A nice review of Professor Linda Simon's “Dark Light: Electricity and Anxiety from the Telegraph to the X-Ray”
. The book sounds fascinating.
Bracketed by Samuel Morse’s invention of the telegraph around 1844 and Wilhelm Roentgen’s discovery of the X-ray in 1895, the book explores the neuroses, superstitions, moral issues and literature that arose at the dawn of the Electric Age.
Simon, a professor of English, has written biographies of Alice B. Toklas, Thornton Wilder, Lady Margaret Beaufort (the grandmother of Henry VIII) and William James. It was her study of James that provided the seed for “Dark Light.”
A philosopher and psychologist, James was intrigued by psychic phenomena, and Simon discovered that his colleagues in investigating the occult were physicists also researching electricity.
“The idea was that the soul was electrical and could come back to life, that the same force that twitched nerves was electrical,” Simon said.
The Professor was fascinated to learn that "X-rays eventually took on sentimental significance — relatives and betrothed couples would exchange them as intimate mementos." I find this utterly charming.