Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Victorian Restraint and Modern Sexuality Romance in Steampunk

by AR DeClerck

The Victorian Era stretched from 1837 to 1901, during the reign of Queen Victoria of England. Many readers know the characteristics that define the Victorian Era; prudish snobbery in the high and upper-middle classes and a conviction that the British Empire was, and always would be, the foremost power in the world. There was a sharp divide in the classes during this historical period, with the poor usually being very poor while the middle class was growing in both number and power. The British Empire was increasing its reach and wealth all over the world and the British “lifestyle” found its way into homes on every continent.

There is much to say about the truth of the Victorian world. It was a time of invention and the beginning of many social and economic changes for British people. However, we’re not here to discuss the truth of Victorian times, but to talk about the fiction. Steampunk is traditionally set in or around this era and describes the world if the industrial revolution had gone in a very different direction. Steam, rather than combustion engines powered by coal or electricity, would have been the mechanical genius of the day. Steampunk authors give us a peek into a world where human ingenuity extends into the realm of steam mechanics and alternate forms of energy.

Alternate history in terms of science would have, believe it or not, a direct impact on everyday life. I like to focus, in particular, on how steampunk authors incorporate ideas of modern sexuality into their books. Gail Carriger, for example, threw out the book in terms of what a “proper” British female might be like in order to create her feisty heroine Alexia Tarabotti. Alexia is a member of the high-brow upper middle class gentry and yet her father was “a foreigner”. It’s very interesting how this perceived difference in Alexia’s parentage creates in her an ability to shrug off the disdain of her peers and be exactly the woman she chooses to be. This strong will vexes Alexia’s love interest, and makes me laugh every time I read the stories. Carriger has women dressed in men’s clothing and a rather flamboyant male character with no worry that it goes outside the boundaries of societal acceptance. The disdain of society is there, but her characters simply don’t care that they are different.

When I sat down to write The Alchemist’s Kiss I decided to keep the very strict societal boundaries that most of the higher classes lived by in Victorian England. I did this, to be honest, because it created more obstacles for my hero and my heroine to overcome. A brash American (gasp) heroine from Civil War-torn Virginia not only traveling with, but living with, a single man would have been unheard of in 1869 London. However, as was true with society at that time, power buys acceptance. Icarus’ appointment as the Warden of London creates in the story an ability for him to flaunt the normal rules. This does not, however, erase the way he was raised. When he figures out (finally) that he is in love with Cora he decides that he cannot offer her the proper life a lady of her caliber deserves. This antiquated ideal mixes with the modern one that Cora is a woman of her own mind, and once she decides to make Icarus her own there is no stopping her.

I thoroughly enjoy the way steampunk authors choose to approach the ideas about sexuality in their novels. As with any alternate history genre there is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions. The author has complete power to change or erase any characteristics about the world that clash with their overall vision. Romance in Victorian times was usually a stiff and formal affair, with scheduled interludes and arranged marriages. This takes all the fun out of a good romantic romp, so steampunk authors are challenged with bringing together two characters without sacrificing the world building and overall feel of the genre itself.

The genre of steampunk is a wide-open one with possibilities around every corner. Authors should not be afraid to think outside the proverbial box when it comes to writing steampunk because anything is possible. This is especially true when writing romance into steampunk. Victorian men and women were still, essentially, men and women. They had sex and they fell in love, just like men and women do today. The most difficult obstacle for the steampunk author is figuring out how to bring the two together and still remain true to the period. I would urge steampunk authors who add romance into the mix to experiment with the same issues of sexuality that we experience today. Build your world so that the hows and whys of their behavior and reactions seem normal and a seamless romance full of modern sexuality can come to life.


Author Bio:

AR DeClerck is a wife and mother of 2 daughters. She lives in the Quad Cities, IL and works as a dialysis technician. She grew up in the mountains of NC and has always been an avid reader. She started writing in high school and never stopped.

AR writes adventure romance novels in many sub genres. She publishes through Nevermore Press and currently has 5 novels available with a few more in the works and thousands more in her head. She credits her love of reading and writing to her mother who always has a book handy.


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  1. Victorian morality was more honored in the breach thanj the observance. The average age for entry into prostitution in London was 9 years old. The primary reason household staff was fired was pregnancy (usually caused by the master of the house. ) While the lady was draping table legs, the lower class woman were selling themselves and their daughters just to eat. Tattoos and pierced nipples wwere also very much in fashion. I have no problem with sex in my steampunks, because I know the history on Victorian sexuality.

    1. Wow, that's very interesting! Sounds like tough times, that's for sure.


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