Wired Love: a novel from 1880 that could have been written last week


I had this same reaction to reading Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome

a fantastic comedy written in 1889. The culture and wit from that time were remarkably similar to our own. I guess its true that “there is nothing new under the sun.”


There’s a real life story of catfishing from 1910, in which a man wooed a woman for 14 years through the mail, even becoming engaged, and sent her pretty much all his savings before finding out the woman was an invention of his neighbor. You can read the whole story in this longform New York Times Sunday Magazine article [PDF] from 1910. (The “Marjorie Daw” in the title is a reference to a short story about catfishing that came out in 1869, even earlier than the Wired Love story!)

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Or Henry Adams’ “Democracy: An American Novel” from 1890 – pretty much all of the same problems as today with elite politicians “packaging” themselves as folksy men of the people (the new President in the novel based his campaign on the idea that he was a working man, because he worked one summer in a quarry when he was young).

But in terms of the Telegraph/Internet comparison that “Wired Love” brings to mind, Tom Standage wrote a book about ten years ago called “The Victorian Internet” which detailed the subculture of telegraph operators and their chatroom culture off the clock with other operators.

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Tinned pineapple.

Excuse me, but you said nothing of the dog!

One of my favorite books (and the inspiration for two of my other favorite books)

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A few years ago in the steampunk show Murdoch’s Mysteries the episode “Murdoch.com” used that premise but women telegraph operators were being romanced and scammed out of money by the same person. I wonder if someone with the show also found that novel. One of their better stories that year. Murdoch is dating a telegraph operator and she shows how the system is designed on a chalkboard and one of the characters says it looks like a web. Checking and I see it was ep 23. And if you look at the link below ep 21 of that year was about the possibility of using a Babbage engine to control steam automatons!


The Victorians were very concerned about the social implications of the new technologies that were popping up around them and the ensuing debates raged through every level of that society. I find that most similar debates these days to be comparatively simplistic: you’re lucky if they start out at 10% of the way along which the Victorians have already tread. Generally you just get two extremist camps: it’s considered to be a moral imperative to either immediately implement or suppress every new thing. Comparisons with what was already there are not generally made: whether or not the new thing is more advanced or more useful isn’t the point - just the fact of chronological newness suffices.

The only recent exception that I can think of is the current debate on Panopticon surveillance but little of it references the debates that have been going on since the Panopticon was suggested in the 18th century.

Would that more of us take the attitude of the Mennonite Hackers who examine all new technology from a moral point of view and not from that of mere novelty.

Oh my, you are correct. I did say nothing of the dog.
To Say Nothing of the Dog

This is the book that led me to Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) in the first place. Is that one of the two other books you mentioned? What is the other one?

It is one of the two! The other is The Elfin Ship, by the magnificent James Blaylock

edit: Which I now see is also available as a Kindle Book

I recently read many of HG Wells’s novels (downloaded from gutenberg.org to an e-reader) and I found his perspective to be surprisingly modern. His description of space travel in The first men in the moon was a lot closer to reality than I expected.

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