I've been doing a lot of research. Some of it is story specific and some of it is just to get a better feel of the Victorian background to Steampunk world creation. And this is where it gets serious. I blogged a bit about the dark side. I though I knew how dark it got. 

Seems I didn't.

The depths of squalor and cruelty into which the Victorian poor were pushed beggars modern belief. to ignore it as we write is more than just missing out on a whole and critical aspect of the world(s) we create. It's doing a disservice to history. I'm not pretending for a moment that Steampunk shouldn't be fun but, as in Ursula K. LeGuin's 'the ones who walk away from Omelas' someone somewhere is paying the price, always, for the comfort and affluence of the few. In a sense all that has happened over recent years is that the Victorian slums that housed the anonymous workers - who literally built the Victorian's world - have moved further out of sight to Mumbai and China. At least there the squalor that is the price to pay for cheap goods is not in our faces every day.


I'm not suggesting for a moment that all folks should write are socially corrective reformist works with a moral, but that it should be in there, somewhere. Ignoring it is not an option IMHO.


Want to write a ripping yarn that grips us? Want your worlds to have depth and realism? Then show us the dark as well as the light.

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Comment by John F. Montagne on August 24, 2011 at 5:15am
Couldn't agree with you more.  I've veered away from the SP setting of London though one of my characters is from the Big Smoke... my latest work is along the lines of a weird west (not that there wasn't similar going on there).  Even after years of reading Vic Lit and historical commentary, I don't think I'm ready to try and capture it... yet.  I applaud your delving into these aspects, your writing will no doubt profit from it.
Comment by Robert Fleming on August 24, 2011 at 12:22pm

Lee Jackson has a fantastic site  http://www.victorianlondon.org/  which will help anyone trying to learn about Victorian era London. His chapter on crime is extensive, dark, and horrific. I read Oliver Twist and Bleak House years ago, and after doing some research realized Dickens was actually tame compared to what went on.

A heart-breaking read,  The Seven Curses of London, by James Greenwood, 1869, has a chapter on neglected children. I include poverty, child labour, prostitution, murder, smuggling, etc. in what I've written. They were, unfortunately, all common problems throughout the 1800s and somewhat accepted as normal.

Comment by dave bartram on August 24, 2011 at 1:48pm
It is heartbreaking. The acceptance as normal is shocking, too, until you realise that we all accept the crushing poverty of workers in India and China as a price we are prepared to accept in having cheap (and often not so cheap) goods.
My next (haha) work is built around the workhouse. I think writing it is going to be pretty depressing.
Comment by Robert Fleming on August 24, 2011 at 5:02pm

Here's a drawing my illustrator did for Kate Tattersall Adventure: Ireland. The circumstances and effects of the great potato famine figure largely in this tale. Kate, coming from wealth and privilege, is completely confused and outraged when she happens upon starving filthy children living on the edge of Dublin. The famine (1845 to 1852) claimed about one million lives, with another million emigrating around the world, of whom at least one in five died of disease and malnutrition. At the same time the wealthy landowners were exporting bumper crops of wheat and barley. About one hundred thousand Irish moved to London, and made up a large part of  the various rookeries population. 


Having spent twenty years in the military, I have seen my share of inhumanity, ruthlessness, despair, and ignorance. When a person is starving, honour, pride, empathy, and grace vanish. However, the real crime, the greatest criminals, are the wealthy who do nothing, or even take advantage of people in these situations. They really are ghouls, and thankfully today we have international courts and watchdogs. (The poverty of the workers in China and India is a great step up compared to what goes on in  a war zone.) The poor of the 1800s weren't so fortunate. For what it's worth, there was great social reform throughout the Victorian era, with public education established and charities created which still exist today, many of them founded in London.  


The workhouse can be an interesting topic, and the rookeries too. I imagine you'll explore the different possibilities while doing your research. I hope you don't get depressed, and there is a hero or heroine who brings down the nasty antagonist; some kind of satisfying justice. I'll look forward to seeing what you come up with, and if there are any Irish characters who make an appearance. (Éirinn go Brách!)

Comment by Wolfen Moondaughter on August 25, 2011 at 7:49am

I can't imagine writing in the Victorian era *without* the conditions of the poor being discussed at some point! But then, maybe that's because my initial exposures to that era is through Dickens, and it's a pretty prominent theme in his work. Not to mention that in general, poor protagonists who raise themselves up (albeit with help) makes for some pretty compelling storytelling, as do stories of wealthy protagonists who lose their wealth and learn what it's like to live as one of the destitute.


Robert, thanks for that wonderful research link!

Comment by dave bartram on August 25, 2011 at 9:52am
that's kind of my point. - a lot of Steampunk seems to manage to do just that.
Comment by Robert Fleming on August 25, 2011 at 3:12pm
Well, there are no rules. People enjoy light-hearted stories. Every genre has a full spectrum; dark to light. Writers are free to explore an era however they like, and create an alternative world if they so desire. Some folks like historically accurate, others purely fantasy, or a degree in the middle. One side takes a great deal of research, while the other side a somewhat abstract imagination. I'm sure you'll do what's right for you, Dave.

Wolfen, you're welcome.
Comment by Wolfen Moondaughter on August 25, 2011 at 9:16pm

@Dave Oh! Sorry; I got the imprerssion from your essay that you felt people weren't doing *enough* of it/were shying away from the subject.  I guess I must have misread something somewhere ... ^^;

Comment by dave bartram on August 26, 2011 at 9:40am
No, that 'was' what I meant. There is work out there that does look at these things, but, equally, there is a huge amount of froth that ignores it completely. But yes, absolutely there are no rules. All I'm expressing here is my own view, and what I feel. I don't necessarily expect anyone to agree or do anything. :-)
Comment by Claire E. Smith on August 26, 2011 at 7:06pm

Great points, Dave!


My book suffers from a horrible lack of research, at least regarding Victorian era. I did a lot of research on steam and science and politics, though. I did a lot of research on their fashion  too, which I tried to capture in the story. 


What Victorian books do you recommend checking out? I'm most curious about their dialogue. They talk so beautifully  in that time and would love to re-capture that :)


And Robert, thanks for sharing the link! I'll enjoy exploring it!




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