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    Farewell with Victorian Fabrication(31 Jul 2014)
    By Miss Shannon Rollins

    I’ve had such a wonderful time blogging here on the IGA website, and will be sad to return to my own, TLC-needing blog (http://steampunkette.blogspot.co.uk).  I really appreciate all of the kind attention given to my fledgling ideas: this has been such a safe space to share in, that I’m both excited for and jealous of the August blogger for having it!  Anyways, as promised previously, today I will provide a quick glance at Victorian fabrication.

     

    When I refer to Victorian fabrication, what I really mean is the Romantic tendency to reinvigorate the past – namely, the medieval – with an anachronistic reverence that has influenced what Postmodern critic Fredric Jameson called ‘nostalgia’.  Have I lost you yet?  Let me back up a bit, to the eighteenth century.

    (Image from: http://londonunveiled.com/2012/09/01/strawberryhill/)

    Horace Walpole, a younger son of politician/proto-Prime Minister Robert Walpole, knew that without grievous misfortune on his brothers he would never inherit an ancestral property.  Determined not to endure such a fate, he bought ramshackle Chopp’d Straw Hall (Twickenham) in 1747, and set about creating his own ‘hereditary seat’, an obvious conceit, and began renovating the small hall into an a-temporal Neo/Rival/Hodgepodge Gothic delight.  My personal experience with Walpole’s Strawberry Hill House coincided with my self-actualising Gothic moment with the Gothic: Culture, Subculture, Counterculture conference, held at the House in union with St. Mary’s University College Twickenham.  Walpole’s attention to medieval detail, yet concession to eighteenth century technical prowess meant gothic arches dominated fireplace mantles, cathedral spires brought indoors in miniature as decorative elements, stained glass and grandeur surrounded by fashionable wall colours.  Consciously, Walpole mixed the two disparate times together to his own tastes, without regards for authenticity or historical accuracy.  He fabricated a home that was both contemporary in comforts and historicising in aesthetic to give the illusion of an ancestral property.  Less than 100 years later, an early Victorian would echo this Gothic performativity: The Eglinton Tournament in 1839.

    When Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, it was with limited fanfare.  Her uncle’s coronation before her had been during a time of significant financial trouble for the kingdom, which led to a remarkably truncated ceremony, removing all but the most vital aspects of the medieval performance.  With this still a recent memory, Victoria’s own coronation was carried out without the customary pomp and circumstance as well, leaving the aristocracy bereft of their inherited roles in the changing of the monarch.  It was this disillusioned environment that led to the 13th Earl of Eglinton – Archibald Montgomerie – holding a medieval tournament on his familial castle grounds.  This anachronistic event was meant to placate himself and his fellow disappointed nobles with feudal pursuits of jousting, parading, sporting, and feasting.  What should have been the social event of the year – with a suggested 14/15th century dress code announced in the papers – was ultimately a massive disappointment, with torrential rain keeping many would-be spectators away from the lists.  Just like Walpole, Eglinton felt disenfranchised and sought to rectify this by playing with time.  While obvious homage was paid to past tournaments, much of the activity sought to please the participants and fill the void left by Victoria’s spartan coronation. 

    So, there exists a long tradition of mimicking the medieval without reverence to authenticity.  Romantic literature and artwork grew out of this regard for the past, some including a distaste for pervasive Industrialisation, that glorified more medieval tropes, engaging in what we know lovingly know as Gothic.  Steampunk, with its love of the Romantic era, is identical to Walpole/Eglinton in its thirst for past aesthetic, performative application, and inauthentic celebration.  Hoorah for Gothic! Hoorah for Steampunk!  Long Live Victoria! 
     

     

    If you’d like to delve further into Steampunk, I suggest: 

    Art Donovan (2011) The Art of Steampunk: Catalogue from the exhibit at Oxford

    Steampunk (2008) ed. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer: A short story anthology

    William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1990) The Difference Engine: Credited as the first Steampunk novel

    Jeff VanderMeer and S.J. Chambers (2011) The Steampunk Bible: slightly flawed, but hugely important compendium of Steampunk history/output

     

    Blog Bibliography

    Anstruther, Ian. 1963. The Knight and the Umbrella: An Account of the Eglinton Tournament 1839.(Geoffrey Bles LTD, London)

    ‘Lord Eglinton’s Tournament’. 1839. New Sporting Magazine. 17, (101)(09): 186-187

    Tournaments and Tea’. 1877. All the year round. ed Charles Dickens Jr. 18, (450) July 14, 1877: 471-476

    Visit Strawberry Hill House – Horace Walpole’s Gothic Castle: http://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/index.php

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