Article ID: CBB205119278

The Spirit of Electricity": Henry James's In the Cage and Electric Female Imagination at the Turn of the Century (2018)


At the turn of the century, scientists, physicians, and novelists grappled with new electrical technologies—like telegraphy—that threatened to forever alter communication, human connection, and social boundaries. In his 1898 novella In the Cage, Henry James posits the telepathic powers of electricity through his female protagonist, a telegraph operator who feels her consciousness expanding beyond the limitations that cage her. While many scholars read In the Cage as upholding a closed narrative circuit, I argue instead that James's female protagonist manages a brief escape from social cages through her chaotic and electric imagination, inspired by the electric and enigmatic powers of telegraphy that surround her. Reading In the Cage as in conversation with contemporary scientific and medical discourses on electrical sciences provides new pathways for understanding the ways early twentieth-century writers and thinkers across disciplines perceived electricity as offering ever-expanding boundaries of human subjectivity—particularly for women.

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Authors & Contributors
Billington, David P., Jr.
Cucullu, Lois
Wright, John S
Scandura, Jani
Noakes, Richard J.
Otis, Laura
British Journal for the History of Science
Journal of the History of Ideas
Victorian Literature and Culture
American Journal of Physics
Icon: Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology
Princeton University Press
Palgrave Macmillan
Johns Hopkins University Press
Stanford University
University of Minnesota
Electricity; magnetism
Telegraphs; telephones
Science and literature
Inventors and invention
James, Henry
Varley, Cromwell Fleetwood
Melville, Herman
Hawthorne, Nathaniel
Clemens, Samuel Langhorne
Tesla, Nikola
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
20th century, late
United States
Great Britain
Great Britain. Royal Navy
British Association for the Advancement of Science

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