The Victorians invented sex.
Okay, okay, there’s biological evidence suggesting their forebears figured it out too, but our cultural understanding of sex in the western world is more steeped in the late 19th century than even us steampunks would care to admit. Sure, they were notoriously prude, but the Victorians were obsessed with sex. They just lied about it, constantly.
[Read "Four Kinks Your Great-Grandparents Didn’t Want You to Know About" on Tor.com]
Filed under Essays, History
[Note from Ay-leen: In recognition of International Talk Like a Pirate Day that happened yesterday, I'm cross-posting Djeli's wonderful piece about pirates from his blog The Disgruntled Haradrim]
Map Insert of the Caribbean from “Buccaneers and Pirates of Our Coasts” by Frank Richard Stockton. Click for source
In the late 17th thru mid 18th centuries, piracy was the method of last resort for the downtrodden and dispossessed: men desperate for work; deserters from throughout the war-wracked Atlantic; runaway slaves seeking refuge from bondage; criminals (from debtors to cutthroats) escaping the long arm of the law. Today, pirates are most remembered through popular culture–as dashing rouges, foppish cross-dressers, menacing brigands and motley crews of mad men and degenerates. But the pirates and piracy of history were much more complex, individuals who chose the margins of society as preferable to the authoritarian rule of empires, creating a separate space where they sought to govern themselves through methods that were radical not only for their day, but our own.
My post’s title says it all–or at the very least I hope it does. At one point I figured that I’d like to write about the probability of Bulgarian steampunk developing as a genre niche and war, more or less, found its way into my writing. I believe that war is crucial for steampunk as it’s crucial for Bulgaria, in its different manifestations.
Speculative fiction fuels itself with war. The most dynamic stories are born in troubled times, as epic fantasy has shown readers time and time again. Urban fantasy thrives on shadow wars led in the dimly lit streets and hidden underground worlds, while science fiction marches its fleet in the great cosmos. Steampunk is no different. Steampunk runs on war. It’s the “punk” part. It’s the mechanical force that propels the cogs of the genre onward.
Whether it be used as a dramatic background in order to showcase a human story as done in Boneshaker by Cherie Priest or as a force behind the plot as demonstrated by Westerfield in his World War reimagining, war and unrest and upheavals give readers that adrenaline spike, that sense of dire severity and intensity, which can hardly be achieved at times of peace. It’s also the factor that makes us hiccup in adoration at the corset-bound, revolver slinging femme fatales and automations, which can as easily destroy as they can create. It’s why I consider Bulgarian steampunk to be a fruitful pairing.
It’s impossible to mention Bulgaria, look it through the prism of the past and not discuss war.
For the last post of the year, I’m enjoying a post-holiday recoup and a some good steampunky links. Featuring some oldies but goodies, great vids, the launch of SteamCast in Brazil, and pretty steampunk art after the jump.
I’ll be at ICON in Long Island this weekend and so I’ll be leaving a few tidbits for you to munch on while I’m out (by the way, my con schedule is easily traceable).
Kicking off my crazy February schedule, this week is Beyond Victoriana’s small contribution toward Black History Month. In the United States and Canada, this is celebrated in February, but in England, this month is in October, so I guess I’m giving away my biases a bit, eh? Now, a linkspam about African/African-American history would be easy to do. And there are many great black figures who lived during the Victorian Era who should be mentioned right now.
But instead, I’ll review an interesting book about a view of black history that I don’t hear about as often: a series of essays about the lives of both extraordinary and everyday Black Brits in Victorian England called Black Victorians/Black Victoriana, edited by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina.
Black Victorians/Black Victoriana is a welcome attempt to correct the historical record. Although scholarship has given us a clear view of nineteenth-century imperialism, colonialism, and later immigration from the colonies, there has for far too long been a gap in our understanding of the lives of blacks in Victorian England. Without that understanding, it remains impossible to assess adequately the state of the black population in Britain today. Using a transatlantic lens, the contributors to this book restore black Victorians to the British national picture. They look not just at the ways blacks were represented in popular culture but also at their lives as they experienced them-as workers, travelers, lecturers, performers, and professionals. Dozens of period photographs bring these stories alive and literally give a face to the individual stories the book tells.
The essays taken as a whole also highlight prevailing Victorian attitudes toward race by focusing on the ways in which empire building spawned a “subculture of blackness” consisting of caricature, exhibition, representation, and scientific racism absorbed by society at large. This misrepresentation made it difficult to be both black and British while at the same time it helped to construct British identity as a whole. Covering many topics that detail the life of blacks during this period, Black Victorians/Black Victoriana will be a landmark contribution to the emergent field of black history in England.
Also check out her book Black London as well.