A Steampunk Night Before Christmas - A Steampunk Night Before Christmas © 2009 Suzanne Lazear ‘Twas the night before Christmas and the whole ship was quiet, Too quiet for the likes of this sea...
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Lady Blingchester, a mannish-faced matron of the stout and square variety with curly gray hair and too-large teeth, stood frowning down at her. She was accompanied by her daughter, who shared much the same expression and teeth. Both of them were known for having decided opinions on matters of morality.It is essential that we note Alexia's combative response to Lady Blingchester and her ilk, lest we be tempted to understand Alexia's next actions as flight. Alexia's response to her husband's dismissal, of society's gossip and reproach is not retreat: rather, she leaves London to go on a quest. Alexia's response to becoming the Fallen Woman is to ignore the dirty laundry and head for Italy and the society of the Templars. Admittedly, her motivation has come in the form of ballistic ladybug automata, but her undertaking of finding a solution on her own, without her husband's assistance, further supports what I said about steampunk women in "Steam Wars" when I called them damsels without distress. That isn't to say there won't be crisis after page-turning crisis once Alexia crosses the channel, but simply that Alexia and her steampunk sisterhood do not require the rescue of a Prince Charming to deal with it. They have inherited the earth prepared by the likes of Ellen Ripley.
"Lady Maccon, how dare you show your face here? Taking tea in such an obvious manner . . . in a respectable establishment, frequented by honest, decent women of good character and social standing. Why, you should be ashamed! Ashamed to even walk among us."
Alexia looked down at herself. "I believe I am sitting among you."
"You should be at home, groveling at the feet of your husband, begging him to take you back."
"Why, Lady Blingchester, what would you know about my husband's feet?" (57)
"The mix of the historical and the literary have been the game of steampunk since its inception . . . Steampunk offerings continue to utilize a mix of historical figures whose lives have become legend, and fictional heroes whose stories have become truth in the minds of their readers, carrying on the tradition of blurring the lines between fiction as history, and history as fiction" (Sept. 2010 40).Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. puts it this way in his section on steampunk in The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction: "Steampunk works are, accordingly, not so much counterfactual, as, to use Matt Hill's term, counterfictional" (108). He clarifies by using Sterling and Gilman's London in The Difference Engine:
"Their focus is no on what might have been historically possible, which would presuppose the discourse of historical realism. Instead, they focus on the imaginatively possible, a dialectical mesh of fantasies of the Victorians' social, political, and cultural institutions, as both the Victorians themselves and the fin de millenium U.S. techno-bohemians might imagine them." (109)Most discussions of steampunk retrofuturism are concerned with technology; but Carriger's heroine, as well as companions such as Madame LeFoux provide what I'm calling "social retrofuturism." Retrofuturism isn't simply how the past imagined the future - that would be Victorian futurism in steampunk's case. Instead, it is the way we imagine the past seeing the future. The ambitions of late Victorian progressives were less concerned with sky dreadnoughts and phlogiston powered rayguns than they were with medical advancements and human rights. Consequently, while Carriger's books have been somewhat derided as not being steampunk enough, as we'll speak of further when we discuss Heartless, I would argue that any work exploring the situation of women in the nineteenth century is as retrofuturistic, if not moreso, than ones positing technofantastic anachronisms, automatons, and airships.
"All the movement about us . . . women have become human beings. Woman's come out of being a slave, and yet she isn't an equal . . . We've had a sort of sham emancipation, and we haven't yet come to the real one." (qtd. in Cunningham 157).Works Cited
|Someday, I'm going to buy all the Japanese books and take off the covers. Then I'm going to a book bindery to get them put on my current copies.|