Steampunk October: Neo-Victoriana and Politics

In the Wikipedia page on Neo-Victorianism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Victorian) there’s a passing mention of social conservatives being drawn to Victorian aesthetics, as discussed in Linda Lichter’s The Benevolence of Manners: Recapturing the Lost Art of Gracious Victorian Living. However, as the article points out, that is specifically calling for a return to Victorian morality. If we’re discussing simply the fashion, the manners, the art, literature, and theatrical traditions of Victorian society, there’s no need—in my estimation—to draw favorable comparisons to social conservatism. One societal trend from the turn of the twentieth century that I frequently discuss when wearing my teacher hat rather than my writer hat is the shift from Victorian to Edwardian society, and how it ushered in huge changes in mores and attitudes about inter-socioeconomic socializing. (I usually discuss this as part of a unit on E.M. Forster, who is the human embodiment of Victorian-to-Edwardian cultural changes; and as a closeted gay man, he wasn’t too crazy about Victorian morality.) Furthermore, when you apply Victoriana to steampunk, steampunk is all about enlightenment, science, exploration, and optimism. Not that you can’t be politically conservative and be interested in steampunk, but when you have a patina of science enthusiasm on something, it doesn’t always fly with today’s variant of the right wing.

Perhaps, ultimately, Neo-Victorianism is the one place where both liberals and conservatives can create some compelling art. By deconstructing a socially conservative time, can you cause your reinterpretation of it to unpack some of the oppressive baggage caused by that time period originally? And if you do indeed enjoy the fact that the actual Victorian period was so much more literally “buttoned up,” can you hold that period in high esteem without also praising its failings too much? Ultimately I think there’s room for lots of divergent voices in the genre.

If you’re open-minded enough to wear bustles in public and imagine a sky full of airships, I think you’re open-minded enough to accept each other’s differences of political opinion.

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