Six of One and a Half Dozen of the Other

Good evening, dear readers.

Tonight I thought I would discuss a difference that I was asked about recently, and in doing a little updating research have found that the difference is slowly growing smaller and smaller. What I am considering and pondering is the difference between NeoVictorian and Steampunk.

When “The Difference Engine” was originally published in 1990 it was branded SF NeoVictorianism rather than with a Steampunk label, even though this book is now upheld as one of the seminal Steampunk novels.

It is my own opinion that while Steampunk is an aesthetic, a movement, a subculture, a genre and many more things in a great melange of creativity NeoVictorianism is simply an aesthetic. It is Steampunk without the toys or accessories.

The NeoVictorian style has been with us much longer than has Steampunk. Goths sported tophats and morning coats, wielded walking sticks and small-lens spectacles, and often comported themselves as did their literary heroes and heroines both fictional and authorial. Though the goth subculture has, in the last few decades, changed into a cyberpunk, dystopian and post-apocalyptic appearance primarily through the increased influence of electronic and industrial music as well as changes in the favoured literature and cinematic offerings there has been a resurgence of the NeoVictorian due to the recent growth of Steampunk.

My own response to this question, as to the difference, being asked was that “NeoVictorian is Steampunk without the toys” and this is somewhat, but only somewhat true. While there are accessories utilized in common among the two groups the NeoVictorian does not carry a brassed up pistol, wear goggles [unless appropriate] nor use the cog design to such an extent. NeoVictorian is more focused on the appearance, the outfit, the behaviour and the manners. The NeoVictorian, in romanticizing the Victorian period [as the SCA romanticizes an ever growing slice of the middle ages] is almost solely representing the gentry, the noble and wealthier class of gentleman and lady and does not present the greasemonkey, the adventurer [save as a worldly and world-traveling gentleman or lady], the soldier or scientist. The modern NeoVictorian truly only populates the ballrooms and drawing rooms of the Steampunk world.

The greatest difference that I perceive is that the NeoVictorian looks to the past and draws its best forward to the present while the Steampunker incorporates strong elements of retro-futurism.

It was mentioned to me that NeoVictorianism also must embrace the politics and beliefs of the Victorian era but I would disagree. While popular among the social and cultural conservatives, particularly with respect to morality and behaviour [politeness/respect-displays in particular], it should be noted that the actual cultural social attitudes and conventions of the Victorian era can be disputed and many, if not most, NeoVictorians blend the aesthetic with modern principles and technologies. This is most noticeable in the largest subculture to have embraced the NeoVictorian aesthetic before the Steampunkers: the goths. The goth subculture, having spawned out of the punk, new romantic and glam subcultures, tends to have always attracted more liberal and progressive minded persons, particularly during its early period [1979 – 1990].

Currently the term ‘NeoVictorian’ is being appropriated by the Steampunkers as possibly a more gentile, familiar or comfortable label and so the lines blur even more strongly.

As much as I love the Steampunk folk, the aesthetic and the music, the gatherings and the discussions, I shall forever at heart merely be a NeoVictorian.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

I Am Iron(ing) Man

Good afternoon, dear reader.

A very important skill for the neo-Victorian or Steampunk gentleman is being able to wield that necessary bit of equipment called the iron.

Read the manual and be familiar with your iron. It will have various settings on it which require you to know the composition of your clothing, of what fabric it is made AND if it is ‘safe’ to iron. If you are dealing with period materials then ironing is essential.

The easiest items to iron are ties, handkerchiefs and napkins. Simply lay the item flat on your ironing board and, with the iron set to the appropriate heat setting, press with a smooth, light stroke. If you like creases in your handkerchiefs or napkins, every time you fold them in half run the iron lightly over the folded fabric.

Shirts are a little trickier. Check the care label for the proper ironing instructions and temperature setting. For best results cotton and linen shirts should be lightly dampened with water before ironing (have a spray bottle handy or know how to use the steam and spray settings on your iron). Spread the collar out on the ironing board with the right side facing down. Iron the back of the collar first and then the front. Use the tip of the iron, pressing from the collar points and work towards the middle. Iron the yoke, starting with the shoulder areas first and then do the back yoke. Use a spray bottle with water to keep the shirt damp. Iron the cuffs by pressing inside of cuff first, then the outside. Lay the sleeve flat on the ironing board with the cuff opening up and begin ironing from the shoulder seam down to the the cuff. Turn the sleeve over to iron the other side. Repeat the process with the other sleeve. Iron the body of the shirt starting from one front panel, then do the back and finally the remaining front panel. Use the tip of the iron to press the area around buttons. NEVER iron over the buttons.

Pants are an easier matter. For the most part the Victorian gentleman’s pants did not have a crease in them. There is a lot of discussion and no hard fact as to the invention of the front crease in one’s slacks, but there is some agreement that the crease is attributed to Edward, Prince of Wales during the reign of Victoria, likely in the mid 1890s. Initially the crease was along the side seam rather than the front. Edward also created the style of cuffing one’s pants, wearing the bottom button of one’s waistcoat undone, and several other common fashion styles (including dinner dress with black tie).

Pants without pleats are the best looking unless one is a large gentleman, though depending on the period of clothing you are looking through non-pleated pants can be somewhat difficult to find (in my experience) but do keep looking; they can be found.

Pants are ironed in a commonsensical manner. Do each leg individually. And whether one wishes a crease down the front or not, both styles are very easy to do.

And thus you can swiftly and easily gain proficiency in this simple skill. Though if wielding an iron still boggles you there are many videos and advice pages to be found through google.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

Musical Cares

Good morning, dear readers.

Today methinks I shall first apologize for taking time away from this blog but moving and readjusting one’s life can be rather preoccupying, and secondly I shall offer just a little bit about music: in particular Steampunk Music.

There is a lot of discussion going on about what is and is not Steampunk music. The argument I often hear is that “X is not Steampunk music, that’s World music” or bellydance music or goth music or some other genre. I can understand this point when one examines the musical flavourings of a genre or a subgenre for these are slices of the world, sections of society that are easily pointed out as separate and thus different from the rest of the overall group. Thus will country music obviously be different from goth music as much as seeing a country music fan and a goth music fan standing side by each one will find it very very obvious as to which enjoys what.

But Steampunk is not exactly a genre nor a subgenre. It is a little bit of that as well as a subculture, an aesthetic and many other little bits stewed over a low heat until it simmers. The Steampunk world is exactly that: the world. It is our Earth with a different history, our Terra with a modified timeline. Is is everything from the east and the west, from the north to the south. It is all of us and all of them seen through a mirror of brass and steam. Therefore ANY music can and will fit.

It doesn’t matter if the music sounds classical or jazzy, is a waltz or a 4-beat, has been played on retro dancefloors or in swing clubs, whether it comes from South America or Korea or Berlin or Vancouver. There are many different types of people, different classes and attitudes and tastes in the Steampunk world and thus there will be a lot of music.

There will be that played in the pubs and bars near the wharf. There will be that heard in the ballrooms and drawing rooms of the gentry. There will be that which encourages stomping feet in the dark little places that the greasemonkeys gather and that which wishes for the sweep and drift of ballgowns where the finely dressed meet. There will be showtunes and tribal pieces, solos and orchestras, quiet whispers of harmony and walls of sound. The Steampunk world has room for it all.

I shall go further into this in the near future but for now allow me to leave you with one more thought. I have heard from quite a large number of people that Steampunk music should not involve electricity and to that I respond with “Balderdash!” During the Victorian era great men like Thomas Edison and Michael Faraday and Nikolai Tesla and dozens of others turned electricity from a scientific marvel into an essential tool. While it was not dependable initially it was still utilized, explored and crafted. Someone at some point would have intuitively welded electricity with musical instruments, as has happened. Did you know that the first electrical synthesizer was built by Elisha Gray in 1876? So it is indeed not only possible but very likely that electrical musical instruments would exist in the Steampunk world.

But unfortunately the outside world is loudly asking for my attention and so I must leave you at this moment with promises to return without so much of a delay.

Have a wonderful and musical evening.

H.A. Higgins-Keith