Writing Steampunk: Romanticism
Hi, guys! I’m continuing my blog series about writing steampunk fiction. Keep in mind, these posts could be useful for anyone who wants to learn about steampunk and not just writers. Anyway, I want to discuss a topic that we don’t hear about very often in the steampunk community. Romanticism was a very important artistic, cultural, and philosophical movement that lasted from the early 1800s through the 1840s. Basically, it declined starting with the reign of Queen Victoria. Steampunk takes a lot of influences from Victorianism, but it also incorporates other elements from the 19th century. Romanticism is a very complex movement and set of ideals. Some people spend years researching the topic. Today, I’m giving you a super condensed version of Romanticism and how it can be useful for steampunk writers. I’ll try not to make your head spin too much. Let’s see what happens.
I come from the school of thought that believes the Romantic era was kick started by the French Revolution in the late 18th century. Romanticism was a strong reaction against the classical Age of Reason or Enlightenment. The 18th century advocated for reason over emotions, the greater good over the individual, science over natural law, tradition over change, and understanding limitations over pushing boundaries. Stylistic elements from the Romantic movement included progressiveness, imagination, creativity, equality, individuality, nationalism, and social reform. It encouraged people to embrace their emotions or feelings, even the negative ones. This includes passion, anger, sorrow, love, angst, confusion, fear, and anything you can imagine. Why? Potentially, our emotions can be a great source of progressive and creative power. If people unleash their emotions, they might not experience any limitations. I’m not sure if people can practice this idea in real life, but that’s how the philosophy works. The Romantics also revered nature and all its beauty. Nature is mysterious and pure. It was very alluring to the Romantics. Furthermore, they were intrigued with fantasy and the supernatural. We can’t explain the supernatural through logic or reason and that was a very important concept in Romanticism.
How does this concept apply to steampunk? Well, steampunk settings are usually progressive and fantasy driven civilizations. Steampunk characters are often rebellious, innovative, brave, cynical, and hopeless romantics. It’s very common to feature strong female characters who advocate for great changes. Steampunk fiction also includes a lot of strong male characters who fit the Byronic heroes from the 19th century. Does steampunk include a lot of emotions? I would say most steampunk characters are very passionate about their cause. They’re very individualistic and display frequent episodes of anger, fear, and sadness, depending on the situation. I would say steampunk characters tend to be less aloof and composed than traditional Victorians. Like most fantasy driven genres, steampunk usually includes a love story within the plot. I don’t include any supernatural elements in my books series, but it’s commonplace in most steampunk literature. Many steampunk tales have vampires, werewolves, sorcerers, angels, demons, or any combination of mythical creatures. I would say steampunk is less in touch with nature compared to traditional Romanticism. However, steampunk characters are usually in tune with their natural instincts.
There are a couple of contradictions. Steampunk embraces the idea of science and industrialization. These two ideas are antagonistic to the Romantic ideal. With that said, it doesn’t mean steampunk is incapable of seeing flaws in science or industrialization to a certain extent. It’s not unusual for steampunk literature to have tremendous breakthroughs in science, but the rewards come with a cost. Many steampunk characters realize society’s achievements in science can have terrible consequences. Perhaps, civilization can have new forms of technology, but it might include cruel human experiments. There might be great progress with steam power, but it might be harming the environment. I just wanted to give a couple examples.
Steampunk can be a combination of Victorianism and Romanticism. I wrote a blog post about Victorianism last year, if you’re curious. Keep in mind that Romanticism and Victorianism are two completely different belief systems. They contrast each other and overlapped during a portion of the 19th century. Victorianism tends to be more industrial, realistic, traditional, scientific, and restrained compared to Romanticism. I would say a lot of steampunk fiction has some of both worlds. It takes Victorian fashion and adds a more fantasy driven or risqué flare. Steampunk shows the social norms of the Victorian era and challenges the system. It takes the utopian ideal of Victorianism and throws in some grittier elements. Steampunk shows a genteel culture who is also very rebellious. So, it’s almost a hybrid between Victorianism and Romanticism.
I wouldn’t say that it’s essential for steampunk authors to incorporate Romanticism in their work. However, it would add some nice layers and complexity. It also brings out the punk element with more efficiency. Romanticism is always searching for the sublime and I think that type of ambition could bring interesting elements to steampunk. If you’re a big fan of history, art, and philosophy, do some research on the Romantic movement. You can find all kinds of information online and in libraries.
That concludes my post. I’m going to leave some useful links, so you can learn more about Romanticism. Leave a comment if you want to contribute anything to this discussion. I’m always curious to see what people think. Thanks for visiting my blog and being a great audience. My next post will probably be a film review for Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Have an awesome and safe week.
1/18/2020 10:31:07 pm
Steampunk is a retrofuturistic subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates ... in the great debate as to who in "the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate" was writing in the "gonzo-historical manner" first. ... high fashion, the Lolita and aristocrat styles, neo-Victorianism, and the romantic goth subculture.
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