Female. Education: Attended Cambridge University.
Office—Observer, 119 Farringdon Rd., London EC1R 3ER, England.
Journalist and author. Observer, London, England, staff writer.
The Smallest of All Persons Mentioned in the Record of Littleness, Profile Books (London, England), 1998.
Edison's Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002, published in England as Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life, Faber and Faber (London, England), 2002.
Contributor to London Review of Books and Guardian.
British journalist Gaby Wood's first book, The Smallest of All Persons Mentioned in the Record of Littleness, documents the life and career of Caroline Crachami, a twenty-inch-tall girl born at the beginning of the nineteenth century who was exhibited as the "Sicilian Fairy." She died before she turned nine, and it was then that her history became known. Her father, Emmanuel Crachami, was a Sicilian musician who played at the Theatre Royal in Dublin, and who went by the name of Lewis Fogle. When Fogle consulted with a Dr. Gilligan about his daughter's health, the doctor was granted permission to bring her to London from Sicily for exhibition, the profits from which would pay the medical bills.
Unknown to Fogle, Gilligan had made a financial deal with the Royal College of Surgeons, in which he agreed that if she died, he would deliver her body for dissection and experimentation. When the child did pass away, Fogle came for her remains, only to find that dissection had already begun. Caroline Crachami's skeleton is displayed to this day in the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, alongside that of Irish giant Charles Byrne.
Roy Porter wrote in the London Observer, "Was the Fairy fascinating mainly because she was what Leslie Fiedler has called a 'scale freak'? Or did she, Gaby Wood wonders, owe her allure to her erotic ambivalence, a baby-like near-adolescent, packaged as that archetypal male fantasy, the living doll?" He concluded, "Here is a little book that raises big issues."
Edison's Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life, published in England as Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life, discusses the history of mechanical dolls. New Statesman contributor Edward Platt wrote that "Wood believes that contemporary attempts to devise robots capable of thought or feeling should be understood in the context of a long history of similar attempts, and she begins her account of the 'quest for mechanical life' during the Enlightenment—the golden age of the philosophical toy, when the 'ambitions of the necromancers were revived in the well-respected name of science.'"
The title chapter is a history of one of Thomas Edison's least successful inventions, a mass-produced talking doll fitted with a tiny phonograph-like device. The manufacture of each doll required 250 production workers. Brian Aldiss noted in Times Literary Supplement that "the dolls recited 'Mary had a little lamb,' much as HAL, in the later Kubrick film, was to recite 'Daisy, Daisy,' to similar chilling effect, one imagines."
Wood describes the Swiss clockwork dolls of Pierre Jacquet-Droz, dolls that could pick up a quill and write with it. She suggests that Mary Shelley might have been inspired by these lifelike dolls to write about a creature assembled from human parts lifted from graveyards. Hungarian Wolfgang von Kempelen created a chess player, the wooden "Automatic Turk" that moved the pieces and rolled its eyes, although it was known to be controlled by a person hidden in its workings. It was later learned that Kempelen and later owners of the contraption had hired the greatest chess masters of the time to direct its movements. It beat Napoleon Bonaparte, and in a match with Catherine the Great, she was disqualified for cheating. The outcome of a match against Benjamin Franklin is undocumented.
It ends with a chapter about the Schneiders, who billed themselves as the Doll Family. They were dwarfs who toured with the Ringling Brothers Circus during the 1920s and later appeared in The Wizard of Oz, but they did nothing to dissuade audiences from believing that they were mechanical—like the inventions Wood discusses in the book. They were thought by most observers to be sophisticated mechanical dolls. At the time of the book's publication, thirty-nine-inch tall Tiny Doll, the surviving member, was in her late eighties and living in Florida.
An Economist reviewer noted that the techniques used to develop these inventions were a precursor to the industrial revolution, and said that "the men who made them, as Gaby Wood relates … were driven by the desire to play God." Wood describes her visit to a Japanese robotics laboratory, drawing comparisons between the present-day obsession with mechanical life and its counterpart centuries ago. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that although these mechanical marvels that could tell fortunes, play chess, and write poetry are very unlike the computer-driven robots of the present, "Wood finds the sentiments of compulsion and fascination … to be a constant passed from tinkerer to cyberneticist." New York Times Book Review contributor Miranda Seymour concluded by calling Edison's Eve "a lively, elegant, and surprising book, packed with curious details and enticing anecdotes."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Choice, February, 2003, J. Y. Cheung, review of Edison's Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life, p. 1002.
Economist (US), March 9, 2002, review of Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life.
Forbes FYI, September 16, 2002, John Glassie, review of Edison's Eve, p. 120.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of Edison's Eve, p. 871.
London Review of Books, May 9, 2002, Jonathan Rée, review of Living Dolls, pp. 16-18.
New Statesman, March 4, 2002, Edward Platt, review of Living Dolls, pp. 50-51.
New York Review of Books, February 13, 2003, Jennifer Schuessler, review of Edison's Eve, pp. 29-31.
New York Times Book Review, August 25, 2002, Miranda Seymour, review of Edison's Eve, p. 14.
Observer (London, England), June 28, 1998, Roy Porter, review of The Smallest of All Persons Mentioned in the Record of Littleness, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, June 17, 2002, review of Edison's Eve, p. 52.
Spectator, March 2, 2002, Raymond Keene, review of Living Dolls, pp. 41-42.
Times Literary Supplement, May 3, 2002, Brian Aldiss, review of Living Dolls, p. 33.
Complete Review,http://www.complete-review.com/ (January 8, 2003), review of Living Dolls.
Guardian,http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (February 16, 2002), excerpt from Living Dolls.
Star Tribune,http://www.startribune.com/ (September 22, 2002), John Freeman, review of Edison's Eve. *