1890s, and when the two visit that time they find out the people back then wanted to live in the Renaissance.
The whole premise of The Brady Bunch Movie is that the '70s incarnation of the family is transplanted into 1995 and comically unaware of the world around them being different than it was back then.
Somewhere In Time has the protagonist falling in love with a long-dead actress from the past.
One of the defining parts of the Maestro Villard in By The Sword is that he wonders what it would be like to live in an age where people actually fought with swords to the death, actually wanting to feel the sensation of actually killing someone. Max Suba, another fencing instructor, is not so inclined.
The protagonist of Jack Finney's Time and Again wants to live in the 19th century, so he volunteers for a time-travel experiment. And the follow-through: he ultimately decides to stay in 1882.
For the protagonist of Caroline B. Cooney's Time Quartet, just briefly wishing that she lived a hundred years in the past seems to be enough to send her back in time. She winds up discovering that the Victorian era is not as great as she thought it was. A later book has an ahead-of-her-time Victorian girl travelling to the 1990s, with similar results — the culture shock is just too great for her to feel comfortable staying there.
The book The Sterkarm Handshake features a tramp on the streets of Edinburgh who is given a chance to travel back to 16th century Scotland, where he fits in a lot better.
Alfred Bester's short story "Hobson's Choice" deconstructs the hell out of this trope. The main character lives in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse. He believes he lives in the worst time ever and dreams of escaping to the past. He discovers time travelers appearing from a small town and finds out that they are being sent there as a form of therapy because they believe that his time period is a Golden Age. The time travel technicians point out to him that in real life it would be nearly impossible for anyone to adapt adequately to live in a past time period. The time travelers are being sent back as a form of therapy to get them to readjust to life in their present, and most soon come back after finding they can't live in that time period. It is also pointed out that there is probably no point in time that someone, somewhere, and somewhen doesn't think is a golden age.
It isn't actually time travel, but the Darkover novel Two to Conquer gives the same effect with Paul Harrell — quite explicitly described as being in the wrong century — being transported from the Terran Empire to the feudal-era Lost Colony of Darkover.
In Tim Powers's The Anubis Gates, Professor Brendan Doyle — who studies 19th century poetry — ends up stuck in London in the year 1810 after getting separated from his party of time travelers. (They were just popping in from 1983 in order to sit in on a lecture by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.)
There are literally dozens if not hundreds of romance novels that use this trope, either by sending the heroine into the past to meet a dashing hero or having a dashing hero brought to the heroine's time to woo her as he plays the Fish out of Water. When Status Quo is returned and everyone is back in their own time the heroine usually meets the hero's descendant and falls madly in love with him in the last few pages or paragraphs.
In Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol", Everard wishes that people from his time who talked of the "noble Nordic" could see the Dark Ages peasants he is seeing.
The main character in Edward Ormondroyd's Time at the Top, a grade-school aspiring actress, wished that she could've lived back when women wore long dresses that went "swish." Fortunately for her, the ditsy old lady she'd helped with her potatoes and hat on a windy day granted her three trips back to the past via the elevator in her apartment building.
The titular character in Nancy C. Swoboda's "Christopher Frame," who wished that he'd lived back in the days of real craftsmen, discovered that he could travel to the period when a photograph was taken if he put it on his dresser, set his developing timer and then went to sleep. He managed to stay in the past by asking a girl from the period to hold his hand and not let go when the timer was about to go off.
In Island in the Sea of Time, Marian Alston goes from being a lonely, closeted Coast Guard officer to a beloved and respected war hero after the Event sends her ship back in time to the Bronze Age. The only thing she seems to miss about the 20th century are tampons. Similarly, William Walker rather likes the opportunities presented by a world in which "might makes right" is still a respected principle.
Live Action TV
Oliver O'Toole, the main character of Signed Sealed Delivered, prefers quoting Shakespeare and writing letters to spending time on the internet.
The original Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" had Edith Keeler, a pacifist activist who was born in the wrong century. Her ideals matched the future Federation's exactly, but had her movement succeeded, Hitler would have won World War II. She herself was not a Time Traveller.
The Twilight Zone episode "A Stop at Willboughby" is all about this. Also the episode with Buster Keaton, which involves a time traveler going to the late 19th Century and being frustrated by the lack of modern conveniences.
Captain Jack Harkness, from Doctor Who and Torchwood, was born in the 51st century, but has a deep fondness for the 1940s, to the point where he impersonates (and/or enlists as) an American volunteer in World War II at least three times.
The first time was just part of an elaborate con to sell an alien ambulance he was claiming was a warship. It was sitting on the exact spot a bomb was going to hit, and he planned to take off with the money.
There's also something of an inversion in Torchwood in that he sometimes seems to be living in the wrong century, considering 21st century social and relationship mores as being "quaint little categories". The current day attitude to relationships seems very different from in his time...
A much darker example, as well as a slight subversion from the same 'Verse is Professor Yana, an elderly genius scientist who just happened to live at the End of the Universe, when all the stars had long since burned out. When the Doctor encounters him and realizes that he built elaborate circuits out of food, he remarks that Yana would've been revered all across the galaxies if he'd been born earlier. But those galaxies, as Yana puts it, "just had to go and collapse on us." Ironically, Yana turns out to be The Master, the Doctor's former-best-friend-slash-archenemy, who had gone as far as to turn himself into a human and erase all of his memories to escape the horrors of the Time War. When he finally regains his memories, he is able to steal the Doctor's time machine and fly to the present day — but as his insanity had returned hand in hand with his memories, he no longer intends to use his genius for the greater good...
Amanda Peet from Lost in Austen yearns for the manners of the early 19th century. Luckily, she gets to stay there.
Elizabeth Bennet, meanwhile, would rather live in Amanda's time.
Warehouse 13 gives us a female H. G. Wells, who after over a century of being suspended in bronze, shows little surprise at the wonders of the 21st Century, as she had already predicted most of it in her writing. At various points, it could even be argued that given the ingenuity she displays in evading Warehouse agents, as well as her century old gadgets still outclassing them, even the 21st Century may still be a century or two behind her.
Prepared to go where my heart belongs — back to the past again
The protagonist of the Tony Banks song "Throwback":
I walk the backstreets
Of every dirty city, searching for the route
That leads me back to where I belong
I don't know how, but I'm trapped in the wrong time
If you know someplace I can go
Then I ask you, lead me to the door!
It has been said that Nick Drake would have been better off in Elizabethan England rather than the 1960s-1970s. He was known for his love of the poet John Keats.
Hatsune Rondo of Mayonaka Densha pines for 19th century London as she has become disenchanted with modern day Japan, and also wishes to escape from her unhappy home life. While she does get her wish and meets a dashing hero in typical romance novel fashion and meets her hero Sherlock Holmes when she gets there, living in Victorian London seems to be frequently costing her large chunks of her sanity. Hatsune is constantly exposed to dismembered corpses, attacked, tortured and almost violated by criminals and forced to confront traumas from her life back in the present day. And it turns out her dashing hero is just as lonely and insecure as she is. Yet she still prefers it to her own time.
Fry of Futurama states at one point that he's much more comfortable in the future (i.e., the show's present) than he had been in the 20th century. This is displayed several times, particularly the episode with his "girlfriend"; indeed, one of the first things he does on realizing he's in the future is realize that everyone he ever knew is dead, and then cheer — and while he later laments this fact, he quickly gets over it. This was actually a surprise to the creator's; much of the humor planned for the show was going to be Fry failing to fit in with the world of the 31st century, but had to come up with new avenues for jokes since the character would up adjusting far better than planned.
Time Squad: The two of the main characters share a fondness for another time; Buck Tuddrussel has a genuine interest for the days of when America was settling the Wild West in the 19th century, and gets teary eyed when able to experience it for himself. Otto is perfectly happy with living a million years into the future, as he had no real chance of a good life of his own in the 21st century. But even though he has a well rounded knowledge on history, he shows a very passionate interest in Colonial/Revolutionary War era America, with some of his heroes being George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.
Used twice with Jebidiah Townhouse in Regular Show, who was born during the early 1800's and always acted like he was in the 1980's the locals disapproved of this, so he decided to travel 200 years into the future, where his style is considered as old.
Shishio Makoto and the Juppongatana in Rurouni Kenshin aren't too happy about the upcoming peaceful Meiji era, because it doesn't present them many opportunities for conquering Japan and rebuilding it as the nation where strength is the only thing that matters.
Raoh and Toki from Fist of the North Star were both powerful practitioners of Hokuto Shinken, and would probably have become famous heroes of the style had they not had the misfortune of being born in the same generation, and also sharing said generation withKenshiro. Kenshiro went on to become the successor and the two brothers were forced into different roles, which ended with Raoh and Toki dead alongside many other who fell afoul of Raoh's ambitions.
Misawa of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX is a Badass Bookworm who gradually gets treated with less and less respect (by the characters and writers alike) as the series progresses—he's a highly intelligent and analytical duelist who ultimately comes up with a highly analytical and hypothetically effective control deck, but the show and the main characters use impractical combo decks and rely on New Powers as the Plot Demands to give them the cards they need under any circumstance. Contrast the next series Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, where every main character is some sort of genius that relies on careful strategy and setting up plays turns in advance. He'd have fit right in.
A Serial Killer in Franken Fran was noted as having attributes (intelligence, physical perfection, total lack of conscience) that would have made him a great king in the ancient world: they show a picture of him slouching on top of a mountain of naked women.
Exaggerated with Furuya in Seitokai Yakuindomo, who, being Shino's predecessor, is at most two years older than her. Yet she uses Japanese slang from The Eighties unironically and is so bad with technology that she uses a pocket abacus instead of a calculator.
The characters in the Manga Shakespeare series. The series uses the original dialogue, so we have modern or even future characters speaking in Olde English.
A constant implication about Cacofonix in Goscinny's run writing Astérix. Several scenes, interactions, aesthetic suggestions and lines suggest that Cacofonix may not be a truly Dreadful Musician at all, but The Rock Star, tragically living over 2000 years before anyone can appreciate his musical style or any musical instruments were made to exploit it. This is especially sad at the end of The Soothsayer, where he is told that voices like his would be popular in the future (by a phony, but soothsayers denounced as phony by the narrator earlier in the story make photographic predictions of the modern world), and later daydreams of himself on a modern stage performing to an adoring audience. This Alternate Character Interpretation is mostly put to rest by Uderzo's stories, which make it unambiguous that he is just awful, depending on how canon you find it.
Viz has several characters like this. Victorian Dad seemingly believes he is in the Victorian period and his strict ways cause a lot of embarrassment to his children. Major Misunderstanding is a conservative war veteran who wishes for the good old days — but is evidently senile, frequently mistaking something for something else which he then criticises for being too politically correct. Jack Black And His Dog Silver is similar to 1960s adventure comics, but the time period changes depending on the appearance — the only real constant are the 3 lead characters and their conservative nature.
Grandma Duck in Carl Barks' Donald Duck stories, who still uses late 19th century technology on her farm.
In Kill Bill, Beatrix Kiddo, Oh-ren Ishii, Bill and several others are old-school martial arts killers.
The main character of the independent film Man Of The Century talks and acts like a newsman from a 1930s screwball comedy, despite living in a decidedly less-wacky mid-90s New York. Interestingly, he has no hangups about it, and simply lives his life in his own peculiar way, seemingly without even realizing the strangeness of it. (It does mean he sometimes has trouble interacting with people, but he pulls through without complaint, usually.) In fact, he seems to be a happier, more fulfilled person than most of the other characters. The "mother" character seems to date back all the way to the 1850s.
In the movie version of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Claudia decides she wants an old-fashioned four-poster bed for her birthday, and her older brother mocks her: "You don't want the bed. You want to actually live in the sixteenth century."
In Quigley Down Under the villain, an Australian cattle baron with a fascination for The Wild West, says, "Some men are born in the wrong century. I think I was born on the wrong continent."
Both the protagonist and many antagonists from Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai lament the relative timidity of their 20th century lives compared to the death-centric past their cultural predecessors lived decades and even centuries before.
The entire point of The Brady Bunch movie. The family lives like it's the '70s when it's actually the '90s.
In Bronco Billy, Clint Eastwood's character, Billy, is the star of a traveling wild west show. However, he, and the rest of his group, seem stuck in this mentality that it is still the days of the wild west. Or at least that one can live as if it still was...
In Kamikaze Girls, the main character insists that she should have been born in 18th Century Versailles, and to compensate lives as a 'lifestyle lolita', practicing embroidery and eating only sweet food. However, in a twist of this trope as it normally applies to lolitas, it's made clear she doesn't romanticise the innocence of the era, but the hedonism — and thus she is willing to connive and sell counterfeit merchandise in order to buy her frilly dresses, seeing this as part of Rococo France as well.
In Sergio Leone's westerns the main characters are usually tough guys who are used to the Wild West of the earlier days, but don't feel at ease in the more modern age.
Momoko from the novel (and movie) Kamikaze Girls wishes she'd been born as a European aristocrat in the 18th century Rococo era.
David Levin in Everworld doesn't get to travel in time, but he does get to go to another world where all the old pagan deities went after people stopped worshipping them. Which is close... sort of.
The sentiment "to be born too late" is mocked in the satirical ballad "Miniver Cheevy" (1910) by Edward Arlington Robinson.
The poem spawned at least one parody, "Miniver Cheevy, Jr.", whose title character pines for a different era.
In S. E. Hinton's Rumble Fish, it is said that the Motorcycle Boy would have been better suited being a knight in the middle ages.
Many of H.P. Lovecraft's characters (largely because Lovecraft himself seems to have felt that way — see below).
The protagonist of Robert E. Howard's sword-and-planet tale Almuric is portrayed this way, more at home in a world not unlike the ones that Howard's Barbarian Heroes roamed than the world he was born in:
Many men are born outside their century; Esau Cairn was born outside his epoch. Neither a moron nor a low-class primitive, possessing a mind well above the average, he was, nevertheless, distinctly out of place in the modern age. I never knew a man of intelligence so little fitted for adjustment in a machine-made civilization.
Mr Prosser, the council employee in charge of demolishing Arthur Dent's house in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, is a direct male-line descendant of Genghis Khan. He doesn't know this, but has urges to move to a quiet cottage with axes over the door, and occasionally gets visions of lots of hairy horsemen shouting at him. He also wears a little fur hat.
Since that was written we have discovered that direct male line descendants of Genghis Khan are actually quite common.
Joe Mack, of Louis L Amour's Last of the Breed, is a college-educated Native American Air Force Pilot who deep down wants to go back to the days of bows and arrows, and surviving off of the land. Getting dropped in Siberia during the Cold War was a bit of a blessing for him and partway through the book, he realizes that he's never going to be able to enjoy civilization again, and considers staying in Siberia forever.
Don Quixote wants to live in The Theme Park Version of the past, in the world of Medieval romances, filled with knights errant, loyal squires, good and bad wizards, fierce giants, fabulous monsters, imaginary kingdoms, epic battles, lovesick princesses, funny dwarfs, squires made counts and a lot of outrageous adventures. At one point, Don Quixote, an impoverished Hidalgo like his author Cervantes, deplores the time of the gunpowder and the artillery, two technological advances that means the end of the cavalry and the initiation of new strategies and organizational forms in the armies, as well as a redefinition of the role of nobility in a society where individual courage and skill are useless, and the organization of nameless masses of soldiers (infantry) becomes important. So Cervantes is saying that for him, and for all the nobility (rich or poor), they were born in the wrong century, and they must renovate or die. And then, four centuries later (the first part was published in 1605), we see the nobility reduced to a mere showcase of frivolous magazines.
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung, That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
Asimov's The Caves of Steel features an organization of "medievalists" who detest their living conditions of overpopulated Earth (entire cities made into gigantic Domed Hometowns) and yearn to return to living in outdoor cities and villages. Like all other inhabitants of the giant metropolises, however, they are all instinctively agoraphobic.
A zig-zagged version in The Full Matilda by David Haynes. The titular Matilda basically lives the lifestyle of The Edwardian Era / early 1920s rich women. Even though she was born when that lifestyle would be possible, by the time she was a preteen that life was dying out (due to The Great Depression, people could not afford to have that lifestyle). Also, even if she could afford it, being black there was no way she would get to live that life during the time it was popular.
In Maskerade, Agnes Nitt is said to have been born too late. While nowadays looks and a lack of good sense matter more in opera than actual talent, 20 years ago actual singing mattered more and all the greats shared her girth (if names like 'Expando' and 'Gigli' are anything to go on).
The scouts and guides of Time Scout don't necessarily hate the present, but they love the past. Skeeter Jackson, with his special history, counts two different ways as being actually born in the wrong century.
A rather sad example is Miles from "The Alloy of Law" If he had been born three hundred years ago he likely would have been one of the greatest heroes in the world, but in his time period things don't turn out so well for him. This is remarked on in story.
Tauran Union General Janier, in the Carrera's Legions series, believes himself to have been born centuries late, and that he really belonged in the 19th century serving with Napoleon. He even goes as far as to have a custom recreation of the uniform of a Marshal in Napoleon's army that he often wears.
In The Fifth Elephant, newly appointed Low King Rhys Rhysson describes his primary political opponent as this, claiming he would have made a fine king two hundred years ago. Mind you, as a dwarf, said opponent was probably alive two hundred years ago, but probably not eligible for kingship at the time.
In The Truth, William de Worde notes that although Sacharissa is not especially attractive by modern standards, each of her features were considered the height of beauty in one time period or another, so from a sort of pan-historical perspective, she's one of the most beautiful women in the world.
Live Action TV
Rimmer from Red Dwarf longs for the glory of colonial days, seeing himself (incorrectly) as a brilliant tactician who could have put Napoleon to shame, and thus wasted as a vending machine technician.
Life On Mars had "Man Out of Time", a man who had chivalrous ideals, but ended up believing that the best way to fit would be to be the villain.
Alex: I would've been more at home in The Fifties. Stephen: I think you would've been too conservative even for then. Alex: The Seventeen-Fifties. Stephen: I think you still would've been too conservative.
Veruca: I just love these costumes. They're so dramatic! Do you ever wish you were born in a different century?
Tudgeman: I always thought I should have lived in the Third Age in Middle Earth.
Haley in One Tree Hill expresses to Skills in the season 4 episode "Pictures of You" that she feels that she was born in the wrong time, and she wishes that her son will have a greater feeling of belonging.
Tom Paris of Star Trek: Voyager is a real 20th century aficionado. Since this is the Star Trek universe, this knowledge proves useful time and time again, whether it's actually time travel or just a holodeck misadventure.
And Janeway is a big fan of her last century; she says about Kirk and co.:
Janeway: It was a very different time, Mister Kim. Captain Sulu, Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy. They all belonged to a different breed of Starfleet officers. Imagine the era they lived in: the Alpha quadrant still largely unexplored... Humanity on verge of war with Klingons, Romulans hiding behind every nebula. Even the technology we take for granted was still in its early stages: no plasma weapons, no multi-phasic shields... Their ships were half as fast.
Kim: No replicators. No holodecks. You know, ever since I took Starfleet history at the Academy, I've always wondered what it would be like to live in those days.
Janeway: Space must have seemed a whole lot bigger back then. It's not surprising they had to bend the rules a little. They were a little slower to invoke the Prime Directive, and a little quicker to pull their phasers. Of course, the whole bunch of them would be booted out of Starfleet today. But I have to admit: I would have loved to ride shotgun at least once with a group of officers like that.
Interestingly, all of these comparisons were bases for complaints from fans.
In Deep Space Nine Julian Bashir likes to pretend to be a certain Cold War Spy. Jadzia of course really was born in that century and still longs for it sometimes.
NCIS: Gibbs is clearly not at ease with contemporary technology. Cellulars? USB ports? If they fall into his hands, you may never see them again.
Bones: Max Brennan is described as better suited to be an ancient king or a warlord than a science teacher, especially after he found the guys who destroyed his family and burned them to death. Max himself is quite comfortable in the present; the present, however, is incredibly wary of him.
In Wizards of Waverly Place the otherwise reasonable authority figure Mr Larritate would much rather be in the Wild West than be the principal of Tribeca Prep. A spell to make everything like it was in the old west (passed off as a dream of course) proves that he would have been an excellent sheriff.
Peter Mannion in The Thick of It is essentially an old-school Tory who's career has lasted long enough to see him almost, but not quite, completely left behind by the media savvy, image-conscious, management-speak-bullshit infused nonsense his party has evolved into. He's clung on just enough to not quite be entirely irrelevant, but he also makes no secret about the fact that he hates almost everything and everyone about the party he's a member of.
While his voice was quite suitable for what he did, Pissy (best known as a member of Intestinal Disgorge) also showed at points that he was quite fit to sing Hair Metal or Disco.
The Howling Void, said band's frontman, occasionally displays his interest in Elizabethan-era writing. Prior to the release of "Dripping in Quiet Places," he began quoting passages from The 120 Days of Sodom on the band's Facebook page.
The cannons don't thunder, there's nothin' to plunder
I'm an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late
Maakies author (or at least a stand-in for him) Tony Millionaire wishes he'd been born in the past. He perks up at what sounds like a horse-drawn carriage, but it's only a dominatrix taking her be-hooved gimp for a walk.
Due to his dad's technophobia, Calvin remarked (in the 20th century) that he's "a 21st century kid in a 19th century family".
Mrs Thatcher was elected on the strength of promises to take Britain back to the Fifties. It weasn't until she reintroduced the Black Death, feudalism, and burning at the stake, that people realised she actually meant the 1450's.
From William Shakespeare we get Prince Hamlet, who famously said "the time is out of joint, o cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right," which roughly translates to the trope name.
The idiot who praises with enthusiastic tone All centuries but this, and every country but his own
Charles, from the game Space Colony, has the mannerisms, vocabulary, style, etc. of an officer in the British Royal Navy circa World War I. Yet he was actually born sometime in the 22nd century and currently lives on an experimental space colony. While he's a consummate gentleman and a skilled worker, his employers and fellow colonists are extremely perplexed by his personality.
According to the opening cinematic of Brütal Legend, our hero Eddie Riggs apparently feels like this as he sadly watches the "nu-metal" band he's working with performing.
Eddie: Ever feel like you've been born in the wrong time, like you should have been born earlier? When the music was... Real? Roadie: ...Like, the seventies? Eddie: Earlier... Like, the early seventies.
Thanks to Anachronism Stew, Professor Layton can fall prey to this. Layton himself is surrounded by advanced technology, a seemingly modern-day London, rock music, and other combinations of technological shenanigans, but he and his apprentice Luke look like they belong in the early 1900s, especially since Layton wears a top hat. Mask of Miracle only increases the confusion, because it shows us the young Layton—and he has a Funny Afro.
Jean Bison of Sly 2: Band Of Thieves was born in the right century, but after getting frozen in ice in the mid 19th century and thawing out in the late 20th, his obsession with taming the west is no longer welcome. Sly even admits that in his own time period he'd be considered a heroic pioneer.
Rin Tohsaka from Fate/stay night. Apparently being a magus means that you won't have any contact with tecnology, since she doesn't even know what a VCR is!
Patches in Catena, the lovable blonde, remains in the dark that the '80s have ended. She happily flounces around in legwarmers and bangle bracelets, singing hits by Cyndi Lauper and the Bangles. The other characters seem to feel it's in everyone's best interest that they not tell her the truth.
In Ghastly's Ghastly Comic Bobby calls Smokey out on stereotyping gay men as effeminate, Broadway-loving drag queens, declaring that "this is the twenty-first century" and they should be past all that. Cue the entrance of his (tentacle monster — it's a long story) boyfriend, swishing and singing show tunes. Embarrassed, Bobby admits that F'ga hasn't realized what century it is yet.
Captain Fanzone of Transformers Animated frequently reminds us how much he hates machines and is once shown using a rotary cell phone the size of a 1980s "Brick phone", and the show is set at least a fifty years in the future.
Considering the sheer amount of shout-outs in the show, this may be inspired by a World War II-era redesign of Soundwave that turned into a rotary-dial cell pone.
Hank Hill of King of the Hill. He often laments about how everyone has forgotten the values he once believed in, like modesty, decency, and plain old common sense.
There is a British girl by the name of Molly Harrad who is allergic to almost all modern-day materials and has to live inside a bubble — doctors say she wouldn't have a problem if she was living in last century.
Interestingly there were a number of notable people in the forties that seemed like that. Some of them did quite well in the century they were in so they weren't too much out of place. But they seem to have the air of making a Last Stand or setting themselves up for a Bittersweet Ending . In somecases, they actually were.
H.P. Lovecraft was quite fond of the 18th century — partly for the actual culture of the time and partly because he disapproved of the Revolutionary War — and apparently would sometimes date his letters 200 years before the actual time of writing.
Winston Churchill. Funny thing is, he managed to convince Britain to want to be like him. Sort of goes with being a Magnetic Hero. Quotes from teleplay Churchill and the Generals: "He's always the 4th Hussar, charging the guns at a gallop... I wouldn't put it past him to take over the 8th Army himself, on horseback, waving a sword".
For a rare future case, FM-2030, transhumanist philosopher. As if his name wasn't a good indicator, he had specifically stated as much: "I am a 21st century person who was accidentally launched in the 20th. I have a deep nostalgia for the future." His goal was to see his hundredth birthday in 2030, a time he believed "was" magical and utopian. One honestly wonders whether he was just seeing The Theme Park Version of things to come...
The last 200 years have not been kind to Emperors in general. Asian, Austrian, French, [P]Russian, Brazilian, San Franciscan...
An interesting case of the Austrians/Austro-Hungarians is how their Empire was both seen as both backward and progressive for its time. The multinational, multicultural nature of the pre-World War I monarchy would have looked much more in place during the days of feudalism or the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...just as it would fit very much in 21st Century Europe, where many countries have multicultural immigrant communities.
Since the end of the monarchy, the Habsburg family has been in strong support of European peace, The European Union, and European integration. Otto von Habsburg, the heir apparent at the time the Empire fell (his father Charles having taken the throne in 1916), went to Bavaria and pushed the Christian Social Union to endorse Europe; he served as a Member of the European Parliament 1979-1999, where he repeatedly brought up his ancestors' Empire—or rather, his father's reformist vision for it—as a guidepost for integration of the whole continent. His son has done the same in Austria.
Now that it's been brought up, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth itself counts: a major powerhouse in Eastern Europe which was an Elective Monarchynote Granted, those eligible for electing the King were mainly nobles, though still considerably larger compared to even England post-Magna Carta, home to a thriving multicultural, multiethnic societynote In addition to the Poles and Lithuanians were various communities of Ukrainians, Germans, Magyars, Jews, and Muslim Tartars, the latter two even retaining their religion well into the present—although the region's later Russian overlords, followed by a certain mustached German, eventually left the Jewish community a shadow of its former self and served as an inspiration for the later Declaration of Independence. In fact, the Poles even take pride in calling themselves the "Republic of Poland" since 1358. Unfortunately, it crumbled both by its own weight and constant struggles with their feudal yet increasingly romantic-nationalist rivals. One could say that Europe at the time wasn't quite ready for the Commonwealth.
19th century emperor Ludwig II of Bavaria, who built a lot of medieval style castles.
Nikola Tesla invented the radio, wireless electricity, fluorescent lightbulbs, arc lights, alternating current, and the Tesla Coil — a machine that could shoot lightning. He even had plans for a proto-internet. He also claimed that electrically-powered airships would transport passengers from New York to London in three hours, traveling eight miles above the ground, and imagined that airships might draw their power from the very atmosphere, never needing to stop for refueling. Unfortunately, his rival Thomas Edison did all he could to discredit him. Tesla also had horrible business sense, and so couldn't afford to develop most of his ideas.
Leonardo da Vinci was said by many to be at least 500 years ahead of his time. The irony being that if he was, many of the inventions we have today inspired from his works probably wouldn't exist.
16th century painter El Greco, whose art was seen as far too eccentric in his lifetime, was forgotten until art historians rediscovered his work in the 20th century and were amazed how modern it looked.
Jules Verne, whose futuristic stories were way ahead of their time.
Japanese writer Yukio Mishima pined for the days of Imperial Japan, and actually tried to overthrow the government. When he saw that nobody else listened to his rallying speech, he succumbed to despair and committed Seppuku.
Dutch author Godfried Bomans lived in the 20th century, but his interests and writing style showcased a strong love for the 19th century.
Anton Pieck, a 20th century Dutch illustrator, was well known for his drawings and paintings of 19th century life. He was very old-fashioned and didn't even own modern technology. Many people assumed he'd already died decades ago, since his art always portrayed scenes taking place in the 19th century.
French composer Erik Satie lived near the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, but actually longed more for life in previous centuries, such as the Middle Ages.
Belgian comic strip artist Willy Vandersteen (Suske en Wiske) had his characters frequently time travel to past centuries, but only a few times to an earlier time period of his own century (World War One).
American comic strip artist Robert Crumb has a strong emotional connection to the 1920s and 1930s and owns a large collection of music records and other memorablia from this time period. He generally feels that society and culture went downhill after the 1940s. Despite being an icon of the 1960s he despises modern rock 'n' roll and pop music.
Children's book author and illustrator Tasha Tudor believed she was supposed to be alive during the 1830s. She owned and used an extensive collection of clothing and artifacts from that time and even went so far as to have her son build her a house from that era (using old-time technology and materials), and said publicly that when she died she was going to reincarnate into the 1830s. She died in 2008 at age 92.
British radio presenter and astronomer Patrick Moore had trouble with many aspects of modern life, including rock music, feminism, tolerance for homosexuality and migration,...
Adolf Hitler and many prominent Nazis longed for a revival of the glorious Germany from previous centuries. It comes as no surprise that they all enjoyed Richard Wagner, whose operas show a mythological Germany full with strong, admirable heroes.
The same can be said about Benito Mussolini and his fascist followers, who tried to recreate the glory of the Ancient Roman Empire.
Pancho "El Cerillita" Franco was also longing to revive the days of the old Spanish Empire. So much, in fact, that it was the reason he asked Hitler to grant him territories in North Africa (Morocco and the Western Sahara) and the only things allowed in Spain were Baroque architecture/art in general (because it was born in Spain), Catholicism, Heterosexuality (gay poets like Federico García Lorca were banned) and women had to actually go to school to get a degree as housekeepers. With so much going on, it's no wonder why many people half-jokingly say Spain did not come out of the Middle Ages until after 1975 (Franco's death).
On a sadder note, minorities might feel that way when encountering strong prejudice from their environment.
Related to that, interracial couples (and by extension, their children) have felt this way in the past.
Those who knew Nick Drake said he would have been better off in the 1600s or 1700s, evident from the way he dressed and the way his lyrics usually had to do with the seasons. He is said by some to be the reincarnation of John Keats.
It has been said of two famous British Army officers, who achieved renown in the latter part of the twentieth century, that they were born in the wrong century. Both Colonel "H" Jones (who won a posthumous VC for suicidal bravery in the Falklands War in 1982) and Colonel Colin Mitchell (who restored British prestige in the Aden War in 1967 after half-hearted political leadership virtually ceded the colony to Soviet-backed rebels) were fated to fight their battles in a time of Imperial decline. It has been said of both that had they been born when the British Empire was in the ascendent, a lot more of the world would have been coloured pink on the map. The social attitudes of both would have been more suited to the high days of Empire in the 19th Century.
It has been suspected that "Mad Mitch", as Mitchell was known, was prominent in the rumoured conspiracy to overthrow the Labour government of the 1970s in a military coup d'etat. Establishment disaffection with Britain's slide from superpower status, failing economic power and social liberalisation manifested in hostility to Harold Wilson's government and rumours persist of a plotted overthrowing by force of a democratically elected government. A charismatic soldier turned very-right-wing Tory MP known to be embittered with his political masters would have been a natural member of such a junta.
Another 20th century British soldier, this one from World War II, might also be a throwback to an older era—Major Jack Churchill, a commando officer from World War II, often went into combat with a sword and a longbow—and he is the last British soldier known to have killed an enemy with a longbow.
Historical re-enactment may or may not count towards this trope.
The Taliban planned to turn Afghanistan back to the old Islamic Caliphate.
The long-serving Austrian chancellor Klemens von Metternich hated revolutions but had to spend his whole life witnessing The French Revolution and its aftermath. He expressed this exact feeling in one of his letters to Dorothea Lieven : "My life has coincided with a wretched epoch. I came into the world too soon or too late ; today I know I can do nothing. Earlier I should have enjoyed the pleasures of my age ; later I should have helped in reconstruction. Now I spend my life in propping up buildings mouldering in decay. I ought to have been born in 1900 and to have had the twentieth century before me."