Lighthouse Keepers: Background information when reading The Light Between Oceans

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Light Between Oceans

A Novel

by Margot L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans by Margot L. Stedman X
The Light Between Oceans by Margot L. Stedman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jul 2012, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2013, 384 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
Buy This Book

About this Book

Lighthouse Keepers

This article relates to The Light Between Oceans

Print Review

In Margot L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans, Tom Sherbourne takes a job as a lighthouse keeper in Janus Rock, Australia, a place where "the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best..." But what exactly do lighthouse keepers do? What purpose do they serve?

Lake Erie Lighthouse near Cleveland, circa 1833 Generally speaking, a lighthouse keeper is someone who maintains a lighthouse facility. This job was of course more relevant years ago during the 19th century when oil-fueled lanterns and clockwork-like gears were fundamental components of lighthouses, before computers and electric lights could be used for the job. (In 1912, Nils Gustaf Dalén won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of "automatic valves designed to be used in combination with gas accumulators in lighthouses," which made humans much less necessary in the process.) Tasks included cutting wicks, refilling lamps, winding clockwork components, shining reflective lenses, and cleaning windows.

While it sounds peaceful enough, being a lighthouse keeper could be very dangerous, and at the very least, lonely. According to the US National Park Service, "Lighthouse keepers and lightship crews often knew of colleagues who had lost their lives to ice, tsunamis, and colossal storms. Yet these men and women persevered. A few risked their own lives to save others in peril, rescuing mariners and shore-side visitors from thin ice, storms, shipwrecks and other disasters. Some keepers would perform these acts of heroism many times over."

Fanny May Salter, lighthouse keeper in the US Coast Guard service And the money wasn't great. The NPS reports that, "Keeper salaries were not high. Many keepers supplemented their incomes with other activities, acting as pilots or fisherman, often leaving their wives and children to tend the lamps." It was not uncommon for women to hold these important posts. "Fifth Auditor Stephen Pleasonton, administrator of the Lighthouse Establishment from 1820 to 1852, had no qualms about appointing female keepers to replace related male keepers who died in service. In 1851, he wrote, 'So necessary is it that the Lights should be in the hands of experienced keepers that I have, in order to effect that object as possible, recommended on the death of a keeper, that his widow, if steady and respectable should be app't to succeed him, and in this way some 30 odd widows have been appointed.'"

Today, most lighthouses are automatic and do not require live-in keepers, but maintenance is still needed. In the US, maintenance is the responsibility of the Coast Guard or the National Park Service. The last "officially manned lighthouse" in America, the Boston Light, was automated in 1998. Today, volunteers act as tour guides for the Boston Light, and some lighthouses even offer overnight accommodations for people who yearn to experience the life of a keeper for a night.

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Light Between Oceans. It originally ran in August 2012 and has been updated for the April 2013 paperback edition.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Territory of Light
    Territory of Light
    by Yuko Tsushima
    Set in Tokyo during the late 1970s, Yūko Tsushima's Territory of Light chronicles a year in the...
  • Book Jacket: Unmarriageable
    Unmarriageable
    by Soniah Kamal
    Soniah Kamal makes no secret of the fact that her novel Unmarriageable is a retelling of Jane Austen...
  • Book Jacket: The Paragon Hotel
    The Paragon Hotel
    by Lyndsay Faye
    Lyndsay Faye's arresting The Paragon Hotel focuses on how disparate groups of marginalized people ...
  • Book Jacket: When Death Becomes Life
    When Death Becomes Life
    by Joshua D. Mezrich
    Though it happened more than ten years ago, Joshua Mezrich still clearly remembers setting out in a ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Force of Nature
by Jane Harper

As atmospheric, tense, and explosive as her New York Times bestselling debut, The Dry!

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Sounds Like Titanic
    by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

    "A tricky, unnerving, consistently fascinating memoir."
    --Kirkus, starred review
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Lost Man
    by Jane Harper

    A stunning standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Cherokee America

Cherokee America
by Margaret Verble

An epic novel from the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist Maud's Line.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P C, Absolute P C A

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.