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Loving Faster than Light

Romance and Readers in Einstein’s Universe

In November 1919, newspapers around the world alerted readers to a sensational new theory of the universe: Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. Coming at a time of social, political, and economic upheaval, Einstein’s theory quickly became a rich cultural resource with many uses beyond physical theory. Media coverage of relativity in Britain took on qualities of pastiche and parody, as serious attempts to evaluate Einstein’s theory jostled with jokes and satires linking relativity to everything from railway budgets to religion. The image of a befuddled newspaper reader attempting to explain Einstein’s theory to his companions became a set piece in the popular press.
Loving Faster than Light focuses on the popular reception of relativity in Britain, demonstrating how abstract science came to be entangled with class politics, new media technology, changing sex relations, crime, cricket, and cinematography in the British imagination during the 1920s. Blending literary analysis with insights from the history of science, Katy Price reveals how cultural meanings for Einstein’s relativity were negotiated in newspapers with differing political agendas, popular science magazines, pulp fiction adventure and romance stories, detective plots, and esoteric love poetry. Loving Faster than Light is an essential read for anyone interested in popular science, the intersection of science and literature, and the social and cultural history of physics.

280 pages | 6 halftones, 9 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2012

History of Science

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature

Physical Sciences: History and Philosophy of Physical Sciences


“Wide-ranging. . . . The diversity of genres under consideration is one of the many strengths of Price’s accessible study and aptly demonstrates her assertion that science and culture were in a complex process of negotiation at the beginning of the twentieth century. . . . In addition to its impressive variety of sources, there is much in this study that is worthy of mention. A great deal has been written on the dissemination of relativity theory in the interwar period, but Price has delved into previously untouched archival material to show the extent of its diffusion. Equally rewarding is the brief formal analysis in the chapter on Empson that hints at the absorption of the abstract, technical language of science in conventional literary registers such as poetry. . . . [A]s a critical intervention in the debate about science in culture, Loving Faster than Light is highly recommended.”

Vike Martina Plock, University of Exeter | Times Higher Education

“Masterfully incorporating a contextual sensibility of the historian of science with a sensitivity to textual texture of the literary scholar, Katy Price guides us through the ways that readers and writers of newspapers, popular fiction, poems, magazines, and essays translated and incorporated Einsteinian relativity. Loving Faster Than Light: Romance and Readers in Einstein’s Universe situates this popular engagement with the physical sciences within the political transformations of early twentieth-century Britain, looking at how the scientific and publishing communities attempted (with different levels of success) to use media coverage of relativity to rally the support of a wider reading public. It is a rich study that has much to offer to those interested in the history of science, of literature, and of popular culture, while helpfully complicating all of those categories.”

Carla Nappi | New Books in Science, Technology, and Society

“That Einstein’s general theory of relativity, confirmed as correct in 1919, had wide cultural reverberations quite apart from its scientific impact is a truism that Katy Price explores with vast learning and style, and occasional humor. . . . Recommended.”

M. S. Vogeler, California State University, Fullerton | Choice

"Price's sophisticated analyses of how ideas from the new physics were put to use within a diverse set of literary endeavors provide a richly annotated excursion into the circulation of scientific knowledge in which authors, texts, and audiences are brought into sharper relief individually even as she begins to examine how they generated collective forms of critique in relation to each other. . . . Price points the way to new questions about the interworkings of science and culture that should be taken seriously by historians of science, whatever their specialization."

Katherine Pandora | Isis

“Throughout Loving Faster than Light, Price conveys her detailed research and thought-provoking ideas and readings with an admirable lightness, even playfulness, of touch and an obvious feel for both the material under discussion and the period in question; this is a well-written and eminently readable book.”

Review of English Studies

“In this witty and often lyrical book, Katy Price recaptures the heady moment when the public first learned of Einstein’s revolutionary vision of the cosmos. She shows how ordinary people made sense of the theory of relativity by thinking through its implications for their own concerns—about social status, money, gender, romance, and more. Price’s literary sophistication offers historians an innovative model for reading popular science. In the tradition of James Secord’s Victorian Sensation, this book breaks new ground for the history of science and its publics.”

Deborah R. Coen, Barnard College, Columbia University

“‘The latest craze is Mr. Einstein’s Relativity Theory,’ D. H. Lawrence remarked in 1923; ‘everybody catches fire at the word Relativity.’ Katy Price reveals just how far and how fast—and how strangely—that fire spread through the 1920s and beyond. Examining, in her words, how ‘Einstein’s relativity entered British fiction as a social phenomenon, like shorter dresses or the telephone,’ Loving Faster than Light offers a wide-ranging and fascinating exploration of the popular culture of the time.”

Randall Stevenson, University of Edinburgh

Loving Faster than Light is a very well-written, insightful examination of one of the essential problems of the history of science—how does elite, esoteric knowledge get read, used, modified, and owned by those outside the professional scientific community? Katy Price focuses on one of the defining scientific ideas of the twentieth century—relativity—and skillfully demonstrates the many genres and styles through which it was adopted and changed. An excellent book that brings together a number of disciplinary approaches.”

Matthew Stanley, New York University

Table of Contents

A Note on Money

Light Caught Bending: Relativity in the Newspapers
Einstein for the Tired Business Man: Exposition in Magazines
Cracks in the Cosmos: Space and Time in Pulp Fiction
A Lady on Neptune: Arthur Eddington’s Talkative Universe
A Freak Sort of Planet: Dorothy L. Sayers’s Cosmic Bachelors
Talking to Mars: William Empson’s Astronomy Love Poems

Conclusion: Dreaming the Future


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