The Ghosts of Victorian Past: Gothic Steampunk

The Castle of Otranto, A Gothic Story was the very first Gothic novel, so it predates the Victorian era by several decades. It was published in 1764, and written by Horace Walpole. Walpole’s style was heavily influenced by the tragedies of Shakespeare. The Castle of Otranto was a popular book and its style was to be much imitated in the later 18th century and early 19th century, created the Gothic literary genre. The Gothic literary genre is considered to combine melodramatic fiction with the Victorian-era genres of Horror and Romanticism. Some of the most famous books of the Victorian era were Gothic tomes, like and it is easy to trace the influence the Gothic genre had on some of the more lurid genres of modern Science Fiction and modern Horror.

The Gothic novel held a particular fascination for the Victorians, with their morbid obsession with mourning rituals, mourning clothing and jewellery, mementos, Spiritualism, ghosts, post-mortem photography and death in general. In Britain, Charles Dickens wrote Gothic novels, like Bleak House and The Mystery of Edmund Drood and even A Christmas Carol. Edgar Allan Poe was the king of Gothic fiction in America, with his recurring themes of bizarre deaths, the effects of decomposition, concerns of premature burial, the reanimation of the dead, and mourning. Many of his works are considered part of the Romanticism subgenre of Gothic literary fiction, or fall into the genre of Gothic Horror.

Edgar Alan Poe by Pablo Bernasconi

Edgar Alan Poe by Pablo Bernasconi

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by English author Mary Shelley is another classic Gothic novel, and one of the direct progenitors of Science Fiction literary genre. It is consider Science Fiction because Victor Frankenstein creates his monster through scientific techniques, and he deliberately experimented with the specific goal of recreating life. It is also a Gothic Horror because it conforms to all the genre markers of the Gothic literary genre: the melodrama, the Romanticism, the use of Supernatural forces, the classic Gothic settings, and the ‘fatal flaw’ in the plans of the protagonist which leads to his tragic fate.

Some people have preferred to Steampunk, particularly Steampunk cosplay, as when ‘Goths were brown instead of black’. To the untrained eye, this may seem to be the case, as both genres are heavily influenced by the Victorian aesthetic. But in reality, they have very different underlying discourses. Steampunk isn’t exclusively about Romance or Horror, it is more about intellectual exploration, adventure and SCIENCE! Your average Goth doesn’t need goggles and a raygun, and most Goths wear their outfits as a lifestyle choice and not as cosplay. With not a cog in sight…

There is plenty of overlap between the Gothic literary genre and the Steampunk literary genre, but there are plenty of differences too. Many Steampunk writers use Gothic literature as a stepping off point for their own narratives, and very successfully too. Steampunk can adapt to ruinous castles and melodrama as easily as Doctor Jekyll can concoct a potion.

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Filed under Gothic, Steampunk, Subgenres of Steampunk, Writing Style

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