Ida Laura Pfeiffer : A Steampunk Feminist Perspective & Characterization

Ida Laura Pfeiffer

Ida Laura Pfeiffer

Ida Laura Pfeiffer in working outfit, with net and vasculum.

Ida Laura Pfeiffer in working outfit, with net and vasculum.

In her middle age, at the age of 45 and with her children grown, the Austrian widow Mrs Pfeiffer decided to pursue her own interests in exploring, travelling, writing and collecting specimens of everything animal, vegetable or mineral. She did two world trips (including a trip to Australia) and her final trip was to Madagascar.  On these trips, Ida Pfeiffer collected plants, insects, molluscs, other marine life, and mineral specimens, carefully documenting her specimens. Once back in Europe, her collections were sold to museums in Vienna and Berlin. She wrote books about her trips, that ended up being translated into seven languages. She didn’t stop her travels until the year before her death at 61.

Because of her gender, her explorations were considered less important than other explorers. In fact, she often discovered and collected new species, particularly from Madagascar, and yet none of these were named for her. She was ‘allowed’ to join the geographical societies of both Berlin and Paris, but not the British Royal Geographical Society. Guess why? Yes, because she wasn’t a man.

Here is a brave and adventurous woman, who wasn’t in the first flush of youth, taking on journeys full of dangers and privations. She travelled alone. As a Steampunk writer, I find her fascinating. She must have longed all her life to travel and explore, but could only enjoy those freedoms once she had fulfilled her role as a wife and mother. What a conflicted person she must have been as a young woman, so brave and intellectual, but forced into another role by society.

I am basing a character upon Ida, even though my novel is aimed at a YA audience.  My main protagonist’s mother is a lady explorer and botanist, and I can’t think of a better ‘role model’ than Ida.

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Filed under Characterization, Historical Personage, Steampunk Feminist

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