Review: Wired Love

wired loveReviewed by Janell

Miss Nathalie Rogers, aka Nattie, is a telegraph operator in the 1870s. She is eighteen and lives in a boarding hotel, having left her family so that they won’t have to support her. She is independent, smart, and aspires to be a writer someday, once she finds the time.

One day, at work, another telegraph operator some sixty miles away begins to chat with her through Morse code. They begin telling stories, laughing (“the circumstance being conveyed to her understanding in the usual way, by the two letters ‘H a!’”), and keeping each other company.

It soon slips that the other operator, “C,” is a man named Clem, and Nattie finds herself wondering what he looks like. She knows it’s silly to even think about him romantically, since “she was not the kind of girl to sit down and wait for someone to come along and marry her.” Still, she goes to work early and stays late just to have uninterrupted conversations with him.

One day, C takes the day off, and then surprises Nattie by showing up at her station. Unfortunately he has greasy red hair, wears big, fake jewelry, and has a musky odor. She is shocked and disappointed, and manages to ignore him over the wire after that.

Allow me to interject here and say that this was probably a lot of young women’s experience in the early 1990s, am I right? Meeting someone over the telephone line connected to your computer? Chatting and emailing with someone you haven’t seen, perhaps snail-mailing photographs to each other? The first picture I received of that sort was kind of a shock, in an older-and-balder-than-I-expected way, so I felt for our heroine here. Dreams dashed, alas!

A few weeks later, C leaves his job permanently. Then, when Nattie and her opera singer friend Cyn are having a bohemian picnic in Cyn’s small parlor, their neighbor Quimby drops by with friend. The friend turns out to be the real Clem, heartbroken from Nattie’s unexplained brushoff. Nat is delighted that he’s not really greasy and musky (an eavesdropper on the telegraph line was the impostor), but then she finds it difficult to relate to him in the real world among other people. “It is nicer talking on the wire, isn’t it?” he agrees.

Would anyone else like to share their contemporary-world parallels here? Me again? The second picture I received from a different online friend was a vast improvement from the first (I may have exclaimed, “He’s not ugly!” to my roommates). Then we managed to meet up in person, and it wasn’t terrible but it didn’t have the free-flowing, friendly banter that a romance novel would predict. It ended, well, awkwardly, and then he found a girlfriend in his own city and we lost touch. Dammit, someday I’m going to write that novel but with a much better ending!

So, anyway, Nattie and Clem and their group of wacky friends hang out and party, but Nattie begins to believe that Clem has fallen for her friend Cyn. Note to Clem: if you’re in love with a girl, you should maybe try to spend some time alone with her, okay? Nat gives Clem the cold shoulder again, and he almost gives up hope, until a well-timed comment from a nosy landlady gets him to finally profess his love — in Morse code — and Nat gets her romantic ending.

This is a cute, quirky book, and the characters are fun although one-dimensional. It’s interesting to compare their unsupervised lives with those of youthful aristocracy across the pond, who couldn’t be alone with someone of the opposite sex. I was surprised that Nattie, a young woman, could have such a respectable job at a young age, and aspirations beyond her telegraph office.

The most surprising fact, though, is that this book was published in 1880 by a thirty-year-old woman who was herself a former telegraph operator and a suffragette. It was a bestseller for ten years, and resurfaced about five years ago thanks to Project Gutenberg. It’s free! You can read it and feel pompous that you are reading “classic” literature that was also popular at the time and also happens to be a romance! Plus, the author uses the word “ejaculate” as a dialogue tag over and over, which will make you giggle. Go on, give it a whirl!

Grade: B

Click for a free copy: Project Gutenberg

Wired Love
by Ella Cheever Thayer
Originally Released: 1879

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