Category Archives: Analogy

Enamoured by Metaphor

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I am about to embark on a new horror story, based around the concept of anatomical models from the 17th and 18th centuries. The original ‘Anatomical Venus’ by Clemente Susini  can still be seen at La Specola museum in Florence. She is known as ‘the Medici Venus’,  and is a life-size wax figure with real human hair, and can be dissected into seven anatomically correct layers. She spawned numerous copies, referred to as Slashed Beauties or Dissected Graces. My favourite is the one pictured above, with her gold crown and serene expression, while her innards lay exploded over her chest and stomach.

These models were both scientific educational tools and works of high art. The artists who produced them were often students of anatomy and witnessed dissections to get the details right; some even had a tiny fetus incorporated into the display. Like Snow White, they were kept in glass coffins.

a-wax-anatomical-half-model-of-the-torso-of-a-pregnant-woman-from-early-19th-century-france

After they were discarded by their medical institutes and museums, the anatomical models were often incorporated into the displays of fairground attractions. The languid nudity of the wax figures attracted the voyeurs, while the faux dissections attracted those individuals with morbid curiosity or scientific interests.

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What a range of horrific possibilities for a writer! Who were the original models for each of these wax figures? Were these wax sculptures based on real women, or idealised ones? It isn’t a big jump to seeing an artist murdering a perfect, healthy girl to get  his details right…

The real tantalising detail is knowing the best of these Slashed Beauties could be broken down into seven anatomically correct layers. Not only is the name, Slashed Beauties, just wonderfully creepy, but think of the metaphor created by a woman with so many layers. As Shrek points out,  she has layers “Like an onion!” What is revealed as you peel those layers away?

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Filed under Analogy, Horror genre, Metaphors, Uncategorized, Writing Style

The Paradox of Black and White

English is not the easiest language to learn, because it isn’t very logical. I can remember how frustrated my youngest child was with her first grade spelling, trying to understand how ‘going’ and ‘doing’ were spelt as if they rhymed, when they did nothing of the sort. But it isn’t just our spelling and pronunciation that can be a bugbear; our idioms can also be a conundrum for both writers and speakers.

Look at how the words ‘black’ and ‘white’ can have a multitude of meaning. We can’t just assume black symbolises bad, and that white stands for good.

Black had traditionally been seen as unlucky, sinister, or downright evil. There is a large number of sayings, similes, and idioms that use black in this sense: to be listed in someone’s black books, the black sheep of the family, black hats (particularly in Westerns), to blackball a candidate, to be black-hearted, to be in a black mood, to give a black look, to be blacklisted, to have a black mark against your name, the black arts, unlucky to have a black cat cross your path, black magic (as opposed to white magic), to blacken someone’s name, blackmail…  I’ll stop now, because I am sure you have the idea. And yet, to be in the black has the positive connotation of having money in the bank and not being in debt.

White is generally use to represent innocence and purity: as pure/white as the driven snow, white as a lily, white as a swan (Australian swans are black), fair skin is aristocratic, as mild as milk, brides wearing white to their weddings, little white lies, wearing white to your baptism, the white glove test for cleanliness, and so on and so forth. However, white seems to have more negative connotations than black has positive ones. White lips are a sign of pain or sadness – such as pale with suffering, or of anger – think of a white-hot fury. White skin can be pasty. If you are frightened, you are lily-livered and may need to be handed a white feather to shame you for your cowardice. You surrender by waving a white flag.

shadow cat

So, as you can see, the use of black or white in a metaphor isn’t black and white, and has something of a chequered history. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) If you are using black or white in your prose, you have to make sure that your audience knows exactly what your trying to say by using them. For example: “Her horse was as black and as gentle as the night, and as beautiful as the stars therein.”   From the deliberate use of the word ‘gentle’ you can surmise this steed isn’t a black charger snorting brimstone. But if ‘gentle’ had been left out, you might be uncertain of the nature of the black horse. A milk-white horse might not need the word ‘gentle’, because – as previously noted – as milk is generally associated with mildness. So if you have a wicked white steed, you need to make that clear from the start.

So, as you can see, English can be confusing for those who have grown up speaking it. I can’t imagine what it must be like for people trying to learn it as a second language.

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Filed under Analogy, Language, Love of words, Metaphors, Writing Style

Keeping Busy: The Symbolism of Bees in the Victorian Era

Victorian Gold Bee Brooch

How doth the little busy Bee
Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the day
From every opening Flower!

The Victorian loved naturalistic jewellery, and loved what each item of jewellery could present. With the Victorian obsession with hard work, loyalty (bees die when they sting an animals while defending their hive), team work, and industriousness, it isn’t very surprising to find that bees were a favourite with jewellers and their patrons. A person who modelled their behaviour on the bees’ example would be considered to have excellent moral fibre and work ethic. Can’t you just see a mother giving a ‘lazy’ child the gift of bee brooch to remind them to stay busy? After all, ‘idle hands are the devil’s workshop’.

And, let’s face it, bees are cute, and they make honey and pollinate our crops, and the droning of bees is one of the most pleasant sounds in the world (unless you allergic to their stings). The bright colours of bees is meant to be a warning that they can sting, but it also makes them a perfect model for jewellery, or to decorate a statement dress.AN ANTIQUE RUSSIAN BEE BROOCH  The tiger's eye and onyx body with diamond line detail to the ruby eyes and rose-cut diamond wings, mounted in silver and gold, circa 1870, 5.4 cm. wide, with St. Petersburg hallmark for gold

Bee decorated dress

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Filed under Analogy, Bling, Fashion, History, Metaphors, Steampunk Genre, Writing Style

Glowing: A Steampunk Feminist Viewpoint on Radium in the Victorian & Edwardian Eras

“Tho-radia” powder, based on radium and thorium, according to the formula of Dr. Alfred Curie (not related to Pierre and Marie Curie) Image from Wikipedia

This article reads better if you have this music playing in the background.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktvTqknDobU

Radium was discovered by Marie Sklodowska-Curie and her husband Pierre Curie on 21 December 1898. Apart from making Madame Curie one of the most famous female scientists in our culture, Radium was for a while a ‘wonder of the age’. The name Radium derives from ‘ray’, the French word, due to the element emitting energy in the form of rays. To the Victorian mind, anything invisible – like magnetism or electricity – immediately meant that it must be good for you. At least, that is what the Quacks with their miracle cures and Snake Oil merchants wanted the public to think.

Now, to us in the 21st century, the idea of using radiative substances as medicine seems like madness. Even the legitimate uses of radiation, such as X-rays and radiation therapy for cancer, are treated with respect by patients and the medical establishment; those lead barriers aren’t there for show. In the late Victorian era and Edwardian era, radium was being used to make things glow, like watch faces and the hands on clocks … so the Quacks’ inference was that it might make you glow with health. Seriously.

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Radium Bread

Radium was once added to a broad range of products such as toothpaste, hair creams, food items, bottled water, ‘health’ spas, and quack medical therapies, due to its supposed curative powers. (Remember: Invisible = Good) Radium is highly radioactive and one of its breakdown by-products is radon gas; radon gas is also radioactive. Exposure to radium and radon, internal or external, can cause cancer and other disorders, because radium and radon emit alpha and gamma rays upon their decay, which kill and mutate cells. So eating, drinking and bathing in the stuff wasn’t beneficial to anyone’s health. Then again, we are talking about a society that was using lead and arsenic in lethal quantities.

From Wikipedia: Uranium sand houses, where patients would sit on benches in a round room that had a floor composed of mildly radioactive sand (usually beach sand with crushed minerals like Carnotite). These were popular in Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado during the 1950s. Lying in a narrow box with sands that reputedly contained uranium ore was promoted as a treatment for arthritis, bursitis, and rheumatism as late as 1956.

As a writer, I can see how easily radiation can be used as a metaphor or an analogy in a narrative. It is invisible and yet toxic! Some people didn’t understand it, and misused it, before even the scientists had a chance to understand it. Pierre Curie and Marie Sklodowska-Curie were so intrigued by radiation that they sacrificed their health and ultimately their lives to the study of radium and other types of radioactivity. Marie is considered a role model for women scientists everywhere … but she died as a consequence of her contact with radioactive elements before it was understood how dangerous they were. However, I believe she would not have shied away from her research even if she knew of her ultimate fate.

Because of their levels of radioactive contamination, Marie’s papers from the 1890s are considered too dangerous to handle. Even her cookbook is highly radioactive. Her papers are kept in lead-lined boxes, and those who wish to consult them must wear protective clothing.

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Filed under Analogy, History, Metaphors, Science, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist

It’s all bout the Bass: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective of the Novelty Bustle

A novelty bustle made to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations was fitted with a musical box that played ‘God Save the Queen’ each time the wearer sat down.

  1. Rum-dispensing contraption hidden in a bustle and belt.

Novelty bustles have been around a long time. But I think both writers and cosplayers would find it a boon to think inside the cage (of a bustle) to warped creative mind. You could hide just about anything in there: an arsenal, a bomb, a mini lab, or a drinks cabinet (like the Steampunk Gin Bustle pictured below).

The Steampunk Gin Bustle

Of course, this isn’t a new concept, just an underutilized one. Most of these novelty bustles were humorous, but it isn’t too hard to see a serious application for these secret compartments in bustles. What a safe place to hide documents or maps.

Novelty Bustles

I’d like to see a few lady adventures with stealth bustles. I am most certainly writing a stealth bustle into my current Steampunk work-in-progress. And I would like to see more cosplayers with contraptions in their booties.

Punch, publication, 1874

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Filed under Analogy, Fashion, History, Metaphors, Steampunk Cosplay, writing

Thematic Cast of Characters: A Steampunk Writer’s Perspective

A Steampunk version of the character Death from the Endless by Neil Gaiman's Sandman universe.

A Steampunk version of the character Death from the Endless, from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman universe.

Thematic casting is when you base your characters around a central theme. Take the Fanastic Four as a fairly simplistic example of thematic casting. Mr Fantastic represents ‘water, Sue is ‘air’, the Human Torch is ‘fire’ and the Thing is ‘earth’; all four of the basic elements as understood by alchemists. The Planeteers from Captain Planet follow the same theme, adding ‘heart’ to the mix. In the Avatar series, the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra used the same for the various ‘benders’. Many children’s cartoons use thematic casting, but this doesn’t mean it can’t be used as a sophisticated writing tool.

The Victorian era version of the Fantastic Four.

When I think of sophisticated thematic casting, I think of Neil Gaiman’s Endless from his Sandman series. The Endless are seven siblings who rule the aspects of existence: Destiny, Death, Dream (Morpheus, then Daniel), the twins Desire and Despair, Destruction and Delirium (who used to be Delight). This list is also their ‘birth’ order. The Endless are above the gods, as even gods are subject to their forces. Dream is the titular protagonist of the Sandman series, with his siblings often taking centre stage in the plot and action.

Morpheus and Matthew, the Raven

Morpheus and Matthew, the Raven

Victorian-era Morpheus

Victorian-era Morpheus

The original Dream, who goes by the name Morpheus, is a Byronic hero, so that even the modern day version of him reminds me of a Victorian character, something thought up by Edgar Allan Poe. It isn’t a stretch to see him as a Steampunk character, with his sombre clothing and attitude. Of course, as the King of Dreams, he is also the font of inspiration for inventions and scientific discovery.

Death with Edgar Allan Poe

Death might seem at first glance to be the original Goth chick, but her nature is sunny, rational, and optimistic. I love Gaiman’s version of Death in the Sandman, as she breaks nearly every stereotype associated with character. Thematic casting doesn’t mean two dimensional characterization. It is meant to inspire and create a framework and structure; it isn’t meant to be a cage to entrap your creativity.

Gothic cosplay isn't the same thing as being a Goth in the alternative Goth subculture.

Gothic cosplay isn’t the same thing as being a Goth in the alternative Goth subculture.

As a writer, I love thematic writing, because it create deeper meanings to resonate with my audience. The Steampunk literary genre is easily adaptable to thematic casting, with the rich pickings of the Industrial Era available for inspiration. The various parts of a motor, the different types of metals, popular Victorian novels, the different sort of velocipedes, the items of clothing unique to the era … all of this and more is available for reinterpretation in your cast of characters.

I started off using ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as my inspirational stepping-off point for my characters in my Steampunk Work-in-Progress. I’ve strayed away from that original concept, but it was a great way to give me a feel for my characters at the start of writing process. But I find I am still using subtle Wonderland analogies throughout my narrative.

Steampunk Alice's tea party

And – after all – I am taking a leaf out of Neil Gaiman’s playbook. Who am I to argue with the Rock God of Fantasy Fiction?

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Filed under Analogy, Characterization, Metaphors, Steampunk, Steampunk Themes, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, Writing Style

Blonde, Brunette or Blazing Red: A Steampunk Perspective of Victorian-era Hair (Part Two)

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Mary Ingalls

Her beautiful golden hair was gone. Pa had shaved it close because of the fever, and her poor shorn head looked like a boy’s. Her blue eyes were still beautiful, but they did not know what was before them, and Mary herself could never look through them again to tell Laura what she was thinking without saying a word. – Laura Ingalls Wilder “By the Shores of Silver Lake”

This image of a shorn Mary Ingalls stayed with me for years. In a lot of Victorian-era novels, you read of girls with a fever having their hair cut, as their hair was ‘draining their strength’. Anna Karenina has her hair cut while she has a fever, and it marks the change in her fortunes from respectable woman to ‘hysterical’ mad woman. There is the dramatic hair cutting scene in Jane Eyre, with poor Julia made to cut off her natural curls. The various types of symbology relating hair is a goldmine for a writer.

 This is how Alice should look.

Because long hair was the fashion for the 19th century, the cutting of a woman’s hair was a big deal. It was shocking to see a woman with short hair, as glorious long hair symbolised a woman’s youthfulness, femininity, and health. It would only be cut off for illness, including ‘brain fever’ or madness, or as a terrible punishment, because it was physically destroying her beauty and femininity. It could have a greater impact as seeing a woman today with her head shaved bald. This was why Anne Shirley, from Anne of Green Gables, was kept at home after she cut her hair after the dreadful dye experiment. This was why Jo from Little Women was making such a great sacrifice when she cut her hair to make money for her mother’s trip to see Jo’s father. Both Anne and Jo regretted the loss of their hair, their ‘one beauty’.

 

As she spoke, Jo took off her bonnet, and a general outcry arose, for all her abundant hair was cut short.

Your hair! Your beautiful hair! Oh, Jo, how could you? Your one beauty. My dear girl, there was no need of this. She doesn’t look like my Jo any more, but I love her dearly for it!

As everyone exclaimed, and Beth hugged the cropped head tenderly, Jo assumed an indifferent air, which did not deceive anyone a particle, and said, rumpling up the brown bush and trying to look as if she liked it, “It doesn’t affect the fate of the nation, so don’t wail, Beth. It will be good for my vanity, I getting too proud of my wig. It will do my brains good to have that mop taken off. My head feels deliciously light and cool, and the barber said I could soon have a curly crop, which will be boyish, becoming, and easy to keep in order. I’m satisfied, so please take the money and let’s have supper.”

“Tell me all about it, Jo. I am not quite satisfied, but I can’t blame you, for I know how willingly you sacrificed your vanity, as you call it, to your love. But, my dear, it was not necessary, and I’m afraid you will regret it one of these days,” said Mrs. March. – Louisa May Alcott

With hair seen as a woman’s ‘crowning glory, it isn’t hard to imagine that hair was something of a Victorian obsession. I’ve mentioned hair jewellery before, but it is worth mentioning again. Hair was often used to create keepsakes, particularly of the deceased. Locks of hair were given out for friends and family to treasure, often at the request of the dearly departed. Or the living would give up a precious lock to create a love token.

Woven Hair Jewellery

Woven Hair Jewellery

Mourning locket, gold,  hairwork, seed pearls, made by John Wilkinson Jeweller & Silversmith, Leeds, England, circa 1826. In the collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

Mourning locket, gold, hairwork, seed pearls, made by John Wilkinson Jeweller & Silversmith, Leeds, England, circa 1826. In the collection of the Powerhouse Museum.

Bouquet Brooch made with the hair of 15 individuals including 2 men and 7 children.

Bouquet Brooch made with the hair of 15 individuals including 2 men and 7 children.

Hair was a large part of a woman’s public persona, which was another reason why cutting it short was so shocking. When women started bobbing their hair in the 1920s, it was a public signal of their freedom from the restrictions society had placed them in. When Victorian women criminals entered prison, their hair was shorn, it was claimed for reasons of ‘cleanliness’, but it was also the quickest way of shearing away a woman’s confidence, making her docile and compliant to the prison’s discipline. Women fraternizing with the enemy had their head shorn as punishment, ruining their allure and making their shame public. Shorn hair was a very public way of highlighting a statement (or showing you were a bit over enthusiastic with the curling iron and have burnt off all your hair).

Long hair

In my own Steampunk narrative, my main character has unfashionable red hair … and a calm and rational temperament. Alice is a deliberate break from the stereotype of the short-fused Scottish redhead, but her hair is long and glossy. I am toying with the idea of her deliberately cutting her own hair as part of a disguise. It will need to be a much more emotional scene than if a girl was to cut her hair today. But I can use the cutting of her hair as a symbol of cutting away her restrictions within a Patriarchal society. 

If you are a Steampunk Enthusiast, I also have a site on Facebook where I share articles and images: https://www.facebook.com/SteampunkSunday

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Filed under Analogy, Author, Fashion, Historical Personage, History, Jewellery, Metaphors, Steampunk