Today we are proud to be 4th stop on the Victorian Obsessions blog tour, celebrating the release of The Traitor in the Tunnel, author Y.S. Lee’s latest novel in The Agency series. Thea is a huge fan of the series, so when we were asked if we wanted to participate in the tour, we of course were thrilled!
Please give a warm welcome to Y.S. Lee, as she tells us a bit more about Victorian Obsessions: Technology!
Victorian Obsession: Technology
If someone locked you in a room with no computer, no smartphone, and no iPad, how long would it take for you to start climbing the walls? (That’s a trick question, of course. I didn’t say there were no books…) We rely on technology everyday, expect it to do our bidding, and talk about it all the time: We’re so modern! We’re totally addicted! We’re speeding into the future!
Well, the Victorians felt much the same way. At the start of the nineteenth century, people lived mostly in the countryside and travelled on horses. By the end of that century, workers had migrated to cities and people rode trains. And while they were at it, Victorians invented:
Cameras. Capturing an image on film, and being able to reprint it endlessly, must have felt amazingly, dangerously modern. By the late nineteenth century, cameras were small enough to be handheld, and photographs were relatively inexpensive. So having your portrait taken was no longer an expensive, upper-class privilege; many working people could afford to have family albums.
Flush toilets. Smelly but true: before the widespread use of the flush toilet, people used outhouses and chamber pots (which were kept under the bed and emptied each morning). Basically, it would have been like camping, all the time. Can you imagine the difference a flush toilet made to a person’s daily routine – especially the person who had to clean the chamberpots?
Edison and his second phonograph
Phonographs. Before the phonograph, all music was performed live. At house parties, people would hire musicians to entertain, and the poor had street balladeers – essentially buskers who earned their living that way. But with the phonograph, you could suddenly record and play back – an entirely different way of thinking about performance, music, and memory.
Lights. Before the nineteenth century, houses were lit by candles and oil-based lamps. These are warm and cozy sources of light, but they’re relatively weak and therefore difficult to read by. The Victorians invented both gas and electric lights and brought them into their homes, transforming the way we live. The world was literally a brighter place. City streets were safer. And you could read all night, if you chose.
These are just a few of the hundreds of Victorian inventions. Is it any wonder that people of the nineteenth century were obsessed with technology, its gifts, and its dangers?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Y S Lee was born in Singapore and raised in Vancouver and Toronto. In 2004, she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture. This research, combined with her time living in London, triggered an idea for a story about a women’s detective agency. The result was the Agency novels, featuring the intrepid Mary Quinn.