Young Adult Science Fiction

By C. W. Sullivan Iii | Go to book overview

1
American Technological Fiction
for Youth: 1900–1940

Francis J. Molson

By the last decades of the nineteenth century, American youth’s interest in electricity and its various applications—steam, machines, and mechanical devices of all kinds—was manifest and growing. A most telling instance is Tudor Jenks’ guide-like narrative celebrating the 1892 Columbian Exposition, The Century World’s Fair Book for Boys and Girls. Prominent in the book are the space and attention Jenks gives to the latest breakthroughs in applied science—farm implements, boats, military hardware, even the very popular ferris wheel, and most particularly the “marvels” of electricity:

the attractions were most striking. There was a whirling ball of electric lights, hung near
the ceiling, that Harry remembered noticing on the first evening.… Not far from this
ball was a column of colored-glass lamps, from the top of which lines of lamps ran
zigzag over the ceiling, each ending in a hanging lantern.

This column would suddenly gleam with colored fire at the base, then further up,
then to the top, the waves of light dying out below as they ascended. Reaching the top of
the column, the zigzag lines flashed out in wavy lightning flashes to the hanging lan-
terns. Then all would become dull, until another impulse made its tour of the line. (199-
200)

Considered in retrospect, Jenks’ emphasis on applied science is not surprising since it reflects one of the primary intents of the Columbian Exposition which was, as Daniel Burg points out in Chicago’s While City of 1893, celebrating “momentous achievements in such areas as fine arts, industry, technology, and agriculture” (viii). What may be surprising is the matter-of-fact tone adopted as Jenks, escorting his readers through the Exposition, was content to present an object or exhibit directly, eschewing the use of literary allusions or rhetorical ornamentation to dictate readers’ response. Clearly, Jenks took for

-7-

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