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Posts tagged “Victorian era

Booze, Glorious Booze: The Aviator

3579cf1bf2f126c8bb3b306d202a6cf4This yummy little concoction, either called ‘Aviation’ or ‘The Aviator’ depending on the source, is as pretty as it is tasty, though you probably don’t have the ingredients on hand.

The name comes from the distinctive “sunset” look you get from the purple cocktail and the deep red of authentic maraschino-soaked cherries. No, not those weird sugary things you used to get in your Shirley Temple that are made by brining the fruit, but a delightful burst of dark cherry flavor laced with a kick of maraschino liqueur.

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The other special ingredient you won’t find in your average home bar is crème de violette. Flower-flavored liqueurs were all the rage during the steam era, but fell out of favor somewhere in the 20th century about the same time that floral breath mints gave way to mint ones. Crème de violette could still be found in France and sometimes in the formerly French-occupied areas of the American South, but for the most part it became almost impossible to acquire for several decades. In 2007, an entrepreneur named Hans Alpenz started to import the liqueur to the US, and the recipe for Aviation was dusted off in high-end bars all over the country.

If you get technical, this exact cocktail wasn’t recorded for the first time until 1917, so most precisely it’s a drink that could possibly show up in Dieselpunk setting more than a Steampunk one. Still, crème de violette was definitely popular during the steam era, and the Victorians were no strangers to manned flight, so I think it deserves a home here in my Booze, Glorious Booze series.

Bottoms up 🙂

Recipe

 


The History of Candy

VioletLifeSaverscandyvintageadI was trying to find some information about when violet candies first became popular, and I came across a fabulous resource at Candyfavorites.com. Just like the foods steam-era folks ate and the drinks they imbibed, you can bet that the type of candy they had available would be another historical detail a Steampunk enthusiast might need to know. This is just the first part of the timeline, but you can see the full history of candy here.

1800s

  • Necco Wafer is born.
  • 1848  John Curtis produces the first branded chewing gum, made from tree sap, called The State of Maine Spruce Gum
  • 1854  The first packaged box of Whitman’s Chocolate hits the scene
  • 1868  Richard & George Cadbury, the second generation of Cadburys, makes the first Valentine’s Day box of chocolates starting the tradition that continues today
  • 1879  William H. Thompson creates Thompson Chocolate with the stated goal to “make only quality products”
  • 1880s Wunderle Candy Company creates candy corn, still a best-selling Hallween candy
  • 1890  The Piedmont Candy Company, manufacturer of Red Bird Peppermint Puffs, is founded in Lexington, North Carolina
  • 1891  Claus Doscher opens Doscher Brothers Confections and a few years later, after tasting taffy in France, the company introduces the famed French Chews
  • 1893  Milton Hershey attends the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago and watches chocolate being manufactured. Impressed, he purchases the new manufacturing equipment at great expense and has it shipped from Germany to his factory in Pennsylvania
  • 1893  William Wrigley, Jr. introduces Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum and Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum
  • 1893  Thomas Richardson, creator of Richardson Brands, introduces Pastel Mints at a department store in Philadelphia, PA
  • 1894  Milton Hershey creates what is known as the first “American” candy bar, although his famous Milk Chocolate Bar won’t be invented for a few more years
  • 1896  Leo Hirshfield, New York confectioner, introduces Tootsie Rolls, named after his daughter’s nickname, “Tootsie.” Learn more about this longtime favorite here.
  • 1890  Legend has it that an unnamed  Southern lady was making taffy but added the wrong ingredient resulting in the first batch of Peanut Brittle
  • 1899  The Jenner Manufacturing company is created. The name changes to Judson Atkinson 45 years later

1900s

  • 1900  A very important year as Milton Hershey introduces a variation of what will eventually become the  Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar.
  • 1900  Clark Gum Company introduces Teaberry Gum.  Find out what flavor it tastes like and the dance craze it inspired here.
  • 1901  The King Leo pure peppermint stick candy is developed
  • 1901  Multicolored candy disks called NECCO Wafers first appear. The name stands for New England Confectionery Company
  • 1902  New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) makes the first Conversation Hearts which are still a thriving Valentine’s tradition
  • 1904  Emil Brach starts Brach’s Candy, his second attempt at the candy business.  The first product was Wrapped Caramels which sold for $.20 a pound
  • 1905  The Squirrel Brand Company of Massachusetts creates the first peanut bar known as the Squirrel Nut Zipper. It was, sadly, discontinued in the late 1980’s, but resurrected in the 1990’s
  • 1905  Flush with the success of their Conversation Hearts, New England Confectionary Company introduces another classic peanut butter candy called Peach Blossoms
  • 1906  Spangler Manufacturing Company, know now as Spangler Candy, is created. The company got its start manufacturing baking soda products, but added candy to their repertoire in 1908
  • 1906  Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Kisses appear in the iconic silver foil wrapping and a town in Pennsylvania called Derry Church changes its name to Hershey
  • 1906 The American Chicle Company introduces Chiclets, the candy coated gum that uses chicle inside.  To learn what exactly is chicle and where it comes from, click here.
  • 1907  After the great success of the Milk Chocolate Bar, Hershey introduces the beloved Hershey’s Kisses. The original Hershey’s Kiss were called Silvertops and sold as individual units (this first incarnation was discontinued in 1931)
  • 1908  Hershey’s adds almonds to its already famous Milk Chocolate Bar
  • 1908  Theodor Tobler and his cousin Emil Baumann invent a delicious Swiss Milk Chocolate and Honey and Nougat infused candy bar called Toblerone.

Steampunk Book Review: The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi (Burton and Swinburne #4)

secretabdu

At the end of Mountains of the Moon, our heroes, and in fact time itself, are left in rather dire straights. If you remember, I actually read the books out of order, so for me when I got to the end of book 3, a lot of what I had already read in book 4 made a lot more sense. If you are reading them in the proper order, you would have been left with a sense of indelible loss as well as a dash of “What the heck can Hodder do to get out of this?!” The answer is: break all the rules.

The Secret of Abdu el-Yezdi begins prior to the events of the Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, but in a different alternate version of the Victorian era. Sir Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Swinburne have never met, but Queen Victoria was assassinated. Burton has never been a servant of the crown, and is mostly interested in the books he is writing and marrying Isabel (whom we saw him break ties with at the end of Book 1 in the original timeline). I will spare you the details, but the similarities and differences between original story timeline, the actual historical events, and this new version of reality are myriad and interesting.

Ever since the assassination in 1840, there has been a marked rise in the activity by and interpretation of spirits. Mediums are in high demand and have the ear of the most powerful men in the empire. The most influential of the spirit guides is called Abdu el Yezdi, who has been responsible for steering Britain away from the seemingly inevitable war with Germany. Just as the two nations are about to sign a treaty that will ensure WWI never takes place, el Yezdi goes silent. Burton is charged with seeking him out, and is told that el Yezdi already spoke of how Swinburne will help him. But how do you even start to search for a ghost?

There is a dark force at work and its influence is spreading. The beast is calling for blood, and it seems to have a special taste for those whom Burton holds dear. Somehow the deaths of prominent mediums, the arrival of a ghost ship, and the growing number of people who have lost their own sense of self are somehow tied into the disappearance of el Yezdi, and it is up to Burton and Swinburne to figure out how.

17168300The humor and satire from the earlier books is mostly gone, but I still really enjoyed reading this story. Hodder proves once again that he has a powerful imagination for answering ‘what if…?’ which continues to develop in the following book, The Return of the Discontinued Man, which I am currently reading. One of the biggest reasons I liked this one was because of the wide range of dialects. The Mister and I have been reading this series out loud, and I loved getting to do accents like French, German, Russian/Eastern European, and cockney. This aspect of Hodder’s work reminds me of Mark Twain and how important regional dialects were to his works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

I read another review that was quite scathing, mostly because of what the reviewer considered “name-dropping,” but the comments made me wonder if this person had read the other books. Yes, there were several prominent Victorians mentioned, but it was always as a means to show how this timeline differed from the old one so I didn’t have any problem with it. And Hodder does such a great job of showing, not telling, using this method that it didn’t really phase me. This might also be because I read Spring Heeled Jack and then Abdu el Yezdi, so the differences were readily apparent and were fun intellectually. So, the humor may have been largely absent, but the wit was still there in the form of these games of ‘what if…?’


Steampunk Sourcebook: Victorian Vampires

Fun Facts and Context

  • There are many different terms for vampires (also spelled vampyre in English), such as vyrkolakas (Greek), Bulgarian and Macedonian вампир (vampir), Bosnian: lampir, Croatian vampir, Czech and Slovak upír, Polish wąpierz, and (perhaps East Slavic-influenced) upiór, Ukrainian упир (upyr), Russian упырь (upyr‍ ’​), Belarusian упыр (upyr). However, “nosferatu” was not actually a term in any language for vampire until it appeared in a travelogue. Most likely, this word came from a mis-attribution of a word the loosely means “devil” or “demon” in old Romanian, and referred specifically to the illegitimate offspring of illegitimate parents.
  • Cultures across the ages and the globe have some variation of the vampire in their mythology. But, the vampire as we know it in the English-speaking world is largely based on the same handful of European legends, and aspects of these stories have become canon. The Victorian era (and those immediately before and after) was when many of these tales were recorded for the first time. This is what we know about vampires from that era:
    • They are dead. Or, undead to be more precise.
    • They are cold, on account of said dead-ness.
    • They have bad breath.
    • They drink blood. They don’t seem to do so maliciously, rather they are trying to prolong their existences. (Though of course, certain individuals who were probably jerks in their regular lives as well as their after lives, prove to enjoy mind games in addition to supper.)
    • In these stories, there is a first-person narrator but it is never the vampire. There is a survivor telling a tale to others, be it around the fire at Christmas or just to record it for posterity. This gives the stories the feeling of a warning or morality tale.
  • draculaThen there are the things that we all think we know about vampires, but only became canon later in a large part because of films like Nosferatu (1922) and Dracula (1931), which were both more or less based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel. Here are some examples:
    • They hate Christian stuff such as crucifixes and communion wafers. Despite being one of the first things a person will say if you ask them to describe a vampire, I didn’t find many references to this particular phobia in my research. This appears to be a totally Victorian era addition to the lore. It may have had something to do with the belief that the bodies of heretics do not in fact decompose.
    • They can turn into other things, such as bats, wolves or mist. Again, this is not common. They may have power over animals, but this seems to be more like a large predator scaring away smaller ones rather than some sort of magical ability.
    • They need to return to their coffins (or at least to the soil in which they were buried) in order to sustain themselves. Blood alone is not enough. Though many vampires rest in their coffins, this seems to have more to do with safety than any real need.
    • Vampires hate garlic. This is from the Slavic vampire tradition, from which Stoker drew for his material. People in this part of the world believed that garlic was effective against a number of supernatural evils, including witches. If one was suspected of cavorting with the supernatural, they were given garlic either raw or cooked into a dish. This practice continued as late the 1970s in some churches in the Slavic region, as well as stuffing the mouths of the deceased with garlic to keep evil spirits from inhabiting the body.
    • They sleep all day and only come out at night. And, when it is their nap time, vamps don’t put up much of a fight.
  • Then, of course, there are things that are true for some tales and not for others. The earliest vampire stories and myths that influenced the Victorian era were from places like Hungary and, of course, Romania. Each culture has a slightly different take on vampire detection and habits. For instance:
    • Hungarian vampires only feed on family members. In small, rural villages this could mean that an entire settlement can become infected with vampirism due to the shallowness of the gene pool. The family tie vampires seem to be the most concerned with making more vampires, while the majority are only eating folks to keep themselves living.
    • Some vampires only come out at night, while others are at total liberty to walk about as they please.
    • Some vampires are snappy dressers, while others prefer to wear whatever rags they still have from their burial.
    • Many vampires have been imprisoned for centuries, only to awaken because of a disturbance of their tombs. This is an interesting parallel to another fan favorite of the Victorian era, stories of a mummy’s curse.
    • While some tales favor burning the body as a means to a final end, others advocated the driving of a stake through the heart, decapitation, an incantation/prayer, or some combination of these. Starvation can occasionally do the trick, but usually only incapacitates rather than kills.
    • As convenient as it is for vampire slayers when their victims turn to dust, this isn’t always the case in the lore. This seems to only happen if the vampire is extremely old, where new vampires just look like corpses once slain.
    • Some vampires are cold-blooded predators, while others feel really bad about what they are doing to their victims and try to make what is left of their lives pleasant.
    • Some of them have hypnotic powers which can be used to seduce their victims or to make witnesses keep a vow of secrecy.
    • In some cultures you should never speak the name of a deceased person whom you suspect could rise as a vampire or it will come to pass.
    • Though many vampires take pains to get a formal invitation into their victims’ homes, others just break in and take what they want.
    • Some vampires are made by other vampires, but living a “sacrilegious life” in Greece could also do the trick, and includes such small infractions as drinking too much. Slavs should also be on the lookout for people who are excessively happy, while we are told that in the 1700’s in Moravia it was not uncommon for dead people to show up at a party and point out the next to die, who will repeat the performance for the next victim unless precautions are taken.

Vampire-Killing-Kit

As I discussed in last month’s How to Punk Your Steam article, the steam era was full of supernatural stories and creatures to lurk in the shadows of our nightmares. Unlike today, it was not uncommon for people in the 18th-19th centuries to see dead bodies, either right after death or after they were exumed to make more room in an over-crowded cemetery. Public executions and dissections were treated as a cause for celebration. But, even though there was more exposure to the dead, the nature of decomposition was not well-understood. Sometimes corpses just refused to look the way people thought they should, whether due to the amount of moisture or acid in the soil, depth of burial, or some other factor. This often lead to supernatural explanations for totally natural phenomena.

varney-coverMen and women penned vampire tales for periodicals, short story collections and even recorded myths in their travelogues. I recently finished a fantastic collection of these stories published in 2010 called Dracula’s Guest: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories and edited by Michael Sims (The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime, Arsene Lupi, Gentleman Thief). The following is a partial list of vampire stories based on his selections, and while many are old enough to be in the public domain they can be hard to track down on their own.

A Mystery of the Campagna, Anne Crawford

A True Story of a Vampire, Eric, Count Stenbock

And the Creature Came in, Augustus Hare

Good Lady Ducayne, Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Let Loose, Mary Cholmondeley

The End of My Journey, George Gordon, Lord Byron

The Family of the Vourdalak, Aleksei Tolstoy

The Mysterious Stranger, Anonymous

The Tomb of Sarah, F. G. Loring

The Vampyre, John Polidori

Varney the Vampire, James Malcom Rymer

Wake Not the Dead, Theophile Gautier


How to Punk Your Steam Part 8.1: Make it Supernatural

Steampunk isn’t just about crazy technology and altering history, there is an undeniable supernatural element to many works as well, and for a very good reason. The Victorian era, as well as the period immediately before, saw a rise in belief in the supernatural. I’ve discussed the Spiritualist Movement with its ghosts and mediums in another post, but people of this time were also concerned about fairies, vampires, werewolves and other frightful figures. Why, in the face of technological advancement and rationalism, did this resurgence occur? And how can authors, makers and gamers use this historical fact to their advantage?

Rational vs. Rationale

The Industrial Revolution saw the rise of many dichotomies that somehow managed to live side by side. Though it may seem strange to us in our own time when we can get information on anything we want by poking a little box we carry in our pocket, during the 19th century science itself was akin to magic. There were many advancements that worked, but people did not yet understand the how or why, only the results. For instance, improving sanitation in a city could reduce the effects of cholera, and people believed that it was because plumbing cut down on bad smells rather than contagion by germs. Electricity brought light into their homes, but the average person couldn’t tell you why that collection of glass and wires could outshine a candle. (And honestly, I would be hard pressed to explain exactly how a telephone works myself!) In other words, people were willing to accept things that they could not explain.

Another symptom of this era was a challenge to mainstream religious beliefs. Many felt that in Charles Darwin’s 1859 treatise, The Origin of the Species, he had effectively killed God. By replacing God’s will (and whim) with scientific principles and data, it shook the foundations of the Christian faith, which dictated that it was God alone who controlled the course of nature. Charlotte Barrett put it this way, “The insertion of humans beings into this biological continuum meant that, for Darwin, humans were part of nature rather than above it.” Darwin was aware of how revolutionary his theories were, which is why he had originally planned to wait until after his death to publish them.

quote-i-cannot-persuade-myself-that-a-beneficent-and-omnipotent-god-would-have-designedly-created-charles-darwin-47119

One might assume that this would be the perfect precursor to pave the way to a totally rational public, but people are far more complicated than that. Though many may have felt that the answers did not lie in words from the pulpit, there were still things that could not yet be explained by science. This left a gap between their experiences and their frameworks, and opened their minds to alternative possibilities. The fantastical, pagan figures of myth held great appeal for people floundering in the face of religious upheaval.

Books Tell us More than Stories

The literary audience of the steam era had a voracious appetite, and it was not uncommon for them to turn to compilations of “fairy stories” to feed their fervor. Collections such as the Grimm Brother’s Children and Household Tales were being read in nurseries throughout Western Europe. In addition to texts, this time period also saw an exodus as people moved away from the countryside seeking work in the cities, and they often brought their superstitions with them. So through both written and oral traditions, audiences of all ages were being titillated by the strange creatures that inhabited the frightening forest, a place all to familiar to rural peasants but far less commonplace to an Industrialized society. Ironically, the reason for collecting these fantastical stories was often rooted in exposing the ignorance and backwardness of peasants, and yet they took hold of the imagination of the working class years later.

The Fairy Festival Gustave Dore

Though Industrialization may appear at first to be antithetical to belief in fairies, this antithesis itself was a driving factor in their resurgence. London was not the only place where factories were built. In fact, factories began springing up all over the English countryside. Old maladies and new continued to persist, and some people blamed their problems on the factories driving away the fairies and their protection.

Carl_Larsson_-_Little_Red_Riding_Hood_1881The use of fairy stories as morality tales also goes a long way toward explaining why they remained popular despite losing contact with their roots in the country. My freshman year of college my “Twice Told Tales” class spent half of a semester analyzing Little Red Riding Hood. It turns out it isn’t just a simple story of a little girl who gets lost in the woods, but serves a metaphor for womanhood, sexual transgressions, and the fear of strangers (ie immigrants). Stories were not (and are not) just a form of entertainment, but of indoctrination. This and other tales also evolved over time, and different authors used its framework to promote their own agendas. For instance, in the original Little Red Cape, she dies at the end. There is no heroic woodcutter, the wolf eats the grandma and the little girl up and lives happily ever after, ergo the fear of the dark stranger. Cinderella is propaganda geared towards women who want to better their lots in life (please the right man and all your dreams will come true), Rumplestiltskin tells children to work hard or suffer the consequences, and Rapunzel ends up in her tower because her father was a thief.

But not everyone was taken in by just the stories, they wanted proof of the supernatural. And as that master of the fantastic, J. R. R. Tolkien tells us, “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”

Check out Part 2 of this post tomorrow for information about the ways that people strove to prove and disprove the supernatural.

You can also read the rest of the How to Punk Your Steam series.


Steampunk Book Review: Edison’s Conquest of Mars (1898)

Edisonsconquestofmars

I’m sure you are all familiar with the classic scientific romance, War of the Worlds, but did you know that someone penned a sequel? When H. G. Wells published the original in Pearson’s in the UK, a different version featuring the American landscape was running concurrently in Cosmopolitan Magazine in the States in 1897. By 1898, an American author named Garrett P. Serviss penned a sequel where the Earth strikes back.

As you can glean from the title, Thomas Edison plays a large role in the book. In a short time he creates both a means to travel through space and a sophisticated weapon to fight our alien foe. At first, they were thought of as precautions in case they Martians tried another invasion, but the world powers have a pow-wow and decide that the best defense is a good offense and bankroll the mass-production of his new technology. Around 2,000 men, many of whom are the Earth’s top minds in their fields, embark on the journey, which first takes them to the moon. When they arrive at Mars they find a much more developed society than their meager telescopes could have predicted, with a large population covering several continents.

tecm1810At first, they are totally at a loss for how to accomplish their task of making the Martians think twice before planning another invasion, until they meet a human slave-girl who is the last human servant left on the planet. Unbeknownst to us, the Martians had actually visited Earth at least one other time thousands of year ago and taken some of our ancestors with them. After their failed invasion and in fear of an uprising, the order had gone out over Mars to kill all of the human slaves, but Aina was kept alive in secret by a Martian general as an entertainer. And her knowledge proves to be their downfall.

Martian_-_Conquest_of_MarsThere were two things that really struck me about this book. First, Serviss completely changed the nature of the Martians. Rather than being tentacled monsters, they are simply very large humanoid beings. The males have had their brains augmented in much the same fashion as the Selenites in First Men in the Moon  so they have really large, misshaped heads, but other than that they are more or less people like us. I thought this was really strange to see in a sequel, and it was a missed opportunity on Serviss’ part to be really creative with look and feel of things on Mars.

The other deviation from the original story was the tone. Wells’ narrator was very pragmatic and his understanding of the Martians was that they were superior beings exerting their will on the human “animals”, much like we might kick over an ant hill. Serviss’ narrative including several references to malice and evil on the part of the Martians, painting them and their intentions with a totally different brush. This probably wouldn’t have bothered me at all if this was a free-standing narrative, but it was obviously meant to be a sequel to Wells’ book and abandoned the spirit of the first.

Like so many scientific romances, this book was also a very interesting study of the life and times in which it was written. There is a portion of the book before they actually land on Mars where they encounter a comet passing close to the planet that is being mined for gold. To me, the idea that an alien race would also have a currency based on gold is downright laughable considering it is actually a rather useless metal besides being shiny, but I am sure it would have been difficult for someone at the end of the 19th century to be able to make that sort of leap. I also thought the section where the world’s leaders all assembled and got into a sort of backwards bidding war to be the ones to donate the most to the cause as a mark of prestige was an interesting commentary on views of nationalism and race. So even with the deviations from Wells’ original story, I would definitely recommend this book to any classic sci-fi fan.

Have you ever read this book or anything else by Garrett P. Serviss? Leave a comment below!


How to Punk Your Steam Part 6: Make it Feminist

emma-watson-he-for-she-speech-1The words “Feminism” and “feminist” have become controversial as of late, but I had always been planning to have this subject be a part of this series. For many of us living today, it can seem ridiculous to consider that half of the population was denied the right to vote (and some people denied it twice, once for their sex and again for their race), but the suffrage movement was considered radical in its day. There is an excellent display of photos, paraphrenalia and accounts by British suffragettes at the Museum of London, and I got a real appreciation for the violent opposition they faced for something which we now take totally as a given. Feminism of course transcends the right to vote, but equality between the sexes (or all along the gender spectrum, depending on who you ask) is the underpinning of it all.

You’ve probably heard of the Bechdel Test, but in case you haven’t, here’s the skinny. Alison Bechdel wrote a comic strip in 1985 that featured two women discussing movies. One tells the other that she never sees a movie unless it satisfies three criteria: There are at least two female characters, who talk to each other, and their conversation must be about something other than a man (any man, it doesn’t have to be romantic). Later versions also include that the female characters must have names, and there are of course some biases here against settings or storylines where female characters wouldn’t work in the narrative, but it is the baseline often studied by statisticians. (It should also be noted that just because a work of fiction passes this test, that does not make it inherently feminist. There can still be an overall misogynist message or scenes that degrade women whether or not they pass this simple test. The point is that the test is incredibly bare bones and it is still difficult to pass).

It turns out this is actually incredibly difficult to find in most Hollywood films, and books and television don’t fare much better.

fifth-element-milla_400

Mila Jovavich as Leeloo in The Fifth Element

So let’s take these criteria one by one. First, there must be at least two female characters. It is so difficult to find anything that even satisfies this simple first step. I have noticed in several movies and books that there will be a nod to womankind in the form of a single female in a sea of male faces, and she is often the smartest or kick-assingest one in the cast. In the movie 9, for instance, there are sentient dolls which are totally gender neutral to look at, but one of them has a female voice actor behind it. This is the doll that takes action and performs acts of derring-do. Hermione Granger is the bright one in the Harry Potter trio and Leeloo from The Fifth Element is engineered to be a perfect being.

This is of course better than having no female characters at all, or falling into the timeworn pattern of the early days of film-making where women are only there to be rescued by the male heroes. But I still find this kind of tokenism problematic. In a way, these characters are given special abilities or power in order to justify their presence in the story, because just being a human isn’t enough. They have to be made somehow exceptional or they are not welcome to join “the boys’ club.” In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film, for instance, Mina Murray is the only woman in the league (which of course, carries the word gentlemen in the title) and filmmakers thought it was necessary to make her a vampire in order to give her some cache in the group. (This is a deviation from the books, by the way, where Mina is the team leader through force of personality.)

barbarella-2Okay, so criteria #2: the two female characters talk to each other. I call this one “The Bond Girl Paradox.” Almost every spy movie features at least a few female characters in the story. They may be heroes or villains, they are always hyper sexualized, and may even be smart or good at their jobs to boot. But, they never overlap. They only interact with the male central figure, but rarely occupy the same space and even if they do, their focus is totally on the James Bond character. Again, this is a step in the right direction, but still puts the man at the very center of the story. This occurs in lots of films, books and TV shows, but I can only think of one movie I have ever seen where a series of beautiful men are throwing themselves into the path of a central female character, and that was Barbarella circa 1968.

I noticed something strange while I was working on my own novel. I couldn’t figure out why I was having trouble with a certain exchange between characters, and then I realized that could have been because it was a conversation between women. I have had so few examples in what I read (especially because I read a lot of scientific romances for my website) that I was probably having an issue formulating this conversation without the experience of reading to back it up. It was only a momentary issue, and I went on to write several scenes where my various female characters have talked to each other on a variety of subjects, but I can’t help but think of this strange moment of realization.

And now, the last step: These two women must be discussing something other than a man. In real life, women have jobs, hobbies, and friends that they talk about. Some enjoy discussing sports, others brew their own beer or go on wine tasting trips. My mother-in-law and I went on a quest to try all of the breakfast joints in her town, and I have sisters-in-law who make their own paper or spend free time practicing calligraphy. I have spent the last 10 days with over a dozen women, and only a few sentences this whole time has had anything to do with significant others or one’s relationship status. And besides giving a character something to talk about, hobbies and interests add depth to people and more interest to scenes.

Woman diving from pier in 1892 (originally appeared in Victoriana Magazine)In the Victorian era, your female characters may be more limited in the types of employment that they could have than today’s women, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have interests and hobbies. Before television, people read extensively, supported the arts, joined organizations like The Temperance League and volunteered through their churches. They had opinions, sometimes totally biased due to misinformation or culture in which they live (and isn’t that fascinating?), and they would discuss them with gusto.

If you are looking for some great Victorian-era women, I suggest you check out The Murdoch Mysteries series. In the first few seasons, it suffers somewhat from the tokenism I mentioned earlier (though occasionally side characters are female) in the form of the coroner, Dr. Ogden. Later, a second coroner comes onto the scene and these two women and their friends try to run a female candidate in an election.

Do you have a favorite steam era book, film or TV series? Does it pass this simple test? Please comment below!

(I will be expanding this article to explore what it means to be a “strong” female character for my upcoming nonfiction book, The Steampunk Handbook)

Want to read about more ways to “Punk Your Steam?” Check out my page for links to parts 1-5.


So You Thought the Victorian Era was Chaste? Check Out These Pictures…

Okay, okay, these lovely burlesque dancers are still pretty modest by today’s standards, but I find the primness of the steam era often overshadows the diversity of human experience. People were engaging in all kinds of behaviors and enjoying many different forms of entertainment back then the same way they do now. I ran across this collection of photos on The Daily Mail, and I couldn’t wait to share them with you! (For the Daily Mail article click here.)

In case you haven’t checked my About the Author page yet, I first learned about Steampunk because I have a friend who is a burlesque dancer and she was in a themed show a few years ago. She taught me both about burlesque and Steampunk before I saw her show and I am definitely hooked on both now. Going to see a burlesque show is not at all the same as going to a strip club. The word has its roots in the italian word, burla, meaning “mockery”, and has more in common with a vaudeville show than a seedy bar. Though it is true that people remove their clothing for the sake of entertainment, you will often see jugglers, magicians, comedians, singers and dancers in addition to the main event. The tone of a burlesque strip tease is also totally different than say, a lap dance at a bachelor party. Burlesque dancers actively engage the audience and solicit applause for each piece they remove before they will move on. There is a flirty exchange between dancer and onlookers, and I have seen several acts that are totally tongue in cheek and are as much about making the crowd laugh as it is about undressing.

If you have never been to a show, I absolutely encourage you to see one. I have been to several shows in two different countries and it is always a great time.