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: Daisy Jones & The Six
    Daisy Jones & The Six
    by Taylor Jenkins Reid
    In this evocative novel written in the format of an interview with members of a fictional music ...
  • Book Jacket: The Age of Living Machines
    The Age of Living Machines
    by Susan Hockfield
    In the face of looming global challenges, such as overpopulation, resource depletion and disease, Dr...
  • Book Jacket
    The Mars Room
    by Rachel Kushner
    There is palpable tension between expectation and reality in Rachel Kushner's third novel. The ...
  • Book Jacket: The Guest Book
    The Guest Book
    by Sarah Blake
    Sarah Blake's critically-acclaimed third novel The Guest Book was a hit with our First Impressions ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Travelers
    by Helon Habila

    A startlingly exploration of the African diaspora in Europe, by one of our most acclaimed international writers.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Fly Girls
by Keith O'Brien

How five daring women defied all odds and made aviation history.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win The Guest Book

The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake

"An American epic in the truest sense."
—Entertainment Weekly

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

M I Haste, R A L

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.