|The subject of this article is not considered Steampunk on its own, but relates directly to the history, culture, philosophy, technology or aesthetic of Steampunk.
This article is Inspiration for Steampunk.
The Victorian Era is the period on which the majority of the steampunk subculture is focused on. This era consisted of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. Steampunk will also often spill over into the Edwardian Era which came after Queen Victoria died.
The power of the Churches continued to rule throughout the Victorian Era. However, that was not the case in industrialized cities among the working classes. In the cities, those against the rule of religion were many, largely because the working classes were obliged to pick up the costs of the decisions made by their rulers. The Crimean War, for instance, was largely a fight between four forms of religion. The Roman Catholic Church of France, the Orthodox Christian Church of Russia, The Anglican Church of the United Kingdom, and the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire. France and Great Britain sided with with the Ottoman Empire against Russia and the Orthodox Christian Church. Both sides made terrrible mistakes, and many soldiers, most of them from the working class, were lost to simple mismanagement, callous disregard for their welfare, and logistical ineptitude.
The dissenting sects were against what the Anglican church was using its power for. The Church demanded obedience to God, submissiveness and resignation with the goal of making people more malleable to the will of the clergy. The clergy aimed to appease the will of the elite, and cared little for the needs and wants of the middle, the working, and the farming classes. Thus, emerged Methodism, Congregationalism, The Society of Friends (Quakers), Presbyterianism and, in the United States, the Baptists. The Methodists and Presbyterians in particular stressed personal salvation through direct individual faith in Jesus Christ's sacrificial death, and His resurrection on the behalf of sinners, as taught in the New Testament Gospels. This stress on individualism by the middle and working classes is seen throughout the Victorian Era, and becomes even more developed in Middle Class life.
Gothic Revival architecture became increasingly significant in the period. The middle of the 19th century saw The Great Exhibition of 1851, the first World's Fair, and showcased the greatest innovations of the century. At its centre was the Crystal Palace, a modular glass and iron structure that was the first of its kind. It was condemned by Ruskin as the very model of mechanical dehumanisation in design, but later came to be presented as the prototype of modern architecture. The emergence of photography, which was showcased at the Great Exhibition, resulted in significant changes in the field of visual art, with Queen Victoria being the first British Monarch to be photographed.
The Great Exhibition was the brainchild of Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert. Its full title was The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations. It lived up to its title in spades. It was not about craftsmanship or artistic merit; it was about industrial might and the good things that could be done as a result of industrial progress. It succeeded in its aim. Every nation showed up. Most of the had exhibits at the exhibition and everyone went home thinking about the wonder of it all. The Great Exhibition sold out on its very first day and every day from May 1, 1851 until October 15, 1851 when it was closed. By any measure that can be used, the Great Exhibition was nothing less than a resounding success. However, while the Great Exhibition was an unqualified success, there were downsides to what it championed. There were social and environmental costs that were not in immediate evidence. Burning coal puts a great deal of ash into the air along with oxides of sulphur, The burning of so much coal led to the infamous London Fogs, as well as making everything feel gritty. Coal ash got into and on everything, much like what is happening in China today. Also, many of the great buildings in England were made of limestone or marble, both of which suffered degradation in the murky polluted air. Everyone was ambitions. Everyone was greedy. No one cared about the poor, not even the poor themselves. Everyone was out to acquire as much as he or she could, no matter what it took. It is this gritty underbelly of the Victorian Era that Steampunk stories focus on. It is also what makes them so interesting.
Sex and Sexuality
Victorian morality can describe any set of values that espouse sexual restraint, low tolerance of crime, and a strict code of social conduct. Historians now regard the Victorian era as a time of many contradictions, such as the widespread cultivation of an outward appearance of dignity and restraint, together with the prominence of negative social phenomena such as the widespread use of tobacco, drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and child labour.
Victorian prudery resulted in large part to Queen Victoria of England's attitude toward extra-marital sex. It went so far it was socially unacceptable to say the word leg in mixed company; instead, the preferred euphemism "limb" was used. The same was true of the word bull in the United States where it was considered more proper and fashionable to say Mister Cow instead of bull.
Verbal or written communication of emotion or sexual feelings was also often proscribed, so people instead used the language of flowers. However, they also wrote explicit erotica and often delved into pornographic pictures. Today, Victorian Erotica is avidly sought as collector's prizes.
Throughout the whole Victorian Era, homosexuals were regarded as abominations, and homosexuality was illegal. Homosexual acts were a capital offence until 1861. A few famous men from the British Isles, such as Oscar Wilde, had homosexual liaisons. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, many widely proclaimed trials were held on the charges arising from this aberration. Wilde, for example, was sentenced to two years hard labour for having had homosexual relations.
Although some evidence suggests that amongst the upper class, female homosexualtiy was acceptable. This is due to the belief that women did not enjoy sex at all and therefore had no desire to have sex, meaning they could not have sexual intercourse with another woman. Victorians in "polite" society ignored the existence of the clitoris as though it did not exist.
Technology and Science
An important development during the Victorian era was the improvement of communication links. Stage coaches, canals, steam ships and most notably the railways all allowed goods, raw materials and people to be moved about, rapidly facilitating trade and industry. Trains became another important factor ordering society, with "railway time" being the standard by which clocks were set throughout Britain. Steam ships such as the SS Great Britain and SS Great Western made international travel more common but also advanced trade, so that in Britain it was not just the luxury goods of earlier times that were imported into the country but essentials such as corn from the America and meat from Australia. One more important innovation in communications was the Penny Black, the first postage stamp, which standardized postage to a flat price regardless of distance sent.
Even later communication methods such as cinema, telegraph, telephones, cars and aircraft, would have an impact. Photography was realized in 1839 by Louis Daguerre in France and William Fox Talbot in the UK. By 1900, hand-held cameras were available.
Similar sanitation reforms, prompted by the Public Health Acts 1848 and 1869, were made in the crowded, dirty streets of the existing cities, and soap was the main product shown in the relatively new phenomenon of advertising. A great engineering feat in the Victorian Era was the sewage system in London.
The Victorians were impressed by science and progress, and felt that they could improve society in the same way as they were improving technology. During the Victorian era, science grew into the discipline it is today. In addition to the increasing professionalism of university science, many Victorian gentlemen devoted their time to the study of natural history. This study of natural history was most powerfully advanced by Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution first published in his book On the Origin of Species in 1859.
Although initially developed in the early years of the 19th century, gas lighting became widespread during the Victorian era in industry, homes, public buildings and the streets. The invention of the incandescent gas mantle in the 1890s greatly improved light output and ensured its survival as late as the 1960s. Hundreds of gasworks were constructed in cities and towns across the country. In 1882, incandescent electric lights were introduced to London streets, although it took many years before they were installed everywhere.
- Autumn Stephens
- “The Essential Handbook of Victorian Entertaining”
- Cynthia Hart, John Grossman
- Dee Davis, Gail Cooper
- “The Victorian Scrap Gallery: A Collection of over 500 Full-Color Victorian-Era Images”
- “A Victorian Lady's Scrapbook”
- Lucy Le Grand
- “Miss Lucy's Victorian Book”
- “Miss Lucy's Victorian Scrapbook”
- Priscilla Dunhill
- “A Victorian Scrapbook”
- Robert Opie
- “Victorian Scrapbook”
- Stephen Carter
- “A Victorian Scrapbook”
- Thomas E. Hill
- “The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette”
- Wendell Schollander, Wes Schollander
- “Forgotten Elegance: The Art, Artifacts, and Peculiar History of Victorian and Edwardian Entertaining in America”