So you may have heard the term, but what is Victorian Steampunk exactly? What does it mean? Where did it come from? Come closer to hear the Steampunk story.
The word Steampunk is said to have been coined by K. W. Jeter, a writer, in a letter to Locus magazine in 1989, to describe his stories.
It’s a sub-culture of science fiction, and a distinctive style with reach in design, décor, crafts, fashion, literature, films, even lifestyle for some.
Steampunk style is heavily influenced by 19th century Victorian Britain at the start of the Industrial Revolution (hence steam), and early 20th century science fiction. The Victorian Steampunk era can loosely be said to be influenced by 1840s to 1910s Britain.
It imagines an alternate world in a fantasy future where steam powered technology survived. It allows for things that never existed but could have, if steam had remained a dominant power. It’s future technology as the Victorians might have envisaged it.
Steampunk combines Victorian era steam-age aesthetics with the modern; a retro-futuristic Victoriana.
The result is fantastical gadgets from steam-age sci-fi marriage transposed on to modern technology. Gritty and edgy it often combines heavy industry materials of early industrialisation with the delicate work of skilled Victorian craftsmen and artisans. It’s modern technology with a backdrop of the late 1800s; it’s iphones, laptops or private jets powered by steam set in Victorian England.
Steampunk technology frequently features pipes and bolts, clockwork and mechanical cogs. It has the charm of the imperfect of hand-made – it’s bespoke meets rough repairs.
Steampunk honours all that was new and exciting during the Victorian era. It celebrates the mad scientists, the whacky inventors and the mechanical geniuses who flourished during that period which saw the birth of steam trains, air-ships, motorised vehicles, the light bulb, cameras, and the inception of industrialisation.
Commonly called Steampunk, what is Victorian Steampunk vs American Steampunk?
The main difference is that American Steampunk is heavily influenced by the American Wild West, featuring gun slings, leather chaps and country music whilst Victorian steampunk looks more to the steam technology of the Victorian era as well as their fashions with corsets and petticoats.
A key feature of Steampunk design is opposition: industrial versus handmade, chunky metal versus intricate gears, Victorian versus modern, refined versus coarse, fantasy versus reality.
In Steampunk design combining old and new is key; employing old-fashioned materials like iron, tin, brass, copper and wood to modern technology to create for example a coffee machine like a 19th century explorer’s navigational instrument.
Steampunk gadgets are a fabulous Frankenstein of gears and cogs and wheels and levers and brass clockwork and copper pipes and forged iron.
The design encompasses a who era and world, so it’s immensely versatile and may be seen in huge or tiny projects, in architecture or in a piece of art.
Unlike the fussy, heavy floral of the Victorians, Steampunk décor is bold and solid. It’s industrial chic meets whimsical upcycling. Colours that dominate are black, dark wood, copper, brass and silver.
Natural wood and leather are favoured over the veneer and plastics of modern furniture. Lead lights with brass fittings and Edison lightbulbs are quintessential Steampunk. Tin and brass artwork is typical. Victorian laboratory-like paraphernalia inspired into decorative pieces or practical kitchen equipment.
As in other areas so in fashion, Steampunk outfits emulate the Victorians but with a distinctive twist.
Many Steampunk festivals and conventions, in Britain and America most notably, see regular gatherings of enthusiasts who don the themed attire.
A corset is a must for a Steampunk woman. But the corsets and petticoats of Victorian ladies are worn as the outer layer rather than as the under garments of the modest Victorians.
Petticoats or bustled skirts are often worn mini short at the front and long at the back. Gloves are a common feature, either lace or leather, as are top hats for women and Victorian inspired lace-up boots.
In contrast to the primly turned out Victorians, what is Victorian Steampunk fashion is the addition of exaggerated drama and theatrics from gothic and burlesque elements.
Men’s clothes reflect the essence of the movement for innovation, invention and fearless exploration. The outfits are part scientist, part engineer, part adventurer and part gentleman.
Like their Victorian counterparts they’re often seen wearing waistcoats and tailcoats, monocles, pocket watches, and waxed moustaches. Steampunk accessories include top hats or pith hats adorned with cogwheels and chains, and Steampunk aviator goggles with elaborate futuristic telescopic lenses.
BEST STEAMPUNK NOVELS
Although the term Steampunk wasn’t around before 1989, the Steampunk moniker can be applied to many works before that time, for example the science fiction of H G Wells and Jules Verne.
Steampunk stories allow you to enjoy an alternate history. As you might expect they are generally adventure driven science fiction and often feature fantastical machinery. The characters, unsurprisingly too, are often quirky, mad inventors or intrepid explorers.
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling is a cornerstone book which helped establish the culture and style.
Some of the best Steampunk novels include:
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Warlord of the Air by Micael Moorcock
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Infernal Devices and Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter
The Prophecy Machine by Neal Barrett
Mainspring by Jay Lake
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
Steampunk edited by Jeff VanderMeer
STEAMPUNK IN FILM
Like in literature, Steampunk in films is usually science fiction adventures with eccentric characters, the opportunity for wondrous sets and flamboyant costumes.
Some of the best films with Steampunk influence include:
First Men in the Moon
The Time Machine
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Alice in Wonderland
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Around The World In 80 Days
The Golden Compass
Airlords of Airia (short)
The Time Machine (1960)
Although a sub-culture of science fiction, since the early 2010’s Steampunk has become increasingly recognised and popular in film and has been featured in a number of big productions, and even a Justin Bieber video.
The Steampunk movement has a faithful and growing following and there are Steampunk events up and down the country throughout the year, from Steampunk markets to weekend festivals to go and revel in the history that might have been.
What is Victorian Steampunk? 2019