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Examples of eerily similar timelines in literature.


  • "Hardcore" Alternate History refers to this trope as "the butterfly net" (as in the butterfly effect) and considers examples of AH works that use it to be unrealistic or frivolous — similar to the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness. Very commonly used in published AH, of course, because it's funny to see Richard Nixon as a used car salesman, even if the timeline diverged in the 1760s. Its use may, however, also be regarded as an example of Viewers Are Morons.
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  • In 11/22/63, despite Jake saving John F. Kennedy's life, events such as the Vietnam War, the Jonestown Massacre, and the Iranian Hostage Crisis still happen. In fact, not only do they still happen, they end up being worse than they were in our timeline.
  • In ...And thunder did not struck by E. Lukin, a History Protection Group employee explains why he despises "chronobumbles" — guys who steal (very limited) time-machines, don some "authentic" cloth and jump by schoolbook and tourist map:
    Get at it: they want to change not a history, but a schoolbook of history... See the difference? And can't grasp, dullards, that schoolbooks are used to be fixed not in the past, but in the present.
  • Animorphs:
    • Elfangor's Secret opens in an alternate history where Visser Four traveled back in time and mucked with (among other things...) the American Revolution and World War II (and Agincourt, but that was because his host body constantly recited Henry V to annoy him), trying to ensure that human society would be oppressive and backwards. He gets results, but all of the Animorphs are alive and superficially similar to their true selves — Cassie (who is African-American) owns a slave, but her usual-timeline boyfriend, Jake, still considers turning her in to the police because he wonders if her softness towards her slaves means she's liberal and opposes the Empire. Also, Blood Knight Rachel is replaced by her friend Melissa Chapman, as this society "has no use for uppity, aggressive females," and she's in a reeducation camp being taught "her place." Toward the end, despite wildly different historical outcomes, the 1960's still features a free-love hippie commune.
    Marco: "The United States is gone, or at least way different; the Nazis never happened, Einstein, who knows? But hippies are right when and where they're supposed to be? ...Maybe hippies just have to happen, you know? How else would we have bell-bottoms?"
    • Not sure if this is intentional, but another book has an explanation for this. It turns out that the Ellimist made sure that those particular kids became friends and started fighting the Yeerks, no matter what the timeline.
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    • In said book, the Drode (on Crayak's orders) gives a particularly stressed-out Jake a chance to undo history by having the kids not acquire morphing powers (and the stress that goes with it). Jake accepts... and as a result, the Yeerk invasion is actually closer to being exposed and defeated than the main timeline despite Tobias being infested, Cassie is revealed to be a temporal anomaly (she "remembers" how things are supposed to go)... oh, and Rachel goes on a date with Marco. You can see why everyone agrees to return to the main timeline.
  • In Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series the central premise is a) vampires are real, as are all fictional characters (and more of them are vampires than you'd expect), and b) Dracula vampirised Queen Victoria and ruled Britain for many years. But by the second book, World War I is happening in roughly the same way it did in ours (with a Lampshade Hanging that many believe it wouldn't have happened without the vampire influence), and by the third book (set in The ’50s) the vampires seem to have had no real effect on history at all; they exist, but everything else is the same.
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  • In Kim Newman and Eugene Byrne's Back in the USSA, American government and capitalism collapse in 1917 and Eugene Debs leads a Socialist revolution. After that things go much as in the USSR in our timeline, but with American figures — e.g., Al Capone fills the role of Stalin, J. Edgar Hoover is the equivalent of Lavrentiy Beria, and Eliot Ness is an agent of the Federal Bureau of Ideology. Dissidents risk getting exiled to Alaska.
  • The Big One series has numerous radical changes in history and international relations following on from Britain surrendering to the Nazis in 1940 — but the presidents of the United States, after FDR's death in '44, are Dewey (who beat Truman), George Patton, Curtis LeMay, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and "Jeb" Bush in 2008. However, the key point is the subtle differences in the characters of the Presidents in question. Lyndon Johnson is equally devious but without the pressures of Vietnam is much more of the social reformer he wanted to be. Nixon is a little less paranoid, Clinton more 'Presidential'. Contrasting the TB Overse presidents with their OTL equivalents is an indication of how much the different environments has changed them.
  • Though George W. Bush's presidency and his policies never occurred in Dale Brown's books, the US of 2012 is somehow still recovering from a major recession.
  • Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves takes this Up to Eleven. In this universe, Humanity has always possessed magic and unique forms of it exist in different groups of people, and magical creatures also exist alongside them. And yet history progresses exactly the same as it did in our world until the 19th century.
  • In Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci books, most of the main characters live in a universe where magic is functional, the French won the Battle of Agincourt, and North America is called "Atlantis" and is dominated by a Modern Mayincatec Empire. Nevertheless, a substantial fraction of the people there explicitly have counterparts in our world.
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court: Despite One-Man Industrial Revolution Hank Morgan's best efforts to defy this trope and drag 6th-century Britain kicking and screaming into the 19th century by introducing guns, education, democracy, electricity and advertising to the oppressed masses, it still ends with a civil war opposing first Lancelot then Mordred and Arthur (in this case, Lancelot making a big profit off the stock market causes less fortunate knights including Mordred to demand he pay back their losses lest they inform the king of his affair with the queen). The events of the final battle are taken directly from one of the best-known versions of the myth (the knights are at a peace conference, one sees a snake in the grass and draws his sword to kill it, misunderstandings and violence ensue), though narrated in Twain's style.
  • "How Much Shall We Bet?" from Calvino's Cosmicomics has two characters from the beginning of time betting against each other on the events of the universe, and the viewpoint character starts making specific bets about human events back when the two were still betting on whether star matter would condense into solid, orbiting objects (such as betting that the Assyrians would invade Mesopotamia before there were Assyrians, Mesopotamia, Earth, or even a certain G-Type yellow star that would eventually be the center of the solar system). Despite starting to lose his bets more and more frequently, the situation of his bets still occurred millions and billions of years after he predicted them (a man got three years imprisonment instead of life for killing his wife, a certain illegally constructed building was nine stories instead of twelve). Somehow, though each of his bets seemingly rested on the basis of billions and trillions and quintillions of previous precise predictions, the events of the bets still developed the exact context needed for him to lose (an almost infinitely higher probability than the context never forming in the first place).
  • Discworld:
    • Lampshaded in Night Watch: "Historical Imperative", as it's called by the History Monks, ensures that a time-displaced Vimes takes the place of his teacher after said teacher's death at the hands of another time traveler so that the "present-day" Vimes will be the same as he was before the time travel incident.
    • The Discworld runs on Narrative Causality, which may have also had a hand in it (or be another side of the same thing as Historical Imperative...).
      • An alternative view, with some substantiation based on other appearances of the History Monks, is that "Historical Imperative" is shorthand for "that version of events favored by the History Monks".
    • Also, in the second and third The Science of Discworld books, the wizards try to avert changes in history wrought by elves and Auditors, to ensure that Shakespeare and Darwin will complete their works and the Roundworld humans will achieve space travel before the next iceball smacks into their planet. In many versions of history, Darwin writes "On The Theology Of Species": a superficially-similar treatise that describes natural selection, but blames it all on divine will, hamstringing scientific reasoning for future generations.
      • Not to mention that this causes Richard Dawkins to write the real Origin (as in "of Species") later, with the shown excerpt worded identically to Darwin's version.
    • In Mort, the title character is acting as Death when he saves a princess that's supposed to die. It turns out her successor, while an evil man, would have united the city-states of the Plains. At the end of the book, Mort is reminded he needs to work to ensure this happens anyway.
    • Averted in Small Gods, in which the main character was supposed to die. Thanks to the intervention of one of the monks tasked with keeping the timeline working, he survives, prevents a hundred years of war and the "death" of a god.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe
    • In the short story "The Haldenmor Fugue", from the Doctor Who Storybook 2010, the Doctor teams up with a 21st century woman called Carla to stop temporal incursions in her home city of Haldenmor. The result is that Haldenmor was a minor Viking settlement in the 10th century, and then disappeared from history. Nonetheless the Doctor tracks Carla down. It takes some doing, because in the new history "her ancestors moved to Brazil in 1600". What, all of them?
    • The Past Doctor Adventures novel Spiral Scratch is set in a number of parallel universes. In one where the Roman Empire never fell, the Doctor's friend DI Bob Lines still exists as Praetor Linus, and is still friends with that universe's Sixth Doctor. His slave Melina is that world's Melanie Bush, and becomes the Doctor's new companion, replacing a "savage from the New World" called Brown Perpigillium. In another reality, the Doctor's companion is a half-Silurian named Mel Baal, nicknamed Melanie.
  • In the Dragonlance novels — specifically the Legends trilogy, which is aimed squarely at Time Travel — the point of view is that, if you're one of the races that was created along with the universe, it doesn't matter what you do in the past, events stay pretty much the same. The underlying principle is that time essentially is like a fast-flowing river — if you throw a pebble into that river, it may cause a few tiny ripples, but these ripples will be lost in the overall flow of the stream.
    • If, say, a kender were to travel back in time, however...
  • In The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford, Christianity never took hold in the Roman Empire, Constantinople didn't fall to the Turks, and France was partitioned between England and Byzantium sometime in the 12th century. The Wars of the Roses still seemingly happen exactly as they do in reality up through the crowning of Edward IV, with the exception of one relatively insignificant death.
  • In Esther Friesner's Druid's Blood, magic works, so powerfully that the Druids stopped the Roman invasion and (presumably) any later invasions and kept Britain Celtic, but by the 19th Century London and the British look pretty much the same apart from details - teleported scrolls instead of telegrams, Beltane fires in Trafalgar Square (they did fight Napoleon, he was a Gaulish Druid), Queen Victoria as a witch, etc. But this is strictly Rule of Funny, since the point is to set a Sherlock Holmes adventure in a Celtic fantasy world.
  • Isaac Asimov's novel The End of Eternity has an organisation that exists outside of time, in a location called "Eternity", from which they effect changes on "Reality". It is stated that even for major changes, the effects die away after some centuries; thus all changes are pretty much local. The plot turns out to hinge on a scheme to do a change so pivotal it breaks away from this — which results in what seems to be our history. And with the final sentence it is the end of Eternity — and the beginning of Infinity.
  • Purposely avoided in Claudia Gray's Firebird trilogy. The technology for an individual to transport their consciousness between universes exists, but travel is only possible between universes with a genetically identical counterpart of the traveler. This is taken advantage of in the third book by Wicked, who attempts to kill herself in different universes and travel away at the last second, thus making it impossible for Marguerite to reach those universes.
  • The Newt Gingrich/William R. Forstchen-penned American Civil War trilogy has both this and For Want of a Nail going down: Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia wins at Gettysburg due to a change in strategy, but Vicksburg still falls on July 4th so Grant marches eastnote  much earlier. Likewise, while the Army of the Potomacnote  is shattered in battle after Lee's army was repulsed at Washington, D.C., the subsequent Battle of Frederick becomes this timeline's "Gettysburg"note , and thanks to Grant's combined armies being more successful than our timeline's Meade at running down Lee the war actually ends in Union victory, complete with similar terms of surrender for Lee's army and much of Abraham Lincoln's declared plans mirroring post-war U.S. government policy. Heck, this timeline concludes with a "Frederick Address".
  • In a series of books by Vasiliy Golovachev, people with any psychic power are explicitly said to be resistant to past-altering powers. To be more exact, their personalities and memories are. Should their parents never meet, they will be born from other parents. This probably should cause a lot of confusion, as they might not know who their new parents are, and previous parents will forget them. The world once changed the sentient life in the past (sentient cockroaches to sentient apes), and there were people to witness it.
  • Johnny and the Bomb has the protagonists overcome their worries about For Want of a Nail and save a couple dozen people from getting bombed. As a result a couple streets have different names and a few shops have changed, but that's about it.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell features an Alternate History of Regency Britain where magic and The Fair Folk exist, the setting is little different than the actual Britain of the time and historical figures are exactly as in reality. Also, although magic is used in fighting the Napoleonic Wars, they still end up finishing at Waterloo with an British/Dutch/German victory.
    • It gets worse. For the majority of the Middle Ages, the northern part of England was ruled by a Fairy-sponsored magician-king. This has almost no appreciable effect on the timeline.
  • Lampshaded in The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin, but not justified, particularly considering that the protagonist changes humanity's evolutionary history at one point.
  • Nation by Terry Pratchett is set in an alternate universe where the geography of the Earth is different, several new species of animal exist, most of the British royal family died in a plague in the mid-nineteenth century, and over the course of the story it is discovered that an advanced civilisation arose in the Pacific islands 35,000 years ago. This fact becomes common knowledge and the subject of major scientific interest. The epilogue takes place in the present day and namechecks several real-life scientists who apparently still exist and work in the same fields.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, monotheism was a slight historical curiosity, adhered to by a minor group in ancient history the Israelites, but world history managed to trundle on without it. The Holocaust happened on schedule, being framed as the mass murder of Gypsies in this world. note  Indeed, two characters who discuss "Beauty and The Beast" — one cited the literary version, and the other knows only the Disney one.
    May be justified in later volumes, in that we are given plenty of clues that history was forced onto this track; those responsible may also be keeping the sequence of events the same, or be unable to modify it too far.
  • In Harry Harrison's Rebel In Time the bad guy is just such a chronobumble: he aims to help the South win, but fails because the history book he used [1]doesn't mention John Brown and Harpers' Ferry.
  • The Saga of Darren Shan explains that if history is changed, then the same events happen, but the roles are just filled by different people. So when Darren goes back in time and stops himself from becoming a vampire, some other person would become a vampire in his place, some other person would take Steve's place, some other person would take Debbie's place, etc.
    • It does add one very unusual twist: whatever force is responsible has to proactively create the new people and ensure they fill those roles. This becomes plot-relevant due to details of an action's morality and a person's afterlife being testable in-universe. To use the Hitler example, killing Hitler wouldn't prevent any of his atrocities or their consequences in history, but Hitler himself would die without having committed any of his evil acts (or having chosen to commit some of them), and his replacement, having no free will or way to avoid doing everything Hitler "should have" done, would be personally blameless for all of them (though he or she would still be born with the innate potential to choose to be Hitler, and would probably be badly affected by living Hitler's life). This distinction drives the last hundred pages of the story, after the climax.
  • In Seekers of the Sky, the world has diverged from ours roughly 2000 years ago, resulting in sort-of Functional Magic, the Roman Empire surviving to the present day, Russia remaining a Mongolian state, Aztecs dominating much of the Americas, and technology being seriously outdated. Despite this, several characters in the novel are pretty much stated to be alternate versions of well-known figures in our world, including Arnold Schwarzenegger (trigger-happy Guard officer on the hunt for a teenage boy), Gérard Depardieu (thief-turned-priest), and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (flyer-turned-poet, who once crashed in a desert).
  • The grand daddy of them all: A Sound of Thunder — the characters go back more than 65 million years, step on a butterfly and the changes roll down through the ages until they get back and the only apparent difference is that no one can spell and a fascist was elected President, thus implying that 1) the human race still evolved in exactly the same way, 2) humans still speak English, 3) the presidential candidates of the most recent election were still born and still chose to run for President, 4) in what is still the United States.
  • Star Trek Expanded Universe:
    • The TNG novel Dark Mirror treads similar ground; there's still an Enterprise-D, with most of the same crew in most of the same roles, except that Worf is a galley slave and Wesley Crusher is a total badass who attempts to kill Picard, as revenge for killing his father and taking over the Stargazer, and to move himself up.
    • Star Trek: Mirror Universe takes it further; there are Terran Resistance cells equivalent to the Voyager crew (including Neelix and Kes!), the Stargazer crew, the Excalibur crew, the Titan crew, etc. And they fight Alliance members who are counterparts of the aliens in the same crews.
    • Some of the universes in the Star Trek: Myriad Universes spin-offs are even worse than the Mirror Universe. If Khan Noonien Singh won the Eugenics War, and humanity spent the next four hundred years being genetically engineered and only breeding according to strict eugenic principles, it beggars belief that the Deep Space Nine cast even exist, let alone are patrolling Bajoran space in a ship called the Defiance.
    • Christopher L. Bennett's Myriad Universes novella Place of Exile proposes that the characters are linked to their alternate universe counterparts though subspace. In his annotations he says "the physical connection across different timelines means that there can be a sort of quantum resonance: the shared 'inertia' of different quantum facets of the same being causes their lives — and their genetics — to develop along similar lines."
  • A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L'Engle does this AND For Want of a Nail at the same time. Charles Wallace (and a unicorn, and Meg... sort-of) need to zig-zag though time, making a dozen changes scattered throughout history, to replace a dictator poised to start World War III with a nicer near-clone. But no matter what events they change, no other effects show up in the present. And they even screw with Meg's husband's family!
  • The Temeraire books by Naomi Novik are Napoleonic alternate history WITH DRAGONS! The fact that all the major world powers now have air forces has had very little effect on the course of European history, though outside Europe things seem to be considerably more different—particularly in Africa which has an empire built on dragons.
    • Also, starting with the timeframe of the books, the history of the Napoleonic Wars begins to diverge slightly from our own. This may be One-Shot Revisionism: if European history was the same as our up until the timeframe of the books, why should it start diverging just then?
    • The books mention that in Eurasia, dragons are seen as little more than very large, more-or-less intelligent horses that can fly. Because most people are afraid of them, the dragons are kept away from civilization and these myths are allowed to perpetuate, and the dragons are prevented from impacting the culture. The cultures that are noted as being different are the ones that treat the dragons as the equals they really are (the Africans mentioned are actually led by dragons, and the Incan empire is still intact in the 1800s, having used dragons to drive the Spanish off).
    • Note also that the relationship of non-European peoples and powers to the European powers is quite different in the world of Temeraire than in ours. Here, China is a Great Power, able to make Britain walk and speak softly when dealing with it (though racist attitudes vis-a-vis Chinese still exist), the Inca have been able to hold off the Spanish for centuries, and the African empire drives the European colonists and slavers clean off the continent, with great slaughter.
    • As far as the Napoleonic Wars go, the campaign against Prussia in 1806 goes off pretty much as in our history, though later on Napoleon is able to launch his invasion of Britain, and does overrun much of England, although the Grande Armee is finally driven out. Furthermore, Lord Nelson survives the Battle of Trafalgar, though severely injured, although he is later killed in action in the crucial naval battle of the campaign to drive the French out of England.
    • As the story develops the questions and inconsistancies become greater, especially in light of how quickly the British are able to increase their numbers of dragons. With Birthrates like those, you'd think that the Dragon's would've displaced humans by now, especially as they're generally shown to be at least as intelligent.
  • In Michael Crichton's Timeline, the Corrupt Corporate Executive uses an extended analogy about how the main characters couldn't make the Mets beat the Yankees to reassure them that the few individuals travelling can't really change anything major. When one of the characters directly questions the Grandfather Paradox, he changes the subject.
  • Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 series is notorious for this. Not only are many of the same historical figures around (albeit often in different positions), but most of the story arc is copy/pasted from the history of Germany and France in World War I and World War II including the Holocaust happening to southern blacks.
    • Interestingly, the original TL-191 novel, How Few Remain, largely averted this Trope. The following Great War trilogy at least made some effort at averting it as well, with notable butterflies and Expys of post-PoD historical figures... at least on the American side of the Atlantic (in Europe, however, he played it straight).
    • Similarly, his collaboration with Richard Dreyfuss, The Two Georges, concerning a giant British North American Dominion born of George Washington and King George III cutting a deal featured not only Governor General Sir Martin Luther King but a used steam car tycoon named "Honest Dick" in Southern California.
    • And again in In the Presence of Mine Enemies, in which the Nazis won World War II, he copy-pastes the fall of the Soviet Union. It's shifted forward about fifteen years, but the world's largest totalitarian government still crumbles after the appointment of a pro-glasnost Fuhrer, a right-wing coup against him, and a popular uprising with a megalomaniac, alcoholic local governor at its head, who ends up the front-runner for head of state once his state becomes its own country.
    • The copypasting is then taken to ludicrous extremes in The United States of Atlantis, this time with an American Revolution with only the settings changed to reflect the Alternate History geography that created the new timeline, and with an Expy substituting for George Washington.
    • Copy-pasting real world history is Turtledove's shtick. Timeline-191? CSA = Nazi Germany. In the Presence of Mine Enemies? Nazi Germany in decline = USSR in decline. The Man with the Iron Heart? Modern-day Iraq War.
      • The Man in with the Iron Heart is the worst one - basically, a Nazi-led insurgency in Germany just after World War II somehow succeeds in driving the British and Americans out. This, after fighting the largest and most destructive war in human history against them, but also with the Soviet Union just across the border - and the widely-held belief that as soon as the Allies leave, the Nazis take over again, this time with nuclear weapons!
      • That and the Nazis somehow are able to pull off stunts that resemble modern day terrorism's finest dreams despite having much lower levels of tech and having been completely and utterly raped and burned in ways that modern day extremists are lucky they haven't been.
      • Also, Heydrich's real-life assassination, the one whose failure is the PoD, wasn't just a random attack by partisans; it was planned in real life by MI-6, who by that time really wanted Heydrich dead for a number of reasons, not the least that he was threatening several high-placed German double agents. It's doubtful they would have just given up after one attempt.
    • The war that came early begins with General Sanjurjo surviving the plane trip from Portugal in 1936 and he, not Franco, leading the nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. The action then jumps to 1938, at the height of the Battle of the Ebro, and the narration notes that Sanjurjo failed to take Madrid early in the war because he preferred marching on Toledo first. In reality, Toledo and the attack on the XYZ Line that made possible the Republican counterattack on the Ebro were both Franco's personal blunders for which he was criticized a lot in his own side; had Sanjurjo been in charge he'd probably acted differently. The series just goes worse as it progresses, and it totally feels like HT was just ticking off a premade "list of World War II-related PODs" without actually exploring the consequences of such PODs.
  • The Time Machine gamebook series does this in a weird way. The rules of time travel strictly forbid the player from changing history, for example by killing people or animals... but the plot of the books tends to involve the player saving lives of several people who would die without his intervention. Somehow this apparently doesn't affect history.
  • Notably averted by the Wheel of Time series, which is kind of odd in a series in which destiny is so important. In the second book we get a glimpse of dozens of timelines: several alternate ways the life of The Chosen One could have gone, plus one timeline in which humanity has been extinct (or so it appears, at least) for hundreds of years. The main character could have died young, could have Jumped at the Call instead of running from it, could have been an Evil Overlord, and probably was never born at all in some timelines (or at least, was not born within centuries of when the character we know was born), and it's safe to say that the same is true of most if not all other characters as well.
    • One detail remains true in all alternate possibilities of the Chosen One's life, however. In each and every life he could have lived, sheepherder or slave, farmer or warrior or madman, he never gives up against the Shadow.
  • Christopher Stasheff's Warlock of Gramarye: In one of the later books, Rod Gallowglass discovers that he's somehow extraordinarily "probable" — it seems there's someone with his face and character in lots and lots of universes.
  • The book What Ifs? of American History is a collection of essays by historians on what could have happened had certain pivotal events gone differently. Most of them play For Want of a Nail straight (though most of them do point out the ultimate futility of speculating on "what could have been"), such as Grover Cleveland not backing down from conflict with Britain in 1896 resulting in aversion of WWI (and presumably WWII too) thanks to America becoming a non-isolationist world power early on, but the one about what could have happened had the Japanese government called off the Pearl Harbor raid presents an outcome in which it takes America slightly longer to enter WWII - but only slightly, as the Japanese prove to still be so bitter toward America that they give the Americans their "day of infamy" in 1942 anyway, and the Axis powers are still defeated in the end, complete with two atomic bombings on Japan.
  • In the short story "Random Quest" by John Wyndham, Colin Trafford searches for his own universe's version of Ottilie Harshom, his Alternate Universe counterpart's wife, when he returns home. He is convinced that she will be essentially the same person as he met in the parallel universe in spite of the fact that he and his counterpart were very different people. After finding her counterpart Belinda (who had an entirely different upbringing and consequently life experience than Ottilie), he is adamant that the two of them are soulmates. He even intimates that Dr. Harshom that if Belinda had been married, he would have broken up her marriage to be with her.


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