The steampunk and the gothic movements - Maxicours

The steampunk and the gothic movements

Objectif
  • Découvrir un aspect de la notion « Le passé dans le présent ».
Points clés
  • Le steampunk est, dans un premier temps, un genre littéraire de l’époque victorienne (XIXe siècle) qui mixe le passé et le présent de façon continue. Ce genre apparaît suite à la révolution industrielle.
  • Ce mouvement devient de plus en plus important dans les arts et dans la culture à partir du XXe siècle, et encore plus au XXIe siècle, car il se retrouve dans les films, dans les séries, en art, en cosplay et lors de festivals.

Have you ever heard of the steampunk movement ? We are sure you have but could you explain what it is ? Tricky question, isn’t it ?
Well, if you have difficulty answering it, the lines below will help you understand everything about this relatively unknown movement.

1. Steampunk, a literary genre
a. Definition

To begin with, you have to know what the steampunk movement is.

The steampunk movement is a literary genre which mixes past and present together.

It takes its origins in an alternate Victorian era (19th century) at a time when industrial steam-powered machinery developed and novelists applied this recent discovery to futuristic scenarios. The plot takes place in the 19th century and a massive use of steam machines creates lots of surprising situations and anachronisms that give the stories an immense interest.

If Thomas More dreamt of a hypothetical place in the 16th century (Utopia), now is the turn of a fictional time-period, that we could call uchronia, which is imagined by the steampunk movement’s writers. It is indeed difficult to say when the story takes place in this new genre. Needless to say that fantasy, anticipation and science-fiction are the main ingredients of the genre, to our great delight.

b. Steampunk authors

One of the best example of the genre in France can be found in some novels by Jules Verne including :

  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1969–1970),
  • Robur the Conqueror (1886),
  • From the Earth to the Moon (1865).

In the United Kingdom, the steampunk movement may be represented by H.G. Wells, with The Time Machine (1885).

Yet, the term steampunk, invented by American writer K.W. Jeter, did not appear until the end of the 20th century. Note that the word punk was added to steam to mock the cyberpunk movement of the 1980s.
More recently, you can still find Steampunk genre in literature, with Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines (2001–2006) or Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (1995).

2. Steampunk and cinema

Later, in the 1960s, films and series followed, helped by the magical powers of special effects and they had a great impact on the viewers.

Example
The Wild Wild West (1965-1969) is a TV show with steampunk influences. The federal agents James West and Artemus Gordon had recourse to Bond-like gadgets to fight their enemies at the end of the 19th century.

This movement is still present nowadays with :

  • The Wild Wild West (1999) with Will Smith includes steampunk references, just as the TV show ;
  • Hugo (2011) ;
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) ;
  • The Wind Rises (2013) ;
  • Sherlock Holmes (2009) and its sequel Sherlock Holmes : A Game of Shadows (2011) ;
  • Mortal Engines (2018).
Remark
Already in 1939, the character of Sherlock Holmes had his steampunk movie with Sherlock Holmes’ War of the Worlds.

This is fascinating because the future has always been a source of inspiration for writers, especially since the industrial revolution which allowed new ideas to develop. Steam was the new source of energy, it helped propel a train, so why not imagine machines that could fly or dive? Everything was possible and readers loved dreaming. They still do, don’t they ?

The way the heroes are dressed had to be in harmony with the time : women will generally wear a bustled skirt, corset top, jacket, mini top hat, goggles and Victorian lace up boots while men wear traditional Victorian clothing with a darker side to it : striped pants, brocade vests, leather suspenders, military boots, top hat and sunglasses.
They look like an adventurer, a scientist, or an engineer.

3. The popularity of steampunk

Now, steampunk can be found everywhere : art, design, comics, fashion, music, video games and so on.

Examples
In Paris, the metro station of Arts et Métiers is redesigned in 1994 in steampunk style.
The manga, and then the animes, Fullmetal Alchemist are influenced by steampunk.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Professor Hershel Layton are games influenced by steampunk.

No wonder that more and more people want to establish the movement as a culture and a lifestyle ! Events such as festivals, parades, parties or salons where thousands of people meet have been held all over the world in the past twenty years.
The most important is Lincolnshire Steampunk festival in England. 100,000 people are expected to attend the four-day event every year ! Some of these events are even covered by TV channels, newspapers and magazines.

Remark
The city of Lincoln (in the east of England between Leeds and Cambridge) is the capital of the Steampunk movement.

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