Sunday, December 04, 2011

Masculinity & Steampunk

Santos Dumont
Wikimedia Commons
 Lately, I've been writing a story set in a world with an alternate history where magic works, it's the beginning of the 20th century, and dirigibles are in the air.  The process has been an integrative one for me, because little bits of history that I've usually not connected in my head have come together.

My story involves a small airship, slightly larger than the one Santos Dumont flew around the Eiffel Tower circa 1900.  (The really big airships, like the zeppelins of Germany, didn't appear in historical skies until about 1910.  Transatlantic and trans-US crossings didn't happen until the 1930's.)  

Lewis Hine, 1920.
Power house mechanic
working on steam pump
Wikimedia Commons

Since my characters are American citizens raised in England, they "Remember the Maine!"  It also means they're Victorians.  My challenge writing alternate-history American-Victorians is preserving the feel of culture while writing a gay male character who isn't committing "a sin unspeakable in Christian circles," and a female character more active than Willamina Harker.  (Yes, the Harkers and Count Dracula are from this time period, too.)  I think I can justify some of the characters' cultural expectation by using an alternate history religion that I've played with before -- it helps that instead of a same-sex trinity, the godhead is a gender-balanced quartet. 

So I have to examine how to write masculinity.  On one hand is the "muscular Christianity" that E.M. Forester commented on, with its homo-social prep-schools filled with fine young men learning Greek and honing their bodies with athletic games.  With the alternate-religion of the world, I think I can focus on the strong body, strong mind ethic to help preserve that old English Empire feel.  And since The Father and The Mother of the Quartet are equals, there's less pressure to have a "The spiritually manly man is the head of his household" morality.

Oscar Wilde
Wikimedia Commons
But at the opposite end of the historical definition of early twentieth century manliness is Oscar Wilde, The Aesthete.  In this time period, if one was a refined, nonathletic, aesthete, one was not a manly-man.  And Steampunk, the romanticized version of the industrial revolution, is firmly rooted on the Manly Man in the Steamworks; the Self-sufficient, Burly Explorer; the Civilized Marshall of the Inner-Brute.  The aesthete hadn't marshaled his inner-brute so much as banished it (if he ever had one to begin with).

Anyway... that's been what's peculating in the back of my head.  Now... onto writing the story.   And I think I'm going to try my hand at more Steampunk, if only to try different ways of queering it.

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