It is possible the entire timeline described by the story's narrator Hildred Castaigne is a product of his insanity. It is possible he is in 1895 and spinning a fantasy future for himself, or that he really is in 1920 but hallucinating following his injury and/or exposure to the play. Hildred demonstrates that his own perceptions are not quite the same as those he encounters, which must lead us to doubt the accuracy of the entire alternate 1920s setting. Furthermore we must consider why the character feels a need to 'update' us with recent history before accounting details of his own life since his accident four years ago – on some unconscious level is Castaigne aware that this world is imaginary and that he must share these details with us so we can better understand him?
Since the original story was written the lines have blurred further. Other writers have written stories set in this alternate history. This suggests that Castaigne is genuine in his description of the world. Either that or some effect of the mythos has allowed the imaginary world created by Castaigne to become reality!
Resolving The Sylvia Conundrum
The assumption that this timeline is actually fictional and Castaigne is hallucinating in 1895 would allow the reconciliation of two different women named Sylvia in The King In Yellow as being the same woman - the one dating the real Jack Trent and the other dating his fictional counterpart Jack Scott.
Chambers indicates that the following political events occurred in this timeline :
- The USA defeated Germany in a war over the Samoan Islands, gaining the islands; during the war Norfolk, Virginia is occupied by the Germans, prior to the "ridiculous plight" of General Von Gartenlaube in New Jersey. (Some interpreters have taken it to be Norfolk, England that is occupied, but this makes no sense in a war in which the UK does not seem to have been involved, despite vague references to friendship with England and France, especially as this initial success seems to be linked to the subsequent debacle in New Jersey.) Bizarrely, German military plans for an attack on the USA were drawn up between 1897 and 1903 that included occupying Norfolk, Virginia; these were only discovered in 2002.
- In addition to Samoa, the USA also occupied Cuba (as would actually happen in 1898 following the Spanish-American War).
- The US military was greatly increased in size, presumably after the abortive German invasion, and equipped with Native American cavalry scouts.
- Following a second great fire, Chicago was rebuilt in a grand manner.
- A force of National Mounted Police was created to patrol the national parks.
- Foreign-born Jews were excluded from the USA, "as a measure of national self-preservation."
- The "Independent Negro State of Suanee" was created, 'ending' the racial problems in the southern USA.
- A Congress of Religions 'ended' bigotry and intolerance in the Americas.
- Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium all fell to anarchy, before being snatched up by Russia (presumably still Tsarist).
The term of 'Winthrop' as president of the USA is drawing to a close in 1920, putting him in the equivalent of the second term of Woodrow Wilson. (Interestingly, whilst he is too young to have inspired Chambers, there is a real-life Winthrop, fittingly from New York, who could have fulfilled this role! The name was probably chosen as there had been several prominent Winthrops in politics in the 19th century.) In Yellow is the Color of Tomorrow by Ron Shiflet, Winthrop's successor is stated to have been assassinated by an Italian Anarchist (placing this before 1925).
A campaign to legalise suicide began in the winter of 1900. It was finally successful when on the 13th of April 1920 the first Government Lethal Chamber was opened in Washington Square. In 1920, the 13th of April was a Tuesday (it is also the Ides of April).
At least for the USA, and probably its British and French allies, the world appears at first glance to be a utopia with racial and religious bigotry brought to an end and a brave new world of eugenics-inspired suicide on demand offering an end to personal struggle. Of course, even without considering the points that may jar modern sensibilities, it is clear that the utopian vision is filtered through the lens of a madman. It is also clear that Suanee was established through 'ethnic cleansing' and the Congress of Religions has overtones of bigotry itself. In addition, it is freely admitted that the rest of the world is suffering anarchy and Russian oppression.
A scenario has been written by Robin D Laws based upon The Repairer of Reputations – this lists the major changes, and expands on some of the details, as well as introducing new characters to the setting.