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Silence: Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell

Read an excerpt from Silence

By Jessica Lewis Date: January 18, 2021

You may know the name of Alexander Graham Bell, the man who invented the telephone, but how much do you know of his wife Mabel? Mabel was a strong, self-assured woman who became Deaf in childhood and learned how to speak and lipread in multiple languages. At nineteen she married Alexander and they challenged each other to be strong forces for good. Silence: Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell by Trina Davies is a true story of love, perspective, and how we communicate.

In this scene, Mabel has just given birth to a baby girl. Alexander comes to see them but is too distracted by his work to give them his full attention, which hits a sore spot in their relationship.

***

ALEC has a mirror and reflects light around the space. He bounces the light off of another mirror. He is fascinated by the process.

BERTA brings a cradle out to MABEL. GERTRUDE and ELIZA bring out a new baby to MABEL, showing the baby to her before placing it in the cradle. The women rock the cradle gently, then retreat. MABEL sits back, exhausted.

ALEC runs to find MABEL to tell her about his experiment. He stops dead and looks in the cradle.

MABEL: No.

ALEC: But why not?

MABEL: Absolutely not.

ALEC: It is a wonderful name!

MABEL: It is not a wonderful name.

ALEC: It is unique and interesting— 

MABEL: No.

ALEC: There will be no doubt she is a Bell. 

MABEL refers to a scrap of paper. 

MABEL: You are not naming the baby “Photophone.”

He corrects her pronunciation.

ALEC: “Fah-toff-inee.” It is a lovely name! 

MABEL: It is not a lovely name, and the baby is not going to be called by it. 

ALEC: It is fitting, Mabel! The same week that your baby is born, mine is also born—they should have the same name!

MABEL: “My baby”?

ALEC: Mind you, your baby screamed inarticulately, while mine spoke quite clearly . . .

MABEL: “MY baby”?

ALEC: Yes, that little one.

MABEL: (warning) Alec . . .

ALEC: Electra, then? Electra is a fine name! 

MABEL: What do you mean “my baby”?

ALEC: Electra Bell! It has a lovely ring to it.

MABEL: ALEC!

ALEC: You like Electra as well, then? 

MABEL: Alec . . . this is not “my baby.” And the invention is not “your baby.” This is your new daughter. Your beautiful baby girl.

ALEC: Well, to be fair, she will be beautiful later. At the moment she is—

MABEL: Alec!

ALEC: Yes, all right.

MABEL: She will be named Marian.

ALEC: Ah. After your baby sister.

MABEL: And we will call her Daisy.

ALEC: Yes, Daisy. That is a fine name. You are right. 

Beat.

Did I tell you how well the photophone functioned? Articulate speech produced by sunlight! I have heard a ray of sun laugh and cough and sing! . . . I have been able to hear a shadow and I have even perceived by ear the passage of a cloud across the sun’s disk.

When perfected, we shall be able to speak across distances without any conducting wire whatsoever. Think of that!

We are going to try further experiments on it this evening.

MABEL: You had promised to have dinner with my family this evening.

ALEC: May, my mind races with ideas. I don’t need sleep, or food, or company—

MABEL: It is quite obvious. It is not only your daughter and I who have felt your absence, my family has noted it. When everyone has gathered for a birthday—

ALEC: Please, darling. Please give me this. To interrupt, to push me off of my thoughts makes the ideas vanish, and then there is little left of me. I wonder will I ever achieve another great invention? . . . Think what the world may be a hundred years from now, or two hundred—

MABEL: We need your presence with us.

ALEC: I need to know that I am still alive and thinking. That this one success was not only luck.

MABEL: Why was our wealth given to us, if not to give you time to make up to your children what they may lose by their mother’s loss?

Pause.

ALEC: May, you are a fine mother.

MABEL: When you are here you are the object around which all my life moves. When you are away it feels empty.

ALEC starts to pace. He distractedly turns at times so that she cannot “hear” him.

ALEC: [There is an opportunity now. One that may come only once in a lifetime and it must be seized. An arctic expeditionary force has invited me along to accompany them.]

Wouldn’t it be lovely to see the sun above the horizon for all of twenty-four hours!

[Only a few months, perfectly safe, a chance to do experiments and discoveries] determining the influence of the North Pole on magnets!

MABEL: (catching on) The North Pole!

ALEC: Only a few months.

MABEL: Yes, go and leave others a chance to steal your ideas, to exceed your reach!

Go and leave your wife and two daughters to their silent world without you!

I care little for what will be one hundred years from now, or two hundred years for that matter. I care about now, about what is right in front of our eyes!

You need to know you are alive and thinking.

I need to know that I am not alone in this!

ALEC is disappointed. Pause. MABEL watches him.

ALEC: Yes, yes . . .

MABEL: I am proud of you, Alec. So proud of your work. 

But I am also so very jealous of it.

ALEC sighs.

ALEC: I will not go to the arctic just now.

ALEC retreats into the shadows.

***

Want to know what happens next? Get your copy of Silence: Mabel and Alexander Graham Bell now!

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