In 2005, Erik Larson wrote an excellent book about Marconi and the invention of transatlantic radio called Thunderstruck. The secret of the wireless communication involved very tall receiving antennae on shore and electrical generating power at the source to create huge sparks of electro-magnetic energy. They used the language of Morse Code. The radio signal, which travels in a direct line, bounced off the earth’s atmosphere creating a curve towards its destination. It’s far more complex than this; good reason to read Larson’s book.
Marconi stations were built on the most remote extremities of land abutting the ocean. One of these is Sable Island off the Southeast Coast of Nova Scotia. From its birth, Sable Island was not used to transmit across the ocean, but was a relay point for ships heading to Halifax, Montreal and Boston. There grew on the island a small population of hearty souls divided into three groups: the civilians who supported the lighthouses at either end, the lifesavers who ranged across the island ready to respond to shipwrecks. These were established long before the Marconi station. The third group, signalmen, were employed by the wireless company, at the station built on the highest point of the island. The former were permanent settlers, the later were usually one year and done.
The Nymph and the Lamp, set in the early 1920’s, tells the story of a signalman, Matthew Carney, who loved the island, called Marina in the novel, and stayed far beyond one year. Finally, he took a three-month shore leave to find his family in Nova Scotia, with whom he had lost contact. During this unfruitful search, he finds Isabel Jardine, an independent spinster, secretary to the ED at the wireless company. Sparks fly between these two non-reactive subjects, culminating with Isabel accompanying Matthew back to the island for permanent settlement after knowing him only from his files, his reputation and no more than 35 hours together over three days.
The story of her acclimatization to the station residents, all men, and the island’s citizens, both men and women, is a fascinating story. It is hard not to like all the characters in this book, and to feel their anguish as the tale unrolls.
Within a year, Isabel returns to Nova Scotia and finds a safe harbor in the region of her birth among the apple orchards of the north island. She joins the roller coaster of boom and bust following The Great War, nurtured by an employer who is smart enough to give her responsibility and authority. Such a man was a rare find in 1920’s provincial Canada, and a rare character coming from a male author, writing in 1950.
Raddell does a fine job of tying up the stories. The book is beautifully written, full of glorious similes and descriptions of the nature of sea and shore. Highly recommended for those who love an old-fashioned novel complete with love, betrayal, sadness, joy and a fascinating setting. The book is out of print. You may find it at a library or a used book store. I purchased through a seller on Amazon.