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Posts Tagged ‘Victorian Life’

Today, as Steampunkapalooza 2011 continues, I’d like to welcome Saundra Mitchell, author of the young adult book The Vespertine.

Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer and a layout waxer. She’s dodged trains, endured basic training, and hitchhiked from Montana to California. She teaches herself languages, raises children, and makes paper for fun. She’s also a screenwriter for Fresh Films and the author of Shadowed Summer and The Vespertine, and the forthcoming The Springsweet. She always picks truth; dares are too easy.

 

Let’s Go Dancing

by Saundra Mitchell

Let it be resolved that in 1889, it wasn’t just the upper crust who danced the night away during their rigid and formalized ball season. The American middle class did just as much fan flirting and dance-card gaming as their wealthier counterparts, but I suspect they had more fun doing it.

Without vast empires to merge and old money to protect with proper matches, the middle class showed up at their balls… to dance. To flirt, and fall in love; to gossip and steal sips of brandied punch. But, since the very-well-heeled weren’t opening their private ballrooms to the masses, the masses instead attended public balls.

Public balls were often held as fundraisers- they might be for a charity, or a public works project. Sometimes, to raise money for a church or synagogue. Unions also played host, as well as social clubs. And then there were plenty that were simply money-making ventures. Hotels especially enjoyed the extra revenue of hosting public balls on the holidays.

There were no invitations to manuever. Public balls were advertised in newspapers, and notices were posted in the post office and in other meeting places. For a fee, anywhere from a nickel to several dollars, anyone could attend, as long as they were properly dressed. (And yes, that meant along with specifically segregated balls, some public dances were multicultural events.)

Sometimes, you’d pay your admission in advance- dance cards often served double duty as the ticket. Others took cash at the door. Once inside, you’d find a string quartet or brass band in the corner providing music, a refreshment parlor and a ladies’ necessary. Unlike private affairs, public balls didn’t generally include dinner.

Which means you pay your money, you get your dance card, and you get straight to flirting, straight to the intrigue, straight to the best part of ball-going season: the dancing. Who said the rich get to have all the fun?

~Saundra Mitchell

http://thevespertine.com

 

I have a copy of The Vespertine to give away to one lucky commenter.  Contest ends April 11 at 11:59 pm PST, contest open internationally.  So if you went to a Victorian ball, what part of it would you look forward to the most?

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Another important issue came up during the Steampunk panel I was part of at the RWA 2010 National Conference in Orlando–the darker side of Steampunk.

It can be very tempting to idealize and sanitize the Victorian era in our Steampunk stories. Depending on your world building, this approach could work. But the Victorian era wasn’t all balls and bustles and where I’m not saying we should scrap any sort of idealism, I’m saying that we shouldn’t always gloss over the grit.

The Victorian era could be a dirty, smelly, place full of illness, poverty and despair. There was colonialism, imperialism, classism, child labor, and the oppression of women, among other things. Depending on the particulars of your story, many of the darker issues during that time can add dimension and grit to your world, plot, and characters, not to mention bring up some of the very real obstacles those who lived during that era faced. That’s not to say that you couldn’t play with these concepts, just like we play with everything else when writing any sort of alternate history, but it’s also important to not forget these themes in addition to the usual ones we’ve embraced so heartily.

These themes can bring up interesting plots and subplots, taking the reader into places they have never been and allow them to explore issues they may not have thought of before. What would it be like to have your village invaded…or to be the invader but not sure of the cause? What was it like to be a doctor at a charity hospital, to work in a factory, or live in a slum?

It cause also allow us to meet new characters from varied backgrounds who also have stories that need to be told. Who knows what the conquered child might become when they grow up and what lengths they may go to for revenge. What could a simple act of kindness–or acts of cruelly or antipathy–ignite under the right conditions? What of the street sparrow, the night flower, or the child who toils in the factory to feed their family? What was it like to be an actress, a seamstress, or a member of the fallen gentry?

Like with anything else, you don’t need to necessary force these concepts into a story for the sake of inclusion, but it’s good to be aware of them. Don’t think you have to shy away from the darker side of Steampunk. Who knows what stories could these characters tell or what they could they teach the other characters…and us?

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