Saturday, November 5, 2011


The automobile, the aeroplane,
Are useful gadgets, but profane:
The enginry of which I dream
Is moved by water or by steam.
From “Doggerel By A Senior Citizen” by W. H. Auden
In The Norton Book of Light Verse, 1986

As usual, I’m a little late to the party. This time it’s the Steampunk phenomenon.

I was around for the TV show Wild, Wild, West when it originally ran in the 1960s (OMG, how is this possibly almost 50 years ago?), and I recently read The Complete Sherlock Holmes. I noticed that Goth had maybe morphed into another sub-culture with some polished brass accents, corsets, dirigibles, and funky mechanical oddities, but I hadn’t given it much thought.

There was buzz about Steampunk lit on Twitter, and CBS Sunday Morning, prior to Halloween, ran a piece about a Steampunk convention. So I did a little Steampunk research, in my typical, “let’s over-think this!” style.

In case, like me, you hadn’t given the movement much thought, or even known that it qualified as a “movement,” here’s a definition courtesy, in their page for Jeff VanderMeer’s popular book, The Steampunk Bible.

Amazon calls Steampunk, “A grafting of Victorian aesthetic and punk rock attitude onto various forms of science-fiction culture” and adds that it “has come to influence film, literature, art, music, fashion, and more.”

To get an eyeful of Steampunk, Google the word and hit images at the upper left. Pretty amazing, imaginative, and literally brassy. Steampunk computer keyboards, Steampunk spiders, Nerf guns, motorcycles, cameras, and of course, even cell phones. Most objects of daily life now have a Steampunk interpretation.

Attire favored by Steampunkers includes for milady: remnants of a Victorian hat or helmet, the aforementioned corsets, pantalettes, black lace-up boots with helical brass gear dangles, torn fishnet hose along with random ruffles, leather, and lace. Weaponry optional, but encouraged, as long as it has antiqued brass, gears, and whimsicality. 

For the gentlemen: leather goggles, brass appurtenances (some look sharp enough to cut glass!), white silk shirt, flowing scarf, brass/leather/tweed vest, black steel/brass weapons, and casual worm/spur/ herringbone gears, gears, and more gears and pinions.

Also, as Amazon notes, “A burgeoning DIY community has brought a distinctive Victorian-fantasy style to their crafts and art. Steampunk evokes a sense of adventure and discovery.” 

You can find Steampunk articles by crafters on Etsy—a search yielded 140,000 items. From a brass octopus hairclip, to a made-to-order leather under-bust harness, to a pattern for sew-your-own military spats, we can all make our Steampunk dreams come true.

Okay, this Steampunk research has been quite the voyage of discovery for me. My grandparents were all Victorians, born in the years 1869-1899 (I know; I’m an antique, right?). I'm thrilled to teach Victorian literature, and have always loved reading about Victorian life.

Now I have a new interest. Color me Steampunk!

Excuse me—must run. Brass needs polishing and my lighter-than-airship awaits. Ta-ta!

Are you interested in the Steampunk phenomenon? Have you already jumped on the steam-powered train?


  1. Yes! I came into the 'know' about a year ago, but really haven't read any good lit from it. I love the idea of historical elements canoodling with scifi/fantasy. So. Much. Fun! I'm up for a good book, if you hear of one please let me know!

  2. Me too about the canoodling. What a great word, canoodling-- need to find more occasions to use that one!
    I will check out some of the lit and ponder if I may have already read some.
    I did fall in love with Watson and Sherlock Holmes this summer. Did you know Watson was a wounded veteran of Afghanistan (England fought there in the 1800s)? I didn't and it gave an interesting twist to reading the series in today's world.
    Steampunk takes inspiration from H.G. Wells, too. Thanks for the comment, AB!

  3. I've never read Sherlock Holmes, but my sister-in-law has read much of it. I really liked the modern version that the BBC did this year. I think there were 3 episodes?? I don't know if it was ever made into a series, but I hope it is.

  4. Oh, I think I saw that was on Netflix. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for reminding me.

  5. My neighbor and good friend is heavily involved in the steampunk movement (she's one of the Etsy sellers) so I've been aware of it for quite some time. While I love the lit and the fashion however, I am decidedly craft-challenged and have no aptitude for costuming. But I do love just how wonderful and creative those who participate in it are! Anything goes in steampunk it would seem.

  6. That's what I thought when I saw some of the items on Etsy-- incredibly creative. I mean, a Steampunk computer mouse? Wow.

  7. Wow. I know nothing of fashion and less of Steampunk. I love the idea of it, though. Of making modern the most (or least) glorious pieces from way-back-when. I'm going to have google this, now....

  8. Glad I'm not the only one who didn't know about Steampunk. When I Googled it, I was flat astonished!