Posts Tagged ‘electric lamp


In Search of Lost Time 5-8-2022

I finished Proust’s In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (the second volume of In Search of Lost Time) on Saturday, May 7. This seven-long volume continues to be enjoyable, and it might even be getting better despite the lack of relevant plot. There is much I want to write about/explore, especially how the unnamed narrator (M) views women and girls as things to possess and to choose from, as if being in a grocery store and deciding which tomatoes you want to have and use. Instead, I wish to focus on technology, which makes a bigger presence in this volume, because it’s interesting, surprising, and helps me identify the time period when this story is taking place. Too bad it doesn’t really help to identify how old the narrator and his new friends are.

Technologies that I encountered in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower include electricity, the telephone, photography, the automobile, the vacuum tube again (it also appears in Swann’s Way), elevators, and bathing machines. The bathing machines are technically not technology, and it’s probably not what you think it is. A bathing machine is a wooden cart on wheels with doors on two sides that “allowed bathers to change out of their clothes and into their bathing suits without having to be seen by the opposite sex” (

Bathing Machines

Bathing Machines

On page 182, the narrator first introduces and electricity and the telephone. I’ll look at electricity first. On page 182, the Mme Bontemps says:

Speaking of eyesight, have you heard the house that Mme Verdurin has just bought is going to have the electric light in it? . . . And even the bedrooms will have electric lamps, with shades to soften the light. Very nice. Very luxurious! We belong to a generation of ladies for whom everything must be up-to-the-minute, the very latest thing.

In 1878, the first electric lights were installed in Paris as streetlamps, which is two years before they first appeared in the United States in Wabash, Indiana, which claims to be the first electrically lighted city in the world. This electric lighting gives way to “nocturnalization,” “a term coined in 2011 by American Historian Craig Koslofsky, [which] refers to ‘the expansion of social and economic activity into the night and the subsequent spread of illumination” (



Then in 1881, the first International Exhibition of Electricity is held in Paris from August 15 to November 15. After this, electricity spread through France. At first, it was for communications, like the electric telegraph, and then lighting and motors. This hints that this part of Proust’s story is taking place in the 1880s and probably the middle- to late-1880s. What else is interesting is that they are referring to technology as we do today where “everything must be up-to-the-minute.” She’s say’s “minute” and not “up-to-the-times” or “days.” There’s already an urgency to technological developments. In addition, the occupation of an electrician arrives, and the are quickly considered worthy people: “nowadays, electricians, for example, have a rightful place in the ranks of true nobility” (362).

One the same page, appears for the first time the telephone. Continuing from the above speech from Mme Bontemps: “The sister-in-law of a friend of mine has actually got a telephone installed in her house! She can order something from a shopkeeper without stepping out of her own front door!” The first landlines in appear in 1876. It’s not until 1883 when the first telephone arrives to Paris, and by 1884, the telephone becomes more common. So again, the time setting appears to be the late 1880s. What’s interesting is that the first response to the phone is of economic and leisure concern, instead of a communication concern. Already, they are using the phone to go shopping just as many of us today use the phone to shop on Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, or wherever. Mme Bontemps continues:

I must admit I’ve been shamelessly currying favor, so that I’ll be allowed to go and speak into the machine one day. The idea fascinates me–but only in someone else’s hour not my own. I’d don’t think I’d like having a telephone about the house. Once the novelty of it wears off, it must be a definite nuisance. (182-3)

As is often the case with new technological devices, people think it will be a passing fad. But she also says it will be “a definite nuisance.” When people were first thinking about expanding the phone to be in people’s houses, they were also concerned about it being a nuisance. For instance, the considered how telephone polls and lines would disrupt the appearance of nature and how a phone call might interrupt family dinner. Ha ha. They anticipated telemarketers. 😂 Later on, there is the description of how the telephone works: “human speech, having been converted into electricity by the telephone, turns back into speech for the purpose of being understood” (506).

On page 479, the words “car” and “motoring” are used. In 1889, the first car appears in Paris. By the 1890s, France is the biggest producer of cars in Europe, and the United States does not outproduce France until 1907. Already, the term “car” is in vogue. The time setting now seems to be in the 1890s and maybe the early 1900s.

On page 193 is the word “daguerreotype,” which is “the first publicly available photographic process; it was widely in use during the 1840s and 1850s” ( On page 329 the word “stereoscope” appears two times, and of those occurrences, one is in this sentence: “These stereoscope sessions conferred upon those who attended them a sort of distinction, a feeling of being singled out and privileged.” The stereoscope was first created in the 1830s, but Oliver Wendell Holmes made a more economical version in the 1860s. Even those stereoscope is still old at the time of the story, it is still a technological device of the “privileged.”

Holmes Stereoscope

Holmes Stereoscope

Those are precursors to the more common photography we are familiar with. The words “photograph,” “photographs,” photographed,” “photography,” “photo,” and “photos” appear at least 17 times between pages 193 and 469, and 14 of those occurrences appear between pages 404 to 469. On page 365, the word “Kodak” is used: “They’re just snaps I took myself with my Kodak.” The speaker uses “Kodak” as a common word like we use “Kleenex” to “Google” something. According to Independent Photo:

In 1888, Eastman trademarked the name “Kodak”, a meaningless word which would soon develop a definition on its own and rapidly become one of the most recognisable brands in the world. . . . By 1897, the company had patented a pocketable camera. By 1900, they had released the Brownie, a basic cardboard box camera . . . – The Brownie functioned so quickly and easily that the word “snapshot’” was born.

Kodak Brownie

Kodak Brownie

We see the speaker uses the word “snaps,” and on page 454 is the word “snapshot.” Photographic terms have entered the lexicon, and we can also assume that maybe the time setting is now the early 1900s. Also of interest is how photography becomes an artistic topic by comparing paintings to photographs. For instance, according to the narrator, for Elistir (an artist/painter), paintings are uncanny recreations and interpretations, but photographs are uncanny representations. Already the similarities and differences are noted and made. Also, what must be one of the first similes using photography appears on page 451:

Pleasures are like photographs: in the presence of the person we love, we take only negatives, which we develop later, at home, when we have at our disposal once more our inner darkroom, the door of which it is strictly forbidden to open while others are present.

Wow. That’s a devastating simile.

There it is. New technology that enters the story and the narrator’s life, and we get to experience what it was like to be introduced to those technologies in what I assume is the late 1890s or early 1900s.


Words of the Day:

senza rigore (p. 170) – without a strong pulse. Without rigor. A musical term.

habitués (p. 177) – accustomed

jehu (p. 177) – a king of Israel not for his chariot attacks. A fast driver. The driver of a cab or coach.

ne plus ultra (p. 179) – the perfect or most extreme example of its kind, the ultimate.

vexillum (p 211) – a military standard or flag carried by ancient Roman troops. In botany, a large, upper petal of a papilionaceous (Latin – butterfly) flower.



Monésgasque (p. 244) – a resident of Monaco. Relating to Monaco or its residents. The variety of Ligurian spoken in Monaco, where it is considered the national language.

introit (p. 248) – any type of entrance or opening. However, the term often refers to the opening of the vagina, which leads to the vaginal canal.

contretemps (p. 259) – an inopportune occurrence; and embarrassing mischance.

sedulously (p 262) – diligent in application or attention preserving. Persistently or carefully maintained.

obstruberant (p. 285) – “by which he meant they got in everybody’s way and served no useful purpose” (285).

valerianate (p. 363) – a salt of valeric acid; some forms are used as medicine.

titivate (p. 368) – to make smart or spruce.

velodrome (p. 374) – a sports arena equipped with a banked track for cycling.

ataxia (p. 396) – loss of coordination of the muscles, especially in the extremities.

terraqueous (p. 424) – consisting of land and water, as the earth.

zoophytic (p. 435) – any of the various invertebrate animals resembling a plant, as a coral or sea anemone.

Various Examples of Sea Anemone

Various Examples of Sea Anemone.

ne varietur (p. 440) – never varied

poltroonery (p. 501) – a wretched coward, craven.




Happy Hour Food and Drinks

coffee – p. 114, p. 271, p. 390, p. 395

sugar – p. 114

tea – p. 119, p. 189, p. 392 (“Afternoon tea”), p. 395 (“afternoon tea”), p. 530

caviar – p. 124

beer – p. 230 2x, p. 321, p. 391

brandy – p. 230

alcohol – p. 230, p. 396

liqueur – p. 230

lemons – p. 232

trout – p. 269

fish – p. 269

soup – p. 270

tisane – p. 271. An herbal tea, but technically it is not a tea. It’s an infusion “made from leaves, bark, roots, berries, seeds, and/or spices. Common tisanes include mint, chamomile, verbena, and rooibos.” (

fruit – p 275 3x (once as “fine fruit”), p. 276 4x (once as “bad fruit”), p. 277, p. 281, p. 291

oysters – p. 275, p. 449 (“lustral water left in oyster shells”)

plums – p. 277, p. 278 2x

grapes – p. 277 (“translucent grapes), p. 278 (“golden grapes”), p. 291, p. 489

pears – p. 277, p. 278 2x

“rarebits” – p. 278. “Welsh rarebit is a British dish consisting of a hot cheese-based sauce served over slices of toasted bread.[2] The original 18th-century name of the dish was the jocular “Welsh rabbit”, which was later reinterpreted as “rarebit”, as the dish contains no rabbit.” (

Welsh Rarebit

Welsh Rarebit

creamed eggs – p. 278

sweets – p. 279

cakes – p. 279, p. 314 (“wedding cakes), p. 437, p. 482 3x (once as “chocolate cake” and one with a “cloying creaminess”)

bread – p. 279 (“loaf of rye bread”), p. 352

rolled wafers – p. 279

babas – p. 279. A small, rich sponge cake, typically soaked in rum-flavored syrup.

barley sugars – p. 279

peaches – p. 291

apricots – p. 291

sherbert – p. 320

butter – p. 352

wine – p. 357 (“red wine”), p. 392, p. 358 (“sparkling wine”), p. 401, p. 449

champagne – p. 357, p. 358, p. 391

port – p. 391, p. 393

soufflés – p. 391 (“chocolate soufflés”), p. 478

potatoes – p. 391 (“potatoes à l’anlaise”)

lamb – p. 391 (“Pauillac lamb.” Pauillac Lamb is a lamb whose raising methods have been protected by law in Europe under its PGI status, which was received in 2003. The lambs are supposed to be both born and raised in the Gironde area (“Agneau né et élevé en Gironde”) according to the EU PGI certification. Pauillac is a small village in the Haut-Médoc region in the Gironde département. The lambs are born and raised beside their mothers on the same farm. They are kept with their mothers for 60 days, and consume only their mother’s milk, making them part of the category of lamb called “Suckling Lamb” (or “agneau de lait” in French.),to%20the%20EU%20PGI%20certification.)

Agneau de Pauillac

Agneau de Pauillac

hors d’œuvres – p. 392

tarts – p. 450 (“strawberry tarts”), p. 474, p. 482 2x (once as “apricot tart” and one with “refreshing fruitiness”)

éclair – p. 451 (“coffee éclair”), p. 453 (“coffee éclair”), p. 454

sandwiches – p. 475 (“sandwiches of Cheshire cheese and lettuce”), p. 482 (“sandwiches of Cheshire cheese and lettuce”)

icing – (p. 482)

Périgourdine – p. 488. A dish either whose ingredients include, or that is garnished with, black truffles.


The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

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