Telegraphic Literature, Artificial Subjectivity and the Challenges to Communication Technology in Ella Cheever Thayer’s Wired Love (1889)
American literature at the turn of the 20th century has always been responsive to progress through the recurrent trope of men and machines. Narratives on female subjectivity became quite popular as well. However, the literary production on the usage of technology and the construction of a “wired self” has received quite little attention. The objective of this study is twofold. First, to look at the complex alteration of identity through one of the first examples of communication technologies, the Telegraph, in Ella Cheever Thayer’s autofictional novel Wired Love: A Romance of Dots and Dashes (1889). Second, is to illustrate female subjectivity through an extremely topical narrative that anticipates the problematic relationship between women and machines in American literature. Through the lens of literature, the researcher will investigate the roots of one of the first means of communication and its ability to change the way in which women began to communicate with bodies and machines in the Nineteenth Century, thus challenging the concept of personal identity anticipating the age of computer networks and digitalization. This analysis will narrow down the scope onto the projection of the female Self through the ability of technology to challenge the traditional notion of a bounded individual. In this way, we will discuss how Thayer’s narrative offers an example of technology and the public self in a “performance of identity” torn between reality and virtuality. Thayer’s (unfortunately) little-known novel, Wired Love, can be considered as an example of autofiction, which portrays one of the first problematic challenges of identity through technology at the dawn of the 1900s. Telegraphist and then novelist, Ella Cheever Thayer used her own story as a telegraph operator to illustrate the challenges of communication in a romantic love affair between two telegraph operators who mistakenly intercept each other over the wire and start exchanging messages as modern online dating. In a twist of ambiguities, through “identity mixups”, the novel offers a first literary example of the complex dynamics between identity and technology.