On the subject of book-scanning bringing the 19th century to life, Clive Thompson reviews "Wired Love," a novel from 1880 about telegraphic romance that features some amazingly contemporary themes. As Clive says, "This book is 130 years old, but it could have been written last week."
I don't want to give too much of the plot away — I save my spoilers for below the jump. But the story, in brief, is that Nattie is at work one day when a telegraph operator in another city, who calls himself "C", begins chatting her up. They engage in a virtual courtship, things get funny and romantic, until suddenly things take a most puzzling and mysterious turn.
It's all quite nuttily modern. Wired Love anticipates everything we live with in today's online, Iphoned courtship: Assessing whether someone you've met online is what they say they are; the misunderstandings of tone and substance that come from communicating in rapid-fire, conversational bursts of text; or even the fact that you might not really be sure of the gender/nationality/species of the person you're flirting with.
As it turns out, Nattie quickly figures out that "C" is, indeed, a man. But the conversations she and her friends have about her online courtship are utterly wild to read: They have the arch elocutions of Victorian-era America, mixed with concepts that are so thoroughly modern that book feels like it was written this year, by someone merely emulating the language of 1880.