This week’s blog assignment is to write about what our characters would have tweeted. I love to think about how historical characters would react in modern times and it was fun thinking about how my main character, Vicky, would have taken to Twitter. Being an artist and an admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites, I’m sure she would have some handle like @preraphVicky. Or reflecting her own skills: @paintergirl. Her Twitter bio would be:
I’m a girl who loves to draws the nude figure and I’m a suffragette. Deal with it. Fangirl of J.W. Waterhouse. London, England.
Vicky’s dad was not tech-savvy so I doubt that he’d know anything about Twitter or how to use it, so I think Vicky would have felt free to tweet whatever she felt like:
Dance lessons included the #mazurka at Miss Winthrop’s today. Epic fail. Thank God for @sophiefashion or else I’d never have learned it. #lame #kmn
Watching @the realchristabelpankhurst talk at Parliament today. She’s much prettier than her waxwork at #madametussauds. #WSPU #votesforwomen
Just drank a ripping cocktail called the hanky panky at the #Americanbar at the #Savoy. Made by a girl bartender named Ada Coleman. So. Good. Love Fernet Branca and gin. #tipsy with @edmundrower.
As fun as it is to consider historical figures tweeting, people in the days of yore (well, the Victorian and Edwardian days of yore) could communicate quickly via the telegraph. In 1843, the early part of the Victorian era, the first telegraph line came into service in England, and in 1866 transatlantic telegraph cable began operation. Now messages, news, and business communication could be sent by the Post Office over the globe in minutes. It was inexpensive and efficient. During the Crimean War (1854 to 1856), reports from the very first war correspondents were sent via the telegraph lines across Europe and printed quickly. It was the outcry over horrible conditions in this war that allowed Florence Nightingale to supply nurses for the military. Funds from the general public, collected by The Times newspaper, allowed her to do so under her own terms. Even after telephones were installed in business and wealthier homes, people still preferred using the telegraph. If you think about it, a telegraph is a lot like a text or e-mail. Today, more and more people prefer this mode of communication to the telephone, too. Interesting, right?
In 1840 the penny post was established, which ensured fast and cheap postal service. Before the penny post, mailing a letter was very expensive and priced by the sheet. So people would turn the letter and write in the margins (called a crossed letter) to save paper. Envelopes weren’t worth paying for, so the writer would fold the letter, seal it with wax, and write the address on a blank spot on the back of the paper. What was more, the receiver had to pay for the letter. This sounds really bizarre on the face of it, but think about it: without a formal post office service, you’d have to rely on the person taking the letter to actually deliver it. What was to stop him from collecting money first and then throwing it away? Receiving money from the recipient meant that the letter was likely to get to the right address. But COD was fraught with its own difficulties. What if the recipient couldn’t afford the letter or couldn’t be found? What then? But all this changed in the penny post. Now, letters cost one penny for half-ounce, no matter where it was going in the country. Adhesive stamps went on the mail, the letter was put onto the train and clerks in mail cars sorted it and handed it off to carriers at the stations. Hey, presto! Here is your letter. So efficient was this service that letters often reached the recipient within 24 hours. In London, recipients could receive their letter a few hours after it was sent.
We like to think instant communication is a modern invention, but the Victorians and Edwardians had their own way or getting the word out quickly. Still, I can’t help but think Vicky would have loved tweeting. What do you think Elinor Dashwood, Catherine Earnshaw, or the unnamed protagonist of Rebecca would have tweeted?
Sharon Biggs Waller is the author of A Mad, Wicked Folly, an Edwardian-era novel about a young artist finding her own way during the time of militant suffragettes (Viking/Penguin, Winter 2014). You can find her at http://www.sharonbiggswaller.com or on Twitter @sbiggswaller.