marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,
marycatelli
marycatelli

steampunk and Victorian women

I have heard some rash statements about the reality of women's lives in the Victorian era and what steampunk can do to subvert it.  It shows a certain tendency to treat an entire country, in a period that lasted decades, as a uniform mass. which is unwise.  Wallowing in primary sources is a good way to counteract that block.

And it's amazing where you will turn up enlightenment.  For instance, reading about the Pre-Raphaelites, and coming across Millais's Order of Release, which you can check out here.

Which, when it was released, got some reviews.  Such as
Instead of the eye dimmed even with a tear, it looks defiance, as if she had contested at some previous time the matter with the jailer, and looks a triumph, as much as to say, "I've won, and so pay me." Instead of tenderness, she is the hardest looking creature you can imagine. . . . And a friend of ours said aloud, "I would rather remain in prison all my life, or even be hanged, than go out of prison to live with that woman;
and

The subject is simply that of a wife, with child in her arms, coming with an order of release for her husband, who has been taken in the Civil Wars. The husband, overcome with emotions, and weak from a recent wound (his arm is in a sling), can but fall upon her neck and weep; moan, "firm of purpose," sheds no tear; she has none to shed; but her eye is red and heavy with weeping and waking; and she looks at the stern and unconcerned gaoler with a proud look, expressing that she has won the reward for all her trouble past.

Not only do the views conflict, it was the second one that was popular.  They had to put up a guard on the painting at the exhibit.  They had only had to put up a railing for popular paintings before, and that only a few times.

Or at a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.

Gold.: Are you really under the impression that English girls are
so ridiculously demure? Why, an English girl of the highest
type is the best, the most beautiful, the bravest, and the
brightest creature that Heaven has conferred upon this world
of ours. She is frank, open-hearted, and fearless, and
never shows in so favorable a light as when she gives her
own blameless impulses full play!

Nekaya Oh, you shocking story!
and
Kalyba:

Gold.: Not at all. I’m speaking the strict truth. I’ll tell you
all about her.

SONG — Mr. Goldbury.

A wonderful joy our eyes to bless,
In her magnificent comeliness,
Is an English girl of eleven stone two,
And five foot ten in her dancing shoe!
She follows the hounds, and on the pounds–
The “field” tails off and the muffs diminish–

Over the hedges and brooks she bounds,
Straight as a crow, from find to finish.
At cricket, her kin will lose or win–
She and her maids, on grass and clover,
Eleven maids out–eleven maids in–
And perhaps an occasional “maiden over!”

Go search the world and search the sea,
Then come you home and sing with me
There’s no such gold and no such pearl
As a bright and beautiful English girl!

With a ten-mile spin she stretches her limbs,
She golfs, she punts, she rows, she swims–
She plays, she sings, she dances, too,
From ten or eleven til all is blue!
At ball or drum, til small hours come
(Chaperon’s fans concealing her yawning)
She’ll waltz away like a teetotum.
And never go home til daylight’s dawning.
Lawn-tennis may share her favours fair–
Her eyes a-dance, and her cheeks a-glowing–
Down comes her hair, but then what does she care?
It’s all her own and it’s worth the showing!
Go search the world, etc.

Her soul is sweet as the ocean air,
For prudery knows no haven there;
To find mock-modesty, please apply
To the conscious blush and the downcast eye.
Rich in the things contentment brings,
In every pure enjoyment wealthy,
Blithe and beautiful bird she sings,
For body and mind are hale and healthy.
Her eyes they thrill with right goodwill–
Her heart is light as a floating feather–
As pure and bright as the mountain rill
That leaps and laughs in the Highland heather!
Go search the world, etc.

QUARTET

Nek.: Then I may sing and play?

Lord D.: You may!

Kal.: Then I may laugh and shout?

Gold.: No doubt!.

Nek.: These maxims you endorse?

Lord D.: Of course!

Kal.: You won’t exclaim “Oh fie!”

Gold.: Not I!

Gold: Whatever you are–be that:
Whatever you say–be true:
Straightforwardly act–
Be honest–in fact,
Be nobody else but you.

Lord D.: Give every answer pat–
Your character true unfurl;
And when it is ripe,
You’ll then be a type
Of a capital English girl.

All.: Oh sweet surprise–oh, dear delight,
To find it undisputed quite,
All musty, fusty rules despite
That Art is wrong and Nature right!

Nek.: When happy I,
With laughter glad
I’ll wake the echoes fairly,
And only sigh
When I am sad–
And that will be but rarely!

Kal.: I’ll row and fish,
And gallop, soon–
No longer be a prim one–
And when I wish
To hum a tune,
It needn’t be a hymn one?

Gold and Lord D.: No, no!
It needn’t be a hymn one!

All (dancing): Oh, sweet surprise and dear delight
To find it undisputed quite–
All musty, fusty rules despite–
That Art is wrong and Nature right
Tags: genre: steampunk, primary source, world-building: general
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    From Barsoom to Malacandra: Musings on Things Past and Things to Come by John C. Wright A collection of essays. Mostly centered on specific works…

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