Steampunk is a cultural movement that combines the aesthetics and technology of the 19th century with elements of science fiction. Its literary and audiovisual works take place in an alternate reality where technological progress is based not on electricity, but on steam power.
Steampunk, a World of Steam
Steam (or “steam” in English) is a central element of steampunk. Indeed, the technology featured in this universe is usually as advanced as that of our modern world, except that it uses steam as its source of energy, rather than electricity, gas, or oil. As a result, steampunk technology takes on a retro look reminiscent of the industrial revolution.
As Douglas Fetherling puts it, “steampunk is a genre that imagines how different the past might have been if the future had arrived earlier.”
In short, steampunk features modern technology with a retro look.
Aesthetically, steampunk draws its inspiration from the fashion of Victorian England (1837-1901), as well as from the Belle Epoque (1871-1914) in France and the Civil War (1861-1865) in the United States. Moreover, the costumes of these eras are often modernized by the addition of mechanical elements with visible gears.
The codes of steampunk fashion - For men, a long coat and top hat are de rigueur. For women, the corset is a recurring element.
And what about the "punk" in steampunk ?
To understand the place of Punk in steampunk, it is necessary to go back to the origins of the genre. The first appearance of the term “steampunk” dates back to 1987, in a letter from American writer Kevin Jeter addressed to the magazine Locus. Jokingly, the author uses the word steampunk to define the Victorian fictions he writes with his acolytes Tim Powers and James Blaylock. The term “punk” is mainly there to serve as a parody reference to Cyberpunk, as the libertarian ideology of punk is much less pronounced in Steampunk than in Cyberpunk.
From a simple joke, steampunk has become today a genre in its own right, present on all cultural supports (cinema, TV series, video games…). It is also a way of life for some. In fact, steampunk enthusiasts are called Steamers, or Vaporists in France.
The general public knows steampunk, but they don’t know it yet…
The word “steampunk” is still quite unknown. However, the genre and its aesthetics are familiar to the general public through various works.
First of all, one could almost classify some of the illustrious Jules Verne’s novels in the steampunk category. Indeed, in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the Nautilus is a futuristic submarine evolving in a classical era (1867-1868). But since this classic of French literature was written in the 19th century, it will rather be qualified as a science fiction novel.
We could also mention The Wild Wild West. In this famous TV series, as well as in its movie adaptation, two secret agents travel the Far West of the 1870s and use anachronistic inventions to fight their adversaries.
Likewise, the comics and movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are among the best-known steampunk works. This story features characters from popular literature of the late 19th century (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Sherlock Holmes, etc…), and brings them together within an elite unit to protect Victorian England against fantastic and futuristic threats.
In comics, we also have Jacques Tardi’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. It follows the investigations of a young journalist in a Belle-Époque Paris imbued with mysticism and the supernatural.
Finally, steampunk has made multiple video-game appearances. BioShock Infinite (2013) is for example a perfect representative of the genre. The game’s story takes place in 1912, in a city floating in the air. With its impeccable production and its thrilling plot, this game has deeply marked minds.
And now ?
If you want to learn more about this enchanting universe, take a look at our blog.
And if you like the retro-futuristic style, our steampunk shop should please you. We offer exclusive steampunk jewelry. With models with an out-of-the-ordinary design such as our Mechanica necklace, we have the ambition to prove that costume jewelry can rival the elegance of high-end creations. Our shop also offers an enchanting collection of various and varied accessories, such as pocket watches, steampunk watches or steampunk goggles.