Monthly Archives: September 2015

Finding the Patterns in the Chaos

Sorry to neglect the blog, but I am currently trying to edit my Steampunk novel AND find a full time job. So, here are a few writing related images that inspire me.

Excuse the curse word.

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Filed under Editing, Personal experience, writing

‘The State Barge’ by James Henry Pullen; a Steampunk Masterwork

The State Barge’by James Henry Pullen

Made with exotic materials, including ivory, ebony and rare timbers.

Made 1866/1867.

This amazing model has been described as the “Mystic representation of the World as a Ship”. Designed by Pullen as a vessel for Queen Victoria to rule her empire from. The cosmic forces are represented. The hull is made of solid ebony and cosmic forces are represented on the exterior. Finely carved white ivory angels are outside on the prow, and Neptune or Satan is at the stern. A centre-rod acts on 12 working oars and forked lightening strikes the top. The ivory came from tusks given to Pullen by his patron, Edward VII, who took a great interest in him. It was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition. – Direct quote from the The Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability website.

James Henry Pullen

James Henry Pullen was renown in the Victorian Era as the Genius of Earlswood. He was born in Dalston, London in 1835. He was admitted to Essex Hall, Colchester in 1850 and transferred to Earlswood Asylum when it opened in 1855. He died there in 1916. Pullen was considered an Idiot Savant, but it is more likely that he was intelligent but suffering from a language disorder or some form of autism.

Earlswood used handicrafts as both a therapy and to raise funds for the asylum. Pullen was both a talented drawer, and  a carpenter and wood carver of the highest order. It is his creativity and originality that argues against his diagnosis as a true Idiot Savant. He could make his own tools, as well as creating models and drawings of great detail and beauty. He didn’t just reproduce models of known ships, but could design and make quite fanciful works like The State Barge and a large, mechanical mannequin he kept in his workshop for his own amusement.

The State Barge is his masterpiece, to my mind, because of the obvious love and care that has gone into making it. If it was made by an artist today, no one would have any problem with labelling it as Steampunk.

Detail of The State Barge

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Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk, Steampunk Aesthetic

The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar : an Episode Review

Spoilers Sweetie! If you read the rest of the article, please be warned it covers the two latest episodes of Doctor Who. 

“Of course the real question is where did I get the cup of tea? Answer? I’m the Doctor. Just accept it.”

I decided it would be difficult to fairly assess only one part of a two part episode. I am glad I did, because the two halves are greater than the sums of their parts. This was the reunion with the Doctor I had hoped for. It had witty dialogue, new concepts, and old villains acting in unexpected ways. Classic Doctor Who.

Dancing with Daleks

My favourite parts usually involved the interaction between Missy and Clara. Missy and Clara seem to have very mixed feelings about each other. Clara takes some convincing to team up with Missy, with Missy resorting to stopping every plain in flight over the entire planet of Earth. But once they are working together, all the really fun moments are when Missy reminds Clara she isn’t nice, isn’t playing on Team Good, and that she is simply is not human and  playing with an alien rule book. At times, she appears to want to take Clara for her own companion, and at other times she wants to kill her (from jealousy, maybe?). My favourite moment was when Missy was pondering to use Clara as a source of food, followed by her insistence at being called a ‘Time LADY‘, and then closely followed by her pushing Clara into the sewerage ditch to see how deep it is.

Left Hanging?

The Doctor’s highpoint of the first episode was the week long party adrift with punmanship. I love his idea of an axe. I almost wish I could have a pun off with him, when he is in this mood. In the second episode, I was fascinated with his interacts with both versions of Davros. The Doctor seems to be having more fun and is less confused about who he is. I could imagine this Doctor flirting with River, and not coming off second best. His fondness for Clara is no longer a boyfriend/girlfriend thing; He loves Clara more like a true friend and almost a daughter, though they weren’t together enough for any real banter.

The Knight of the Bad Puns

If I give the impression the villains were overshadowed in these episodes, I do apologise. All the antagonists, adversaries, and minions, old school and new school, were magnificent. It was delightful to something new to learn about the Daleks and Davros. And I enjoyed the conclusion of the second episode, when the Daleks were overcome by their own casual cruelty to their own king.

Davros – Your sewers are revolting.

Colony Sarff. Those lines on his face aren’t scars…

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Opposition to the Suffrage of Women: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Pamphlet by an organisation opposing female suffrage.

Pamphlet by an organisation opposing female suffrage. Please note the final comments on the bottom right. “Votes of Woman can accomplish no more than votes of Men.” So, following this logic, are they saying no one should have the vote?

Now, you might think the American-based National Association OPPOSED to Woman Suffrage was run by a bunch of grumpy men who wanted to maintain their dominance over women. Sadly, this organisation was run by a woman, Mrs Josephine Marshall Jewell Dodge. Mrs Dodge had entered the political arena via the day nursery movement. Firstly, she sponsored the Virginia Day Nursery to care for children of working mothers in New York City’s East Side slums, then opened her own nursery in 1888. The Jewell Day Nursery’s main aim was not simply day care, but also to educate immigrant children in “American” values. From 1899, Mrs Dodge became increasingly active in opposition to woman suffrage, which she believed would jeopardize the non-partisan integrity of women rights reformers like herself. In December 1911, she organized (and was chosen president) of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage.  She also edited their newspaper, Woman’s Protest. She continued as president of the group until June,1917, when she resigned in order that the organization might shift its headquarters to Washington, D.C.

I believe Mrs Dodge’s heart was in the right place, even though she fought against women’s suffrage. Her concern was making sure working women had a safe place to care for and educate their children while they were at work. However, her belief that the suffrage movement undermined the day care movement was misguided. In a way, she was helping the movement by supporting a woman’s right to work, while at the same time opposing women be given a voice in government. As you can see from the pamphlet above, her organisation was somewhat confused about what it wanted to achieve.

In England, the Woman’s National Anti-Suffrage League was established in London in 1908, opposing women being granted the vote in the United Kingdom’s Parliamentary elections. However, the organisation did support women having the right to vote in local government elections.

The Arguments Against Women’s Suffrage (as listed by the WNASL)

Because women already have the municipal vote, and are eligible for membership of most local authorities.   These bodies deal with questions of housing, education, care of children, workhouses and so forth, all of which are peculiarly within a woman’s sphere. Parliament, however, has to deal mainly with the administration of a vast Empire, the maintenance of the Army and Navy, and with questions of peace and war, which lie outside the legitimate sphere of woman’s influence.

Because all government rests ultimately on force, to which women, owing to physical, moral and social reasons, are not capable of con­tributing.

Because women are not capable of full citizenship, for the simple reason that they are not available for purposes of national and Imperial defence. All government rests ultimately on force, to which women, owing to physical, moral and social reasons, are not capable of contributing.

Because there is little doubt that the vast majority of women have no desire for the vote.

Because the acquirement of the Parliamentary vote would logically involve admission to Parliament itself, and to all Government offices. It is scarcely possible to imagine a woman being Minister for War, and yet the principles of the Suffragettes involve that and many similar absurdities.

Because the United Kingdom is not an isolated state, but the administrative and governing centre of a system of colonies and also of dependencies. The effect of introducing a large female ele­ment into the Imperial electorate would undoubtedly be to weaken the centre of power in the eyes of these dependent millions.

Because past legislation in Parliament shows that the interests of women are perfectly safe in the hands of men.

Because Woman Suffrage is based on the idea of the equality of the sexes, and tends to establish those competitive relations which will destroy chivalrous consideration.

Because women have at present a vast indirect influence through their menfolk on the politics of this country.

Because the physical nature of women unfits them for direct com­petition with men.

Grace Saxon Mills, writing in the years before 1914

I think my favourite comment is “Because past legislation in Parliament shows that the interests of women are perfectly safe in the hands of men.” Oh, the irony of that little sentence.

21. "We are here not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers." - Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928):

“We are here not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.” – Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)

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Filed under History, Josephine Marshall Jewell Dodge, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes

Why the Smart Woman Plays Dumb: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Women, wake up; the tocsin of reason sounds throughout the universe; recognize your rights. The powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies. The torch of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly and usurpation. Enslaved man has multiplied his force and needs yours to break his chains. Having become free, he has become unjust toward his companion. Oh women! Women, when will you cease to be blind? What advantages have you gathered in the Revolution? A scorn more marked, a disdain more conspicuous. During the centuries of corruption you only reigned over the weakness of men. Your empire is destroyed; what is left to you then? Firm belief in the injustices of men. The reclaiming of your patrimony founded on the wise decrees of nature; why should you fear such a beautiful enterprise? . . . Whatever the barriers set up against you, it is in your power to overcome them; you only have to want it. Let us pass now to the appalling account of what you have been in society; and since national education is an issue at this moment, let us see if our wise legislators will think sanely about the education of women.

Excerpt from Declaration of the Right of Women and the Female Citizen, by Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges – martyr to the Feminist cause.

Being a non-conforming, intelligent woman can be dangerous, particularly in times of political turmoil. No one knew this better than Olympe de Gouges, a French playwright and keen observer of people and society. Olympe is best known as an early feminist and abolitionist, who demanded that French women be given the same rights as French men, and was also a supporter of freeing slaves. Her greatest achievement as a feminist was her Declaration of the Right of Women and the Female Citizen, directly based on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Though this drew the ire of the ruling party, this wasn’t what got her into her fatal trouble. Her fate was sealed when she wrote The Three Urns, or the Salvation of the Fatherland, By An Aerial Traveller, when she was arrested for treason and sedition. She spent three months in jail without legal representation, so she forced to defend herself. It is tragically ironic that presiding judge denied De Gouges her legal right to legal representation, on the grounds that she was more than capable of representing herself, when her real crime was being clever and opinionated woman.Olympe was sentenced to death on the 2nd of November, 1793, and was guillotined the following day.

So much for the hopes and aspirations of the women who fought alongside their men in the revolution.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first Englishwoman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain.

Elizabeth Garret Anderson wasn’t ever going to lose her head, literally or figuratively. Though from a middle class background, and without the benefit of a privileged education, Elizabeth was committed to becoming a doctor. Her decision was influenced by reading about her namesake, Elizabeth Blackwell who had become the first female doctor in the United States in 1849. She read Blackwell’s articles and attended her lectures when she toured London. Elizabeth Garret Anderson first worked as a surgical nurse at Middlesex Hospital School, trained with the hospital’s apothecary, did classes with the male students. The male students were unhappy with her presence and finally they requested the school’s administration that she be obliged to leave (do you get the sneaking feeling she was showing them up?). Elizabeth applied to many universities with medical schools and was refused admission by all of them. These setbacks didn’t discourage her ambitions. Using a loophole, in 1865 she finally took her exam and obtained a medical licence from the Society of Apothecaries. She set up her own practice, and went from strength to strength, while finding the time to be a wife and mother, and supporting the Suffragist cause.

Elizabeth must have had a core of pure steel, as she was constantly opposed in both her education and subsequent career, including opposition by her family.

Re her father’s opposition: At first he was very discouraging, to my astonishment then, but now I fancy he did it as a forlorn hope to check me he said the whole idea was so disgusting that he could not entertain it for a moment.

When I felt rather overcome with my father’s opposition, I said as firmly as I could, that I must have this or something else, that I could not live without some real work.

I think he will probably come round in time, I mean to renew the subject pretty often.
Re her mother’s opposition: My mother speaks of my step being a source of life-long pain to her, that it is a living death, etc. By the same post I had several letters from anxious relatives, telling me that it was my duty to come home and thus ease my mother’s anxiety.

You can understand why an intelligent woman might pretend to be less intelligent. Not everyone is as strong and brave as these two women. In fact, you could argue that the truly smart woman is the one that hides her genius for the sake of self preservation. But smart women would make for boring Steampunk protagonists…

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Filed under Characterization, Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre

Why the Butler Did It: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

In the Victorian era, even modest households had domestic staff. The butler was the top of the food chain, in charge of the pantries like the buttery, in which (once upon a time) the butts of wine and other liquors were stored (yes, I made a pun). He was more of a manager than someone involved in physical work. He might answer the door, formally announce guests, and serve the dinner, but generally a footman would take on those duties; it was only in the smaller households he would do double duty. A butler’s duties were very different in the Victorian era to those expected of him today, as only the largest estates might have a steward or estate manager that would be of higher status than the butler. The master’s valet might make requests on his master’s account, but his power and status was not on the same level as the butler, in the same way a PA might be able to pass on the CEO’s requests to the office manager, but the PA can’t actually order the office manager around.

It is a cliché that in early Twentieth century noir-fiction mystery novels that ‘the butler did it’. This is because, traditionally, domestic servants were seen in the same light as ‘furniture’, and so it was shocking when a domestic servant showed agency. They were often not even considered a suspect. The earliest example is in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Musgrave Ritual from 1893, where the butler isn’t the main villain but is a thief.

This cliché didn’t happen as often as you might think in literature or movies. A bit like come celebrities, it is sort of famous for being famous. However, there are two reasons the cliché might still exist.

The Admirable Crichton is a comic stage play written in 1902 by James M. Barry, who also wrote Peter Pan. The bulter, Crichton, is the only one of a shipwrecked party with any practical knowledge or skills. He ends up the leader of the group, which also contains his employers in England. Crichton displays all the qualities of a true leader, but once the party are rescued and back in England, Crichton has to resume his duties as a servant, and readjust his behaviour according to his change in status. The play makes several pointed observations about the class system and human nature. As previously mentioned,  ‘the butler did it’ scenarios were never as common as popular belief holds them to be. However, they’re not entirely non-existent after Crichton humanised the butler. In Herbert Jenkins’ The Strange Case of Mr. Challoner (1921) and in Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Door (1930), the villainous butlers indeed do ‘it’.

2. In real life, the American philanthropist William Marsh Rice was murdered by his butler & valet, Charles F. Jones, in September, 1900. Jones was in collusion with Mr Rice’s lawyer, Albert Patrick, who tried to fraudulently claim that Mr Rice had changed in will in favour of Patrick. They were found out, and the money went to his institute of higher learning as Rice had wanted.The money was used in the founding of a free institute of higher education in Texas, which is now the Rice University. It was quite the scandal at the time.

DUTIES OF THE BUTLER.

    2157. The domestic duties of the butler are to bring in the eatables at breakfast, and wait upon the family at that meal, assisted by the footman, and see to the cleanliness of everything at table. On taking away, he removes the tray with the china and plate, for which he is responsible. At luncheon, he arranges the meal, and waits unassisted, the footman being now engaged in other duties. At dinner, he places the silver and plated articles on the table, sees that everything is in its place, and rectifies what is wrong. He carries in the first dish, and announces in the drawing-room that dinner is on the table, and respectfully stands by the door until the company are seated, when he takes his place behind his master’s chair on the left, to remove the covers, handing them to the other attendants to carry out. After the first course of plates is supplied, his place is at the sideboard to serve the wines, but only when called on.
    2158. The first course ended, he rings the cook’s bell, and hands the dishes from the table to the other servants to carry away, receiving from them the second course, which he places on the table, removing the covers as before, and again taking his place at the sideboard.
    2159. At dessert, the slips being removed, the butler receives the dessert from the other servants, and arranges it on the table, with plates and glasses, and then takes his place behind his master’s chair to hand the wines and ices, while the footman stands behind his mistress for the same purpose, the other attendants leaving the room. Where the old-fashioned practice of having the dessert on the polished table, without any cloth, is still adhered to, the butler should rub off any marks made by the hot dishes before arranging the dessert.
    2160. Before dinner, he has satisfied himself that the lamps, candles, or gas-burners are in perfect order, if not lighted, which will usually be the case. Having served every one with their share of the dessert, put the fires in order (when these are used), and seen the lights are all right, at a signal from his master, he and the footman leave the room.
    2161. He now proceeds to the drawing-room, arranges the fireplace, and sees to the lights; he then returns to his pantry, prepared to answer the bell, and attend to the company, while the footman is clearing away and cleaning the plate and glasses.
    2162. At tea he again attends. At bedtime he appears with the candles; he locks up the plate, secures doors and windows, and sees that all the fires are safe.
    2163. In addition to these duties, the butler, where only one footman is kept, will be required to perform some of the duties of the valet, to pay bills, and superintend the other servants. But the real duties of the butler are in the wine-cellar; there he should be competent to advise his master as to the price and quality of the wine to be laid in; “fine,” bottle, cork, and seal it, and place it in the binns. Brewing, racking, and bottling malt liquors, belong to his office, as well as their distribution. These and other drinkables are brought from the cellar every day by his own hands, except where an under-butler is kept; and a careful entry of every bottle used, entered in the cellar-book; so that the book should always show the contents of the cellar.
     2164. The office of butler is thus one of very great trust in a household. Here, as elsewhere, honesty is the best policy: the butler should make it his business to understand the proper treatment of the different wines under his charge, which he can easily do from the wine-merchant, and faithfully attend to it; his own reputation will soon compensate for the absence of bribes from unprincipled wine-merchants, if he serves a generous and hospitable master. Nothing spreads more rapidly in society than the reputation of a good wine-cellar, and all that is required is wines well chosen and well cared for; and this a little knowledge, carefully applied, will soon supply.
    2165. The butler, we have said, has charge of the contents of the cellars, and it is his duty to keep them in a proper condition, to fine down wine in wood, bottle it off, and store it away in places suited to the sorts. Where wine comes into the cellar ready bottled, it is usual to return the same number of empty bottles; the butler has not, in this case, the same inducements to keep the bottles of the different sorts separated; but where the wine is bottled in the house, he will find his account, not only in keeping them separate, but in rinsing them well, and even washing them with clean water as soon as they are empty.
     2166. There are various modes of fining wine: isinglass, gelatine, and gum Arabic are all used for the purpose. Whichever of these articles is used, the process is always the same. Supposing eggs (the cheapest) to be used,–Draw a gallon or so of the wine, and mix one quart of it with the whites of four eggs, by stirring it with a whisk; afterwards, when thoroughly mixed, pour it back into the cask through the bunghole, and stir up the whole cask, in a rotatory direction, with a clean split stick inserted through the bunghole. Having stirred it sufficiently, pour in the remainder of the wine drawn off, until the cask is full; then stir again, skimming off the bubbles that rise to the surface. When thoroughly mixed by stirring, close the bunghole, and leave it to stand for three or four days. This quantity of clarified wine will fine thirteen dozen of port or sherry. The other clearing ingredients are applied in the same manner, the material being cut into small pieces, and dissolved in the quart of wine, and the cask stirred in the same manner.
     2167.To Bottle Wine.–Having thoroughly washed and dried the bottles, supposing they have been before used for the same kind of wine, provide corks, which will be improved by being slightly boiled, or at least steeped in hot water,–a wooden hammer or mallet, a bottling-boot, and a squeezer for the corks. Bore a hole in the lower part of the cask with a gimlet, receiving the liquid stream which follows in the bottle and filterer, which is placed in a tub or basin. This operation is best performed by two persons, one to draw the wine, the other to cork the bottles. The drawer is to see that the bottles are up to the mark, but not too full, the bottle being placed in a clean tub to prevent waste. The corking-boot is buckled by a strap to the knee, the bottle placed in it, and the cork, after being squeezed in the press, driven in by a flat wooden mallet.
     2168. As the wine draws near to the bottom of the cask, a thick piece of muslin is placed in the strainer, to prevent the viscous grounds from passing into the bottle.
     2169. Having carefully counted the bottles, they are stored away in their respective binns, a layer of sand or sawdust being placed under the first tier, and another over it; a second tier is laid over this, protected by a lath, the head of the second being laid to the bottom of the first; over this another bed of sawdust is laid, not too thick, another lath; and so on till the binn is filled.
     2170. Wine so laid in will be ready for use according to its quality and age. Port wine, old in the wood, will be ready to drink in five or six months; but if it is a fruity wine, it will improve every year. Sherry, if of good quality, will be fit to drink as soon as the “sickness” (as its first condition after bottling is called) ceases, and will also improve; but the cellar must be kept at a perfectly steady temperature, neither too hot nor too cold, but about 55° or 60°, and absolutely free from draughts of cold air.

Excerpt from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton

Of course, in our Postmodern culture, clichés are revitalised and re-used, As well, we have quite positive images of butlers in all media: Butler in Artemis Fowl, Lurch in The Addams Family, the character Jeeves from the stories of P G Wodehouse, Mr French from A Family Affair, and Willlikins from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Willikins. Discworld quote by Sir Terry Pratchett. by Kim White:

Under the circumstances, I just had to invent a dangerous butler of my own. He isn’t intrinsicly evil, but he works for some very bad people. His loyalty to his employers is admirable … which makes him very scary indeed.

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Filed under Characterization, Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Genre, Stereotypes, writing

The Tragedy of Female Scientists Dying Before Their Time

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace died at the age of 36, the same age that her father, Lord Byron had died. She passed away from uterine cancer on the 27th of November, 1852. She is famous for being the first computer programmer, working algorithms for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Because she died so young, she was shorn of the possibility of having even greater achievements.

Émilie du Châtelet

Pregnancy and childbirth were chancy for women in the 18th century. On the night of the 3rd of September, 1749, Émilie du Châtelet gave birth to a daughter at the age of 42. She died but a week later, from pulmonary complications, probably brought on by post-partum fever. Émilie du Châtelet was a French mathematician, physicist, and translator of scientific texts, as well a scientific commentator, writer and – incidentally – the lover of Voltaire. There really isn’t a scientific field she didn’t make an important contribution to in some way or another. Her early death robbed the world of a brilliant mind with still so much to offer.

Emmy Noether

Emmy Noether has been described as the most important woman ever to enter into the field of mathematics. Her fields of expertise were Abstract algebra and theoretical physics.In April 1935, her doctors located tumours in Noether’s pelvis, which included a large ovarian cyst. She died from a post-operative fever after the cyst was removed. She was a mere 53 years old (my current age).

Rosalind Franklin and one her images of the double helix pattern of DNA.

Rosalind Franklin also died of ovarian cancer, at the shockingly young age of 36. Franklin was an English Chemist and X-ray crystallographer. who was one of the team who discovered the double helix structure of DNA. She was robbed of her Nobel Prize by her early death, and Watson and Crick attempted to downplay her role in the discovery. Read Watson’s book, The Double Helix : A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. Reading between the lines, you can see he and Watson were absolute arseholes to Franklin, though Watson did go on to admit he was wrong about. Crick’s portrayal of Franklin in The Double Helix was even more negative; inferring that Franklin was unable to interpret her own DNA data. One wonders what might have happened if she had lived to defend her reputation.

All of these genius women were killed by diseases relating to their femininity. Until quite recently, ‘women’s problems’ were not studied in any depth. Most doctors were male, and couldn’t properly examine a modest female patient. If these women were alive today, it is possible they would have lived much longer, productive lives. As if being a woman in STEM isn’t hard enough…

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Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Feminist, Women in Science