A Steampunk Writer’s Resource: The Victorian City

  • Authors: Judith Flanders
  • Release: July 15, 2014
  • Genre: History
  • Edition: Kindle
  • Pages: 544
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

BLURB

The 19th century was a time of unprecedented change, and nowhere was this more apparent than London. In only a few decades, the capital grew from a compact Regency town into a sprawling metropolis of six-and-a-half million inhabitants, the largest city the world had ever seen. Technology – railways, street-lighting, and sewers – transformed both the city and the experience of city living, as London expanded in every direction.

Now, Judith Flanders, one of Britain’s foremost social historians, explores the world portrayed so vividly in Dickens’ novels, showing life on the streets of London in colorful, fascinating detail. From the moment Charles Dickens, the century’s best-loved English novelist and London’s greatest observer, arrived in the city in 1822, he obsessively walked its streets, recording its pleasures, curiosities, and cruelties.

Now, with him, Flanders leads us through the markets, transport systems, sewers, rivers, slums, alleys, cemeteries, gin palaces, chop-houses, and entertainment emporia of Dickens’ London, to reveal the Victorian capital in all its variety, vibrancy, and squalor.

SPOILERS AHEAD

It is not necessary to know about the Victorian Era in order to enjoy the steampunk genre. However, authors of steampunk novels, short stories, or other works of fiction should have a familiarity with the norms and conventions of the culture. This is especially true if their works are set in an alternate version of the 19th Century. The historical details—both large and small—which help bring the story to life for their readers. Having a grasp of the basics of the era will also help a writer create a sharper contrast when he/she develops a story world that differs from the historical record.

For instance, dirigibles/airships are common elements in modern steampunk novels. Such modes of transport went out of favor after the spectacular explosion of the Hindenberg. Yet steampunk novels rarely refer explicitly to the potential of these ships to explode. More often than not, the ship is depicted in everyday use. Steampunk authors domesticate a technology that has proven devastating to human life, and in doing so establish a firm contrast between the real world and their story worlds. Without knowing the history of airships, though, would their incorporation into the steampunk world be considered so subversive?

Flanders’s novel provides intricate detail about life in Victorian England during the span of Charles Dickens’s life. It addresses many of the aspects that modern people take for granted. For example, how did people manage to wake up on time without the benefit of an alarm clock? How did the poor and middle-class citizens navigate the city of London? Which city professions were effected by harsh weather? How and why did the slums flourish? How was the grass cut in the city squares? What did farmers do when they wanted to sell fresh milk in town without any type of refrigeration? What happened to all of the human waste created by the inhabitants? This is a smattering of the type of questions Flanders addresses in her work.

The Victorian City delves into the history of the era and provides a good base for any writer interested in creating a steampunk novel with Victorian undertones. I recommend it as a great place to start your research. Flanders provides a thorough snapshot. Whether discussing the daily life of a laborer, explaining the science behind the poor air/water quality, or presenting the causes and effects of violence/protests in the streets, the author uses enough details to bring the subject to life. The book is available in print, ebook, and audio versions.

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