For all my fooling around with steampunk slang, clothing, and book titles, I doubt I’ll ever write one.
I don’t like the Victorian Age that much
Oh, I’ve tried to like it. I had an older sibling who was infatuated with Victorian decor, china, and 1980s Victorian revival fashions. I liked them from an aesthetic viewpoint. They were pretty and feminine and nostalgic. For a while all the blouses I wore had to be cotton or linen, and ironed by hand with starch or sizing. I liked flouncy, flowing skirts and delicate jewelry, too. But, they really didn’t fit my lifestyle, which was all about activity and getting dirty. I didn’t like feeling like a shy virginal flower either. My nature is more direct. They didn’t fit with who I was. I can admire the delicacy and prettiness of a china tea service, but even for home decor it doesn’t fit me. I like the bold, natural colors of Mexico and things that look handmade. I like natural wood and nature motifs and real leather. It’s something that says home to me.
Actual Victorian women’s fashions, the kind you’d see in a museum, bring to mind psychic and physical pain. I’ll never forget a passage from one of the Little House on the Prairie books where Laura is annoyed with her goody-goody older sister Mary because Mary sleeps in a corset and Laura can’t, because she likes to be able to breathe. Now, I know there are corset revisionists out there who say corseting isn’t really all that bad, you just have to get one that’s properly fitted, yadda yadda yadda. But the truth is, they were made to keep upper and middle-class women inactive and on display. Working women, like these lady’s servants, used corsets to support their bosoms but did not lace themselves so tight they could not work. Tiny waists indicated that a wife or daughter need not lift a finger. That was for the peons.
The heaviness of Victorian clothing repulsed me also. I grew up in hot, humid New Jersey where even shorts and a tube top failed to keep one cool in the August heat. To be corseted and wrapped in multiple petticoats, sleeves, and layers was a thing that sounded like torture. Even if the world was a little cooler back then and the dwelling rooms higher and more airy.
I also hated the waste of it all. As a child I read in an animal book that many species of birds almost went extinct because they were shot for their feathers which were used for lady’s hats. Tiger skins, beaver pelts, elephant ivory, scrimshaw… all this Victorian frippery was evidence of the wholesale slaughter like the nature was a never-ending fountain of riches. And let’s not even go into British, Dutch, German, and French colonization of Africa, India, and other places and the colonizers’ treatment of native peoples, which often received “scientific” justification from the nascent field of genetics.
And of course, there’s the wholesale pollution of rivers, air, and cities because of industrialization and the burning of coal. London in particular suffered from horrendous sulphor fogs which persisted even into the 1950s.
I couldn’t even start reading The Difference Engine, one of the books that started Steampunk on its way, because the first chapter was about the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold. That’s one trope I was tired of even when it came out.
But… who knows. Perhaps I might write some dystopian Steampunk story in the future, something horrendous and disturbing.
Need some ideas for yourself? Here’s a list of more randomly generated titles.
More Steampunk Novels
Gears of Beguilement
An Affair of Soulless Spectacle
The Affair of the Brass Parasol
The Bronze Homunculous
The Partisan Turbines
The Recollections of a Pallid Gentleman
The Eurhythmic Breath of Angels
An Incident of Wondrous Scandal
The Alloy Runner
The Compass Thief
A Scoundrel of Queer Rebellion
The Girl in the Pallid Cameo
A Steam-Driven Mirror
The Pneumatic Throne
The Tick-Tock Hunter
The Turbines of Phantasm
At the Wireless Circus
The Steam-Driven Summer
The Warlord’s Compass