AffiliationUniversity of Chester
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AbstractPerceptions of electric light in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century witnessed a rapid turnaround of popular opinion on the light source; following its widespread adoption from the 1880s, it was at first met with derision, before perceptions shifted around the fin-de-siècle period, and it eventually grew into the light source that would come to define twentieth century. It evolved from something that was perceived as a symbol of the modern - it was a fantastical presence in the literature of Jules Verne many years before its realisation for example - to something that solidified a sense of modern life. Electricity, Alex Goody writes, 'transformed Victorian Culture', suggesting that "it was electric light that epitomised this transforming power […] the coming of electric light is a transformation of culture at a fundamental level; it marks the coming of what Marshall McLuhan, in Understanding Media, calls 'the electric age' (Goody 2011: 7) Electric light was both symbol and catalyst of the late nineteenth-century emergence of the truly modern world of capitalism and mass-society. McLuhan claims that this early emergence of the electric age had a distinct cultural and psychological impact on the way people thought of modernity: "electric light is pure information […] a medium without a message," further suggesting that its light "has no content, and in this purity it ushers in a modern world where instant communication connects us in a web of interaction"(McLuhan 2001: 8). McLuhan's analysis of the early electric age suggests a continuation of the burgeoning qualities and perceptions of the processes of gaslight - the invention of a networked system of light took the power of lighting away from an individual; people no longer felt as intimate a connection with the light they inhabited as they did in fire or candlelight.
CitationLeahy, R. (2015). The Realisation of Electric Light in The Early Twentieth Century. In Degenring, F. & Bach, S. (eds.), Dark Nights, Bright Lights: Night, Darkness, and Illumination in Literature (pp. 71-91). Berlin: De Gruyter.
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