(A day late, sorry about that. My bad!)
Steampunk primarily focuses on Victorian England but what was this period of time really like. Who was the reigning sovereign during this time? What were the advancements? What was the fashion like? Most importantly, why is it that Victorian England is what the Steampunk genre focuses on? I am going to attempt to answer these questions in a short little blurb for those that really want to know. Side note: I am going to try to keep this sweet and simple. This is what I found in my rather shallow research but if you want to know more, I encourage you to go out and read on your own. There can never be a price put on knowledge.
Victorian England is considered, generally, to be the time period from when Queen Victoria took the throne until shortly after her death. This Victorian Era is considered to be the period of peace, despite the two small wars that occurred, Boer and Crimerean, a time of expansion and advancement. Science (Darwin), social reform (Suffragette Movement), medicine (longer lifespans), and industry advancement during this time can be seen in our current world. No I am not going to list them right here because that would be redundant.
Within Steampunk, we tend to focus heavily on the industrial advancement, hence the term Steampunk as during this time steam power was in its heyday. The industrial advancement came at a cost however, pollution was so heavy that it is said Queen Victoria refused to go down the Thames on a river boat because it was so filthy. Soot, filth in the street and run off into the waterways caused London, England to be an extremely unclean city to live in. Housing was horrible as people cramped together in tenement buildings in a hopes of finding a job in a factory.
Factories were booming and jobs were plentiful although wages were low and dangerous. During this time, women began to enter the workforce, outside of being a shopkeeper, seamstress, maid or governess. Conditions in these factories were horrible and there was no such thing person protection equipment (PPE). It wasn’t unheard of for a woman’s hair or dress to get caught in the moving equipment and for her to be injured or die. Children, labor laws were also unheard of during the beginning of this period but they began to work on them, were also sent to work in the factories to earn money for their families and because their tiny fingers/frames could reach things an adult could not, they were quickly put to work.
The factories wages were sometimes not enough for a household to survive and so some women turned to the oldest profession in the books, prostitution. Prostitution was not illegal or unheard of at this time, Jack the Ripper roamed the streets at one point killing these women. There were “gentlemen” magazines that were published so a traveling gentlemen could find the proper brothel and/or lady of the night. Husbands would even encourage their wives to turn “tricks” to earn extra money. Social reform looked at these women as “fallen” and would “aide” them by placing them in homes/hospitals which in many cases were worse than were they originally came from.
The industrial advancement did allow for positive things to happen in the Empire. Advancements in the railways allowed for faster travel between cities and allowed goods to be transported more quickly. Many of these goods were coming in from England’s new colonies, parts of Africa (the Dark continent), India and Hong Kong, China. These colonies were only part of England’s large scale expansion but not everything was sunshine and rainbows in these colonies, hence the Boer War which happened in South Africa. Many of the colonies were unhappy with being under the British rule as these colonies were often seen as inferior and in desperate need of “civilization”.
Expansion was also occurring in the middle class. Trade, exploration and commercial enterprises were allowing the middle class to rank in the money. Often we hear about how Victorian England was filled with prudes and “proper” gentleman and ladies, but some scholars say this was found more often in the middle class than the actual upper class with their desire to fit in with their new “peers” of the realm.
There are many other points that can be made in this blog post, like fashion and society standards but I am not going to cover fashion or society protocols because that is a LONG and detailed list that I may go over later. I have already admitted that I am not the greatest nor do I have much interest in fashion, as I have said before. But what I can do is a bullet point list and wrap this up. Yay bullet point list!
- In 1851 the first world fair was held
- The Irish Famine
- Prince Albert was a keen support of the Art and they blossomed because of this
- Darwin was published
- Jack the Ripper roamed the streets
- First underground railway was built
- Darwin, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne were just some of the authors to be published