Steampunk inspiration and resources

Famous Figures

Hat’s Off to the Flight Cap

I don’t have any kids yet, but I already have plans to dress my future children in a variety of silly outfits. And no, I don’t just mean Halloween, I mean as long as possible before they catch on. Because let’s face it, shrinking down just about anything, making it really soft, and putting it on some unsuspecting kid is just about as adorable as it gets. Take flight caps, for instance. If I see a kid in a tiny aviation outfit I can’t help but squeeeee with joy. Like this kid. Am I right?

Aviator5

Of course I am. 🙂

But where did these iconic caps come from? It turns out they have been a part of aviation since aviation was just a baby.

When the Wright Brothers made their famous first flight in 1903, Orville was definitely wearing a hat. No man of that era would be caught outside without one. On that day, he wore something akin to a page boy cap, but of course flying is a windy occupation and it was basically impossible to keep a regular hat in place. Plus, the pilot’s ears would get cold as the plane climbed and they needed protection.

By 1908,  Wilbur had a brand new hat that quickly became a sensation, not just for people in flight, but also in Parisian fashion. The tight-fitting but soft leather cap (though not the goggles yet) was nicknamed the “Vilbur” and was popular for a short time among young men and boys. Soon after, aviator Louis Bleriot crossed the English Channel, and he added the goggles to protect his eyes from oil and other debris. And you can bet Amelia Earhart got into the action, with her custom-made white cap to match her white flying jacket.

Amelia from Dan Patterson collection

So there you have it. The flight cap and the goggles that we all know and love to wear as part of our Steampunk ensembles grew up alongside the airplane from the very start. I picked up a WWII aviation cap while I was in Bulgaria and wear it with a purple ad black tutu-bustle. Not the least bit accurate, but it sure is a comfy hat!

Here are a few other examples of Steampunk flight caps. Enjoy!


Being First – the Triumphs and Tragedies of Sofia; A Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective

A great piece on one of the great minds of mathematics and her struggle for an education in an era unfriendly to intelligent women.

Source: Being First – the Triumphs and Tragedies of Sofia; A Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective


Quotable Quotes by Oscar Wilde

A_Wilde_time_3

1. I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.

2. The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.

3. Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.

4. It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.

Oscar cape5. The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.

6. Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.

7. What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

8. A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.

9. When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.

Oscar red10. There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

11. Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

12. Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.

13. True friends stab you in the front.

14. All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.

15. Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.

16. There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

17. Genius is born—not paid.

18. Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.

19. How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?

Oscar cape and hat20. A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.

21. My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s.

22. The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.

23. I like men who have a future and women who have a past.

24. There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope.

25. Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.


Steampunk Sourcebook: “Egyptomania”

job-napoleon-in-egyptThe love affair of Western Europe with ancient Egypt can be traced to Napoleon’s invasion of Alexandria in 1798. Until starting to research this topic, I had always thought of the French mission to Egypt as an “expedition” but in truth it was a military maneuver aimed at weakening British control of the Mediterranean Sea and cutting them off from their Indian colonies. If Napoleon’s forces had only contained soldiers, we may never have become so enchanted with the ancients, but he also brought engineers, scientists and cultural historians to document and describe what they found. By July 21, 1798, the French troops had reached the Great Pyramids and driven the Egyptian military into Syria.

Within a year the British retaliated by systematically destroying Napoleon’s ships in The Battle of the Nile and the local population revolted against their new French overseers. The Egyptian uprising in Cairo was quashed, but people all over Egypt were taking up arms against “the stubborn infidels and unbridled rascals.” Also, the Ottomans in Constantinople got wind of France’s defeat at sea and saw it as an opportunity to strike another blow. When the Ottoman forces were discovered only 10 miles over the Syrian border, Napoleon attacked, and his forces were eventually repelled out of Egypt on February 5, 1799. They returned for a brief time four months later, but Bonaparte eventually left Egypt for good in August of the same year to save face.

Even though their time in Egypt was short, France left the situation far from empty-handed. The savants in Napoleon’s employ conducted meticulous surveys of animals, plants, topography, local industry, and trades. Their exploration led them to discover ancient and forgotten burial grounds and temples at Luxor, Philae, and the Valley of the Kings. Everything about these sites were measured and recorded (not to mention looted) for posterity. Even with only a year to collect data and objects, the savants had gathered enough materials to publish a 23-volume reference book, called Description de l’Egypte between, 1809 and 1828.

Rosetta_Stone_International_Congress_of_Orientalists_ILN_1874The unearthing of the Rosetta Stone, probably the most notable archaeological discovery in history, occurred only a month before the French retreat, but like so many of the objects they collected, it fell into British hands and never reached France. This stone, which is now on display in the British Museum, contained the same passage in three different languages, unlocking our ability to translate ancient texts.

Britain would eventually occupy and control Egypt starting in 1882, but Egyptomania gripped the general public long before. Many sources point to a special event in 1821 as the real spark that ignited the British public’s imagination at large. At a theater near Piccadilly, a mummy unwrapping was held for the general public. A few years later, Jane Webb wrote The Mummy, A Tale of 22nd Century, which is not only the first mummy story in Western literature, but also one of the first science fiction stories penned by a woman. Several notable authors embraced the trend and the genre exploded (see list of books below).

This obelisk was installed in 1878

This obelisk was installed in 1878

Even before the British occupation, they were on friendly terms with the Ottoman occupiers and exported many incredible pieces of Egyptian artwork. To Western eyes, these treasures had been “abandoned” and needed a big brother type “custodian” to take care of them because it was obviously beyond the local population to do so. The British Museum is one of the best places in the entire world to view Egyptian artefacts as a result.

Egyptomania didn’t confine itself only to museums. While walking around London there is plenty of evidence of it still scattered around town. I noticed a very high concentration while strolling along the Queen’s Walk, which follows the Thames. Right next to the river there is an obelisk flanked by lordly lions, and if you need to rest your feet you can avail yourself of the benches that line the walk and are supported by cast iron camels.

Camel benches along the Thames

Camel benches along the Thames

19th and early 20th Century Books and Short Stories

  • The Mummy, A Tale of 22nd Century, novel, Jane Webb, 1827
  • “Some Words with a Mummy,” short satirical story, Edgar Allen Poe, 1845
  • “The Mummy’s Foot,” short story, Theophile Gautier, 1863
  • “Lost in a Pyramid: The Mummy’s Curse,” short horror story, Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), 1869
  • “The Ring of Thoth,” short story, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), 1890
  • “Lot 249,” short story, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), 1892
  • The Beetle, novel, Richard Marsh, 1897
  • The Jewel of the Seven Stars, novel, Bram Stoker, 1903
  • Smith and the Pharaohs, novella, H. Rider Haggard, 1913
  • “Under the Pyramids,” (aka “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs”) short story featuring Harry Houdini as the protagonist, H. P. Lovecraft, 1924
  • The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, novel, Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot), 1924
  • The Vengeance of Nitrocris, novel, Thomas Lanier (aka Tennessee Williams), 1928

Contemporary and Steampunk Books (1975-2014)

  • Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters
  • Kythan Guardians series by Trisha Wolfe
  • The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (Les Aventures extraodrinaires d’Adele Blanc-Sec), comic book, written and illustrated by Jacques Tardi, 1976
  • Colonel Stonesteel’s Genuine Homemade Truly Egyptian Mummy, novel, Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451), 1981
  • The Anubis Gates, novel, Tim Powers, 1983
  • Bubba-ho-tep, novella, Joe R. Lansdale, 1994
  • Seven Stars, novella inspired by Conan Doyle’s Jewel of the Seven Stars, Kim Newman, 2000
  • The Osiris Ritual, Newbury and Hobbes #4, George Mann, 2009
  • As Timeless as Stone (2010) and As Timeless as Magic (2012), novels, Maeve Alpin
  • Timeless, Parasol Protectorate #5, Gail Carriger, 2012

Other Media

  • “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” (1971) and “Dr. Phibes Rises Again” (1972), movies (technically Dieselpunk set in the 1920s)
  • “The Mummy Returns,” movie, 2001. The sequel to 1999’s “The Mummy” starring Brendan Fraser. Though both films would technically be best called Dieselpunk, “The Mummy Returns” features a super cool dirigible that is very Steampunk.
  • “The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec,” movie, 2010

The Italian Garden, London

Italian Gardens 1

Originally, the Kensington Gardens were part of the grounds of the Kensington Palace, the birthplace of Queen Victoria. During her reign her husband, Albert, commissioned the lovely Italian Gardens as a gift to his beloved and work was completed in 1860. Albert was an avid gardener and was entranced by the Italian-style water garden composed of ponds, terraces and raised beds along a geometric plan. This relaxing site sits on the Long Water, a river that runs into The Serpentine lake, so it is a nice place to spot birds and enjoy native water plants such as water lilies. After Albert’s death, Victoria had the Albert Memorial built on the south side of the Kensington Gardens.


Steampunk Sourcebook: Charles Darwin

Student Days

  • young-charles-darwinCharles Robert Darwin was born in 1809 in Shropshire, England. He was the fifth born of Robert and Susanna Darwin’s six children. Both his paternal and maternal grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgewood, respectively, were famous for their abolitionist activities at the end of the 19th century.
  • He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh but became fascinated by the non-human world of biological studies. His first animal kingdom of choice to study in detail was marine invertebrates, but he also learned taxidermy from a freed slave named John Edmonstone in his early days at University.
  • Darwin was first introduced to the concept of evolution during his tenure with the Plinian Society, a club devoted to natural history at the University of Edinburgh. Darwin became deeply involved after his appointment in 1826, and was later elected to the council.
  • He worked for some time at the University museum classifying plants before his neglect of his medical studies annoyed his father so much that papa Darwin sent him to Christ’s College on the road to become an Anglican parson. But rather than steering him away from the natural sciences, Charles found a passion for beetle collecting and met several supporters of Natural Theology. This philosophy is about using reason to understand the nature of God (or the gods) and his/their creations (nature).

darwin_beagle_small

 

World Traveler

  • In 1831, at the age of 21, Darwin joined a scientific expedition. It was only meant to last for two years, but in the end it lasted until 1836.
  • After some delays, the HMS Beagle embarked from England on December 27. The expedition circumnavigated the globe, and visiting far-off places with diverse ecosystems helped to further Darwin’s theories. He was not the official naturalist on the journey, but maintained a private collection.
  • The most well-known part of his journey was his stopover in the Galapagos Islands, but the fossils of extinct giant sloths on the South American mainland did just as much to fuel his new take on evolution theory as the famous finches.
  • Important Dates:
    • January 6, 1832: The Beagle makes it first stop on Tenerife Island, but the crew is not allowed to disembark because of the fear of cholera.
    • January 16, 1832: 23 days in the Cape Verde Islands, off the coast of Senegal, which at the time was a French colony.
    • February 28, 1832: All Saints Bay, Salvador, Brazil. Darwin and the Beagle’s captain, Robert FitzRoy, get into a heated argument about abolition after seeing enslaved Africans.
    • August 1832: During a survey of the Patagonian coast, Darwin found the fossil remains of huge creature that he could not identify. Experts back in Cambridge found them to be the bones of giant sloths. He also sent several teeth, beetles, and other smaller animals periodically from the expedition.
    • December 18, 1832: Darwin has his first encounter with native peoples.
    • March 1833: Falkland Islands. This area had only recently come under British control and the Beagle did survey work for the government. Darwin was intrigued by seeing a completely new set of fossils and decided to do comparative studies of all the specimens he had found so far.
    • May 1833: Darwin acquires an assistant, Syms Covington. Now that someone else was in charge of stuffing the specimens, Darwin was free to continue his detailed observations.
    • November 1833: Darwin spent time on and off the sea for a stretch of a few months and completed overland exploration and fossil collecting. His most compelling discovery was finding the bones of a giant ground sloth that were clearly below a seashell deposit. He was puzzled by how this could be possible, as the movement of the earth’s crust through plate tectonics and the number of times the earth underwent climate change were still unknown to science.
    • February 1834: Darwin turns 25, and FitzRoy names the highest peak in the area Mt. Darwin in his honor.
    • September 1834: Darwin is ill for several weeks with a fever. He stays at the home of a former classmate in Valapairiso, Chile.
    • February 20, 1835: A massive earthquake hits the region where Darwin’s group is studying and after investigating the island of Quiriquina he found that several land masses moved inches or even feet during the quake. This supported the theories of Charles Lyell, whose work was an important point of debate at the Plinian Society.
    • July 19, 1835: The Beagle takes on provisions in Lima, Peru, to get ready to cross the Pacific Ocean.
    • September 15, 1835: The Galapagos Archipelago is sighted.
    • November 15, 1835: The Beagle arrives in Tahiti.
    • December 21, 1835: Arrival in New Zealand.
    • January 12, 1836: Arrival in Australia.
    • February 5, 1836: Arrival in Tasmania.
    • April 1, 1836: Arrival in the Cocos Islands, Indian Ocean.
    • May 31, 1836: The Beagle sails around the tip of Africa and anchors in Simon’s Bay.
    • August 6, 1836: After years at sea, the Beagle finally sets it sights on England.
    • October 2, 1836: The ship arrives in Britain and Darwin heads directly for home after four years, nine months and five days.
  • Darwin published his first book, widely known as The Voyage of the Beagle, in 1839.

darwins-finches

Competing Theories of Evolution

  • Transmutation/Transformism: It got its name from clchemy and the attempts to change a base metal into gold. It was first introduced by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in his book Philosophie Zoologique (1809). In this theory, it was believed that “nervous fluid” drove organisms to greater and greater complexity. The idea that later generations could inherit the traits of their ancestors was also important, but focused more on individual change than any sort of larger, species-wide shifts.
  • Eugenics: The word arose in 1883, but the idea of improving the human race through controlling our breeding and research on the topic started much earlier in the 1800s. For instance, the castration of lunatics and criminals in order to keep them from passing on their unsavory traits was advocated for long before Darwin’s theories were published, but it was Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, who first coined the phrase. It gained popularity during the early 1900s, but lost favor after it was used by Ernst Rudin to justify the Nazi’s racial politics. Nevertheless, several countries adopted eugenics policies, starting with the United States in the early 1900s and ending with Switzerland in 1975.
  • Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation: This book was published anonymously in 1844. It applies the theory of transmutation to all things, including the solar system. It concluded that Caucasian people were the pinnacle of creation, and that God’s direct intervention was not necessary for species to change. Darwin would later regard it as the work that made people open to his theories. Prince Albert is said to have read it to Queen Victoria to get her up to speed with scientific knowledge. After his death in 1871, Scottish publisher Robert Chambers was revealed to be the author.
  • On the Origin of Species: Darwin had planned to release his treatise after his death, but he got word from Lyell that another Naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace, was about to publish similar theories. Wallace was actually the one to accurately describe natural selection, and sent Darwin a short paper on the subject in 1858. Their theories were presented jointly at a Linnean Society meeting but did not receive the attention that was expected. Darwin could not attend due to the death of his young son by scarlet fever. His book was completed and published November of 1859. By the end of the 1860s, most scientists were in agreement that evolution had taken place, but there was no agreement as to the mechanism. The majority still believed that God was behind it, not natural selection.

References in Steampunk Literature

  • In The Strange Affair of Spring-heeled Jack (2010) by Mark Hodder, Charles Darwin is the villainous force behind a mysterious plot in an alternate timeline where Queen Victoria was assassinated in 1840. In the world Hodder created, the Technologists and Eugenicists (with Darwin as their leader) are at war.
  • In the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfield, Darwin not only discovered the forces behind evolution, but also its building blocks, DNA. In this alternate version of events, The Darwinists use genetics to creating living weapons in their war with the “Clankers,” who use technology.
  • If you like graphic novels, you can follow Edgar Allan Poe, Abe Lincoln, and Charles Darwin as three children with incredible destinies who find themselves kidnapped by a dimension-traveling cowboy in Charlie Darwin or the Trine of 1809. Hurried away to meet the Princess of Avalon – they discover just how extraordinary the world really is!
  • Many books use references to Darwin as a way to situate their stories in time. For instance, his name is mentioned in The Difference Engine as being among the new privileged class of intellectuals collectively called “savants.”

The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985) is an 80s-tastic way to Learn About this Great American Writer

I was born in the 1980s, but a little too late to really remember its pitfalls (like huge hair and shoulder pads) or its triumphs (the advent of the music video, and of course, Steampunk) first hand. Luckily for us, this was a time when tons of weird, wonderful and sometimes experimental television and movies were being made, which captured some of the essence of that era. The 1970s and 80s saw a revival of a film technique that was pioneered by Thomas Edison’s manufacturing company in 1908: clay-animation. You can see their film, A Sculptor’s Nightmare, here.

Humpty Dumpty Circus 1897The very first stop-motion film of all time, which employed moving toys, was made in 1897. Samuel Langhorn Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, lived until 1910, so it is entirely possible that he saw the first clay-animation film and probable that he saw earlier stop-motion films as well.

Characters

The-Adventures-of-Mark-Twain-airshipThe Adventures of Mark Twain was made in 1985 and is a trippy clay-anmation sojourn through the works of Mark Twain. There is a little bit of biographical information, but mostly it is a chance to showcase his contributions to literature. The viewer is swept away along on an airship adventure along with some of Twain’s best-known characters, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Twain was born near the passage of Halley’s Comet in 1835, and always said he believed he would leave this world again the next time it passed in 1910 (he died the day after it returned), so the film revolves around him trying to keep his “appointment” and visiting some of his greatest works along the way.

Mark-Twain-Mysterious-StrangerThough it may seem morbid that he is racing to his own death, the film is wonderful combination of stunning visuals, abstraction and humor, which totally downplays the seemingly morbid plot line. Though I should warn you that even though this is an animated film, and so you may be thinking it was made for kids, the depiction of “The Mysterious Stranger” is pretty terrifying. Adults would get much more out of this movie than kids, especially if they have read any Twain at all.

The-Adventures-of-Mark-Twain-Adam and EveI thoroughly enjoyed this film, which came out on DVD in 2006. When it was originally released in 1985 it had a very limited run, so I wouldn’t be surprised if few people even knows it exists.


Steampunk Sourcebook: Jules Verne

Hetzel_front_coverFun Facts and Context

  • Jules Gabriel Verne was born on Feb. 8, 1828 and died from complications of diabetes on Mar. 24 1905.
  • He was on track to become a lawyer when he started writing articles and fiction for magazines, as well as penning plays.
  • In the English speaking world he was regarded as a children’s writer during his lifetime, probably because of the popularity of his genre fiction, which was often abridged when translated. Nowadays of course he is considered one of the “fathers of science fiction,” along with H. G. Wells. As far as I could find, the two of them never met in person, which isn’t too surprising consider their age gap (Verne was 38 years old when Wells was born).
  • Verne’s imagination was captured by travel and the trope of the “castaway” early in his life. As a child, he had a teacher whose husband had been lost at sea and believed he would some day be found living life like Robinson Crusoe (published 1719). He often stranded his characters on islands during their adventures, such as in In Search of Castaways (1867-1868), The Mysterious Island (1874), and Two Years’ Vacation (1888).
  • Verne made lots of famous friends during his lifetime. His close relationship to Alexandre Dumas Jr. and Sr. helped him as a playwright early in his career. He was also a buddy of the noted French explorer and geographer Jacques Arago whose accounts of his travels around the globe helped to lead Verne to his path as a travel writer.
  • He fell in love with Honorine de Viane Morel, the sister-in-law of a good friend, in 1856. In order to provide enough financial security to marry her, he went into finance. But there was no way Verne was going to totally abandon his first love, his literary career. He woke early in the morning to write before heading to the office.
  • Two years later, at the age of 30,  Verne got his first chance to leave France. That year he traveled to the British Isles, and upon returning to Paris he wrote a semi-biographical novel called Backwards to Britain, but it was not published until 1989. In 1861 he visited Sweden, Norway and Denmark and missed the birth of his son, Michel the same year. After he found literary success, he purchased a succession of larger and larger vessels which he used to travel all around Europe.
  • Unfortunately traveling became difficult for Verne after an incident in 1886. His nephew, Gaston, suffered from paranoia and shot his uncle in the leg (or foot, depending on the account) and Verne never fully recovered. Luckily for his fans, this did not stop him from continuing to write sometimes two novels a year.
  • According to one article I found, there is a lot of evidence the Verne plagiarized large portions his most well-known work, Journey to the Center of the Earth. He was sued by Leon Delmas in 1863, and the court case was not resolved until 1874.
  • With the help of Verne’s son, some of his books were published posthumously.
  • Several of Verne’s manuscripts and plays were found in a safe 1989, so have only recently seen the light of day. Among these was a novel called Paris in the Twentieth Century, which was initially rejected by Verne’s publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, because of its pessimistic view of the future. The story is set in a dystopian 1960 (97 years after it was written), and predicted the invention of many things that ended up being absolutely correct such as gas-powered cars, fax machines, elevators and sky scrapers.

Verne’s most note-worthy works

I’ve been writing about Verne off and on since I started this website, so I won’t reproduce all of my reviews and info again verbatim.. Here are links to those articles:

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Steampunk Sourcebook: Captain Nemo

Around the World in 80 Days book review, Steampunk Sourcebook and review of the Steampunk reinterpretation The Other Log of Phileas Fogg.

Journey to the Center of the Earth book and 2008 movie

The Mysterious Island movies in 2005, 2012 and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 2012, which actually served as a sequel to the Journey to the Center of the Earth film. I have not yet read the book myself, but plan to some time in the future and will add a link then 🙂

Are you a fan of Jules Verne? What’s your favorite book?