by Rudyard Kipling

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Scribner's, August 1902

in Kipling collections
& anthologies

February 2005


Rudyard Kipling's science-fiction short story "Wireless" is an interesting blend of the technical and the — other. 1902 is very early to be writing fiction about wireless sets and transmissions; that is: radio. Around 1895, the great physicists Nikola Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi, working independently, invented wireless telegraphy. Kipling appreciates not only the technical niceties of amateur equipment, but the down-home social milieu in which the new gadgets are tinkered with and demonstrated; and beyond these, the stretch into possible mental or spiritual relevance.

"Wireless" provides details about the earliest home-built radio sets (much antecedent to the crystal radio sets of the 1920s), analogous to contemporary experimenting with automobiles, and much later with home computer kits.

The atmosphere Kipling evokes of a cold winter's night in a small-town drugstore in England is very well done. The narrator is bemused by the drugstore paraphernalia, by the bitter cold of the night, and by the description of the new science of radio. But when a marginally literate drugstore clerk seems inspired to write down snatches of Keats' poetry, what does it signify?

I can't tell you more without retelling the story. But here's a bit, not referred to in "Wireless", from "The Eve of St. Agnes":

             ... Soon, up aloft,
The silver, snarling trumpets 'gan to chide:
The level chambers, ready with their pride,
Were glowing to receive a thousand guests ...

At length burst in the argent revelry,
With plume, tiara, and all rich array,
Numerous as shadows haunting fairily
The brain ...

John Keats
The Eve of St. Agnes  (1820)
The Poems of John Keats


© 2005 Robert Wilfred Franson

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