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The Medium is the Media: Fictions of the Telephone in the 1890s


Alexander Graham Bell introduced the electric telephone to Britain soon after its invention, yet it remained less than ubiquitous in Victorian daily life and literature. But in the 1890s, three fictional tales of young writers—Rudyard Kipling’s “The Finest Story in the World” (1891), Ella Hepworth Dixon’s The Story of a Modern Woman (1894), and George Paston’s A Writer of Books (1898)—all invoke the telephone as they treat the obstacles to literary production. These texts highlight not the device’s technical properties so much as its unexpected ability to embody an emerging concept: the idea of a media system that fused new communication technologies with print forms created for a mass audience—a version of what would later be called mass media.

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