All the words went down the wires

I recently read Deirdre Madden’s novel Remembering Light and Stone (1992), which some of you may remember seeing in a bookmash here a couple of years ago.

Narrated by an troubled, introverted Irishwoman in Italy, the story weaves a strange and intimate spell, though some readers may find it quite gloomy. I hadn’t read Madden’s work before, but I’ll definitely read more of it. Take this short passage:

When I was a child, I couldn’t understand how telegraph poles worked. I thought all the words went down the wires, and if you cut a wire, language would drip out of it like water from a broken pipe.

I remember having similar thoughts myself as a child, struggling to grasp how telephony worked and assuming that with the right equipment you could listen to the jumbled flow of words as they sped along the wires from mouth to distant ear.

14 Responses to All the words went down the wires

  1. I thought this was going to be about the lines attributed to Alfred Austin:

    O’er the wires the electric message came,
    “He is no better; he is much the same.”

  2. Stan says:

    Not this time, Barrie. O’er the wires the electric message resumes: no better or worse, till dissolution looms.

  3. Claude says:

    When I was a child, we had a huge radio. And, in the middle of it, there was a small squared opening covered with heavy material. When the radio would be on, that square would be lighted. At 4 years old, I spent hours and hours, my head closed to the radio, looking and looking, hoping to see the little people who were speaking and singing from that box . I had just read Gulliver’s Travels, and I had no doubt that there were little people in the world.

    • alexmccrae1546 says:

      Bonjour Claude,

      With all due respect, I would contend that you are unwittingly preaching to a good chunk of the choir of “little people” firm believers, here; namely, our esteemed blogmeister, Stan, and most of his Irish-born blogging brethren who still are convinced (unless proven otherwise) that wee leprechauns* have inhabited their charmed, magic, verdant isle since time immemorial.

      But on a more serious note, it’s grand to see you commenting on Stan’s site this fine February day. I trust you’ve been doing well, of late, and life has been treating you kindly as we embark on yet another wonder-filled year.

      À votre santé!

      *Hmm… perhaps this comment should have been posted w/ Stan’s earlier article on folktales? HA!

  4. John Cowan says:

    This reminds me of the old-timey notion, mentioned in James Thurber’s story “The Car We Had To Push” (do you know Thurber? My Life and Hard Times is very much worth reading, if you haven’t, or even if you have) that his grandmother thought it was dangerous to leave electric outlets unplugged:

    [Thurber’s mother] came naturally by her confused and groundless fears, for her own mother lived the latter years of her life in the horrible suspicion that electricity was dripping invisibly all over the house. It leaked, she contended, out of empty sockets if the wall switch had been left on. She would go around screwing in bulbs, and if they lighted up she would hastily and fearfully turn off the wall switch and go back to her Pearson’s or Everybody’s [magazines], happy in the satisfaction that she had stopped not only a costly but a dangerous leakage. Nothing could ever clear this up for her.

    Presumably she was over-applying the rules for illuminating-gas safety. In those days, country folks used to travel to the city, stay in a hotel, blow out the light when going to bed (as they had been doing all their lives), and be found asphyxiated in the morning. In my old NYC apartment where my wife and I lived in the early 1980s, we actually found a live illuminating-gas line still connected: when I opened the valve on a whim, a distinct hissing was to be heard! We called Con Edison, and they shut the line down.

  5. Stan says:

    Claude: Thank you the charming story. Gulliver’s Travels had quite an effect on my childhood imagination too.

    Alex: That’s right – Irish people all believe in leprechauns. And we live in a bog and fight over potatoes.

    John: Illuminating-gas imagery is a very apt parallel. (I know and love Thurber, but have not read My Life and Hard Times; will remedy.) Amazing, that you happened upon a live line so recently.

    • alexmccrae1546 says:


      This time I believe I really DID touch a sensitive nerve with my earlier “leprechaun” comment. (It was intended for your ‘funny bone’, but clearly missed its mark.)

      I respectfully apologize for the admitted cliched stereotype of Irish folk, among whom you regard yourself as a very proud exemplar, I’m certain. (Ugh!…. clumsy wording there.)

      I guess I would be slightly offended, too, if someone say insisted that most Canadians lived in igloos, and RCMP, the mounties, policed all our major city streets 24/7, on horseback, no less.

      Again no ill, or mockery intended.

      • Stan says:

        I appreciate that, Alex, and I know you didn’t mean it unkindly. I’m not offended, and I don’t regard myself as a proud exemplar – perish the thought! I’d just prefer not to see insulting stereotypes (of any nationality) on this blog; hence the sarcasm.

    • John Cowan says:

      The whole point of potatoes is that there were enough that the Irish didn’t have to fight over them. It’s when there weren’t any potatoes that they had to stop fighting over religion and politics (“I think I’ll go down the pub with me mates and talk a little treason”) and fight over food again.

  6. Avy says:

    I once has a crush on a guy named Seamus, I think, I’m sure, *only* because his name was Seamus. I remember thinking where I live in the land of magic flying carpets and the great Indian rope trick (since we are talking of stereotyping) a man named Seamus, pronounced “Seemus” was only a couple of notches below actually seeing a leprechaun.

  7. ‘I remember feeling mad with happiness, and I wished that we would never go home again, and that Jimmy would carry me through the fields and the hills for ever.
    There was nothing else for it now. I lifted the letter from the shelf.. and ripped it open.’

    Her writing really resonates for me, the parts about separateness, the various honest bits. I like this -together- moment too though, how it tells the future a little bit.


  8. Stan says:

    Avy: Or a couple of notches above it, depending on how you look at it. Thanks for the story.

    Claire: I loved that whole passage. She describes the changing nature of Aisling’s relationship with her brother, and with her roots, very movingly.

  9. […] Back to Stan Carey’s blog, and this great line quoted from the novel Remembering Light and Stone: “I thought all the words went down the wires, and if you cut a wire, language would drip out of it like water from a broken pipe.” […]

  10. […] Deirdre Madden’s novel Molly Fox’s Birthday. (Or better yet, read it.) Madden has a gift for imaginative description but knows when to apply the subtler force of discretion. Here the narrator, a […]

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