The Italian Garden, London

Italian Gardens 1

Originally, the Kensington Gardens were part of the grounds of the Kensington Palace, the birthplace of Queen Victoria. During her reign her husband, Albert, commissioned the lovely Italian Gardens as a gift to his beloved and work was completed in 1860. Albert was an avid gardener and was entranced by the Italian-style water garden composed of ponds, terraces and raised beds along a geometric plan. This relaxing site sits on the Long Water, a river that runs into The Serpentine lake, so it is a nice place to spot birds and enjoy native water plants such as water lilies. After Albert’s death, Victoria had the Albert Memorial built on the south side of the Kensington Gardens.

Steampunk Sourcebook: Charles Darwin

Student Days

  • young-charles-darwinCharles Robert Darwin was born in 1809 in Shropshire, England. He was the fifth born of Robert and Susanna Darwin’s six children. Both his paternal and maternal grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgewood, respectively, were famous for their abolitionist activities at the end of the 19th century.
  • He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh but became fascinated by the non-human world of biological studies. His first animal kingdom of choice to study in detail was marine invertebrates, but he also learned taxidermy from a freed slave named John Edmonstone in his early days at University.
  • Darwin was first introduced to the concept of evolution during his tenure with the Plinian Society, a club devoted to natural history at the University of Edinburgh. Darwin became deeply involved after his appointment in 1826, and was later elected to the council.
  • He worked for some time at the University museum classifying plants before his neglect of his medical studies annoyed his father so much that papa Darwin sent him to Christ’s College on the road to become an Anglican parson. But rather than steering him away from the natural sciences, Charles found a passion for beetle collecting and met several supporters of Natural Theology. This philosophy is about using reason to understand the nature of God (or the gods) and his/their creations (nature).



World Traveler

  • In 1831, at the age of 21, Darwin joined a scientific expedition. It was only meant to last for two years, but in the end it lasted until 1836.
  • After some delays, the HMS Beagle embarked from England on December 27. The expedition circumnavigated the globe, and visiting far-off places with diverse ecosystems helped to further Darwin’s theories. He was not the official naturalist on the journey, but maintained a private collection.
  • The most well-known part of his journey was his stopover in the Galapagos Islands, but the fossils of extinct giant sloths on the South American mainland did just as much to fuel his new take on evolution theory as the famous finches.
  • Important Dates:
    • January 6, 1832: The Beagle makes it first stop on Tenerife Island, but the crew is not allowed to disembark because of the fear of cholera.
    • January 16, 1832: 23 days in the Cape Verde Islands, off the coast of Senegal, which at the time was a French colony.
    • February 28, 1832: All Saints Bay, Salvador, Brazil. Darwin and the Beagle’s captain, Robert FitzRoy, get into a heated argument about abolition after seeing enslaved Africans.
    • August 1832: During a survey of the Patagonian coast, Darwin found the fossil remains of huge creature that he could not identify. Experts back in Cambridge found them to be the bones of giant sloths. He also sent several teeth, beetles, and other smaller animals periodically from the expedition.
    • December 18, 1832: Darwin has his first encounter with native peoples.
    • March 1833: Falkland Islands. This area had only recently come under British control and the Beagle did survey work for the government. Darwin was intrigued by seeing a completely new set of fossils and decided to do comparative studies of all the specimens he had found so far.
    • May 1833: Darwin acquires an assistant, Syms Covington. Now that someone else was in charge of stuffing the specimens, Darwin was free to continue his detailed observations.
    • November 1833: Darwin spent time on and off the sea for a stretch of a few months and completed overland exploration and fossil collecting. His most compelling discovery was finding the bones of a giant ground sloth that were clearly below a seashell deposit. He was puzzled by how this could be possible, as the movement of the earth’s crust through plate tectonics and the number of times the earth underwent climate change were still unknown to science.
    • February 1834: Darwin turns 25, and FitzRoy names the highest peak in the area Mt. Darwin in his honor.
    • September 1834: Darwin is ill for several weeks with a fever. He stays at the home of a former classmate in Valapairiso, Chile.
    • February 20, 1835: A massive earthquake hits the region where Darwin’s group is studying and after investigating the island of Quiriquina he found that several land masses moved inches or even feet during the quake. This supported the theories of Charles Lyell, whose work was an important point of debate at the Plinian Society.
    • July 19, 1835: The Beagle takes on provisions in Lima, Peru, to get ready to cross the Pacific Ocean.
    • September 15, 1835: The Galapagos Archipelago is sighted.
    • November 15, 1835: The Beagle arrives in Tahiti.
    • December 21, 1835: Arrival in New Zealand.
    • January 12, 1836: Arrival in Australia.
    • February 5, 1836: Arrival in Tasmania.
    • April 1, 1836: Arrival in the Cocos Islands, Indian Ocean.
    • May 31, 1836: The Beagle sails around the tip of Africa and anchors in Simon’s Bay.
    • August 6, 1836: After years at sea, the Beagle finally sets it sights on England.
    • October 2, 1836: The ship arrives in Britain and Darwin heads directly for home after four years, nine months and five days.
  • Darwin published his first book, widely known as The Voyage of the Beagle, in 1839.


Competing Theories of Evolution

  • Transmutation/Transformism: It got its name from clchemy and the attempts to change a base metal into gold. It was first introduced by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in his book Philosophie Zoologique (1809). In this theory, it was believed that “nervous fluid” drove organisms to greater and greater complexity. The idea that later generations could inherit the traits of their ancestors was also important, but focused more on individual change than any sort of larger, species-wide shifts.
  • Eugenics: The word arose in 1883, but the idea of improving the human race through controlling our breeding and research on the topic started much earlier in the 1800s. For instance, the castration of lunatics and criminals in order to keep them from passing on their unsavory traits was advocated for long before Darwin’s theories were published, but it was Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, who first coined the phrase. It gained popularity during the early 1900s, but lost favor after it was used by Ernst Rudin to justify the Nazi’s racial politics. Nevertheless, several countries adopted eugenics policies, starting with the United States in the early 1900s and ending with Switzerland in 1975.
  • Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation: This book was published anonymously in 1844. It applies the theory of transmutation to all things, including the solar system. It concluded that Caucasian people were the pinnacle of creation, and that God’s direct intervention was not necessary for species to change. Darwin would later regard it as the work that made people open to his theories. Prince Albert is said to have read it to Queen Victoria to get her up to speed with scientific knowledge. After his death in 1871, Scottish publisher Robert Chambers was revealed to be the author.
  • On the Origin of Species: Darwin had planned to release his treatise after his death, but he got word from Lyell that another Naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace, was about to publish similar theories. Wallace was actually the one to accurately describe natural selection, and sent Darwin a short paper on the subject in 1858. Their theories were presented jointly at a Linnean Society meeting but did not receive the attention that was expected. Darwin could not attend due to the death of his young son by scarlet fever. His book was completed and published November of 1859. By the end of the 1860s, most scientists were in agreement that evolution had taken place, but there was no agreement as to the mechanism. The majority still believed that God was behind it, not natural selection.

References in Steampunk Literature

  • In The Strange Affair of Spring-heeled Jack (2010) by Mark Hodder, Charles Darwin is the villainous force behind a mysterious plot in an alternate timeline where Queen Victoria was assassinated in 1840. In the world Hodder created, the Technologists and Eugenicists (with Darwin as their leader) are at war.
  • In the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfield, Darwin not only discovered the forces behind evolution, but also its building blocks, DNA. In this alternate version of events, The Darwinists use genetics to creating living weapons in their war with the “Clankers,” who use technology.
  • If you like graphic novels, you can follow Edgar Allan Poe, Abe Lincoln, and Charles Darwin as three children with incredible destinies who find themselves kidnapped by a dimension-traveling cowboy in Charlie Darwin or the Trine of 1809. Hurried away to meet the Princess of Avalon – they discover just how extraordinary the world really is!
  • Many books use references to Darwin as a way to situate their stories in time. For instance, his name is mentioned in The Difference Engine as being among the new privileged class of intellectuals collectively called “savants.”

Steampunk Sourcebook: Jules Verne

Hetzel_front_coverFun Facts and Context

  • Jules Gabriel Verne was born on Feb. 8, 1828 and died from complications of diabetes on Mar. 24 1905.
  • He was on track to become a lawyer when he started writing articles and fiction for magazines, as well as penning plays.
  • In the English speaking world he was regarded as a children’s writer during his lifetime, probably because of the popularity of his genre fiction, which was often abridged when translated. Nowadays of course he is considered one of the “fathers of science fiction,” along with H. G. Wells. As far as I could find, the two of them never met in person, which isn’t too surprising consider their age gap (Verne was 38 years old when Wells was born).
  • Verne’s imagination was captured by travel and the trope of the “castaway” early in his life. As a child, he had a teacher whose husband had been lost at sea and believed he would some day be found living life like Robinson Crusoe (published 1719). He often stranded his characters on islands during their adventures, such as in In Search of Castaways (1867-1868), The Mysterious Island (1874), and Two Years’ Vacation (1888).
  • Verne made lots of famous friends during his lifetime. His close relationship to Alexandre Dumas Jr. and Sr. helped him as a playwright early in his career. He was also a buddy of the noted French explorer and geographer Jacques Arago whose accounts of his travels around the globe helped to lead Verne to his path as a travel writer.
  • He fell in love with Honorine de Viane Morel, the sister-in-law of a good friend, in 1856. In order to provide enough financial security to marry her, he went into finance. But there was no way Verne was going to totally abandon his first love, his literary career. He woke early in the morning to write before heading to the office.
  • Two years later, at the age of 30,  Verne got his first chance to leave France. That year he traveled to the British Isles, and upon returning to Paris he wrote a semi-biographical novel called Backwards to Britain, but it was not published until 1989. In 1861 he visited Sweden, Norway and Denmark and missed the birth of his son, Michel the same year. After he found literary success, he purchased a succession of larger and larger vessels which he used to travel all around Europe.
  • Unfortunately traveling became difficult for Verne after an incident in 1886. His nephew, Gaston, suffered from paranoia and shot his uncle in the leg (or foot, depending on the account) and Verne never fully recovered. Luckily for his fans, this did not stop him from continuing to write sometimes two novels a year.
  • According to one article I found, there is a lot of evidence the Verne plagiarized large portions his most well-known work, Journey to the Center of the Earth. He was sued by Leon Delmas in 1863, and the court case was not resolved until 1874.
  • With the help of Verne’s son, some of his books were published posthumously.
  • Several of Verne’s manuscripts and plays were found in a safe 1989, so have only recently seen the light of day. Among these was a novel called Paris in the Twentieth Century, which was initially rejected by Verne’s publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, because of its pessimistic view of the future. The story is set in a dystopian 1960 (97 years after it was written), and predicted the invention of many things that ended up being absolutely correct such as gas-powered cars, fax machines, elevators and sky scrapers.

Verne’s most note-worthy works

I’ve been writing about Verne off and on since I started this website, so I won’t reproduce all of my reviews and info again verbatim.. Here are links to those articles:

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Steampunk Sourcebook: Captain Nemo

Around the World in 80 Days book review, Steampunk Sourcebook and review of the Steampunk reinterpretation The Other Log of Phileas Fogg.

Journey to the Center of the Earth book and 2008 movie

The Mysterious Island movies in 2005, 2012 and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 2012, which actually served as a sequel to the Journey to the Center of the Earth film. I have not yet read the book myself, but plan to some time in the future and will add a link then 🙂

Are you a fan of Jules Verne? What’s your favorite book?





Steampunk Sourcebook: H. G. Wells

Fun Facts and Context

  • young-h-g-wellsHerbert George (H. G.) Wells (1866-1946) and his sci-fi classics of course predate the word “steampunk.” In fact, they even predate the term “science fiction.” In his own time, works like the Time Machine were called “scientific romances.”
  • He was called “Bertie” by his family.
  • He grew up in Bromley, a south east suburb of London. Evolution scientist Charles Darwin and John Lubbock aka Lord Avebury, the creator of bank holidays, also called this borough home.
  • Wells’ writing was heavily influenced by his background in biology. In fact, the first book he ever published was a biology textbook, and he worked for the publication Nature as a young man.
  • In addition to sci-fi, he also wrote extensively on history, eugenics, politics, the first World War, and social issues like Zionism. In total, he wrote more than 75 books and short story compilations on various subjects, which are in the public domain and free to read.
  • He also had a special interest in art. He drew many caricatures and humoristic cartoons, which he called “picshuas.” His drawings were compiled and made into a book called The Picshuas of H.G. Wells: A Burlesque Diary  which was published in 2006. Before they were compiled, many of these funny doodles were in An Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (Since 1866), which Wells wrote over only a two-year period and was released in two volumes in 1934.
  • Wells first marriage was in 1891 to his cousin, Isabel Mary Wells, but the couple divorced when he fell in love with one of his students. He married the student, Amy Catherine Robbins (whose nickname was Jane) in 1895. They remained married until Jane’s death in 1927, but during that time and with his wife’s permission Wells had several affairs with notable women. The list includes writers Amber Reeves and Rebecca West, who each bore one of his four children.
  • His success saw him rubbing shoulders with world leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin.
  • Wells himself occasionally makes appearances in Steampunk literature, television, and movies. For instance, the unnamed time traveler in The Time Machine was given his initials in the 1960 movie. He made an appearance on the Canadian detective series Murdoch Mysteries in 2010, and consistent to his real-life character he is the guest speaker at a Eugenics Society meeting (and engaging in romantic dalliances in spite of his marital status). A female H. G. Wells was an important character on the TV show Warehouse 13 even though it takes place in the present (she was “bronzed” in the 20th century after her erratic behavior led to the death of a fellow Warehouse 12 agent).

The Best-Known Works of H. G. Wells

The Time Machine (1895)

  • Short Synopsis: The main character, who is only ever referred to as “the time traveler” by the narrator, invites gentlemen of note to his home to tell them the thrilling tale of his adventures in the faraway past and the distant future. While in the year 802,701, he finds the human race has changed drastically and has in fact split into two separate species. (Read my review)
  • The book was published first as a serial novella in a magazine in 1895, and Wells received $100 upon completion.
  • In the original serial, Wells’ editor insisted on an extra stop in time and different type of human in addition to the Morlocks and Eloi. This section was dropped when the whole story was compiled into a  book, but you can still read the missing text at
  • This story was the first time the term “time machine” was ever used, but not the first story Wells wrote about time travel. He published a short story seven years earlier entitled The Chronic Argonauts.
  • One of Wells’ many nonfiction works was also a form of time-travel. In his 1901 release, Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought, he speculated about the world in the year 2000. Decades later he wrote another fiction book called The Shape of Things to Come that looked at events through 2106.
  • Novels too wordy? You have several visual adaptations from which to choose. A faithful feature film was made in 1960, a reinterpretation starring Guy Pierce in 2002 and it has also been reproduced as a graphic novel by Terry Davis.
  • K. W. Jeter, the author who first coined the term “steampunk,” wrote a sequel called Morlock Night in 1979. It combines elements of The Time Machine, the search for the lost city of Atlantis, and the legend of King Arthur.

The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896)

  • Short Synopsis: The narrator is a monied drifter with a background in science. His tale starts with the sinking of his passenger ship, the Lady Vain, and his subsequent week at sea. He eventually finds himself stranded on an uncharted island populated by the experiments by the mad Doctor Moreau. (Read my review)
  • This was Wells’ way of weighing in on the growing debates about vivisection (dissection of creatures while they are still alive) and degeneration (seeking explanations for social change in biological systems).
  • There have been several movie adaptations, including a film directed and starred in by Tim Burton (The Island of Dr. Agor, 1971) when he was 13. The earliest film was a French silent movie released in 1911, followed by a Bela Lugosi piece in 1932 and a Filipino one in 1959. Later, Marlon Brando graced the silver screen in the role of Dr. Moreau and a hot-off-the-Batman-set Val Kilmer played his assistant in a surreal, futuristic setting (aka 2010).
  • A new version produced in conjunction by Leonardo DiCaprio and Warner Bros., and penned by the team behind Hemlock Grove, is currently in production.
  • The writers of the television show Penny Dreadful have announced plans to integrate elements of the original novel into the third season.

The Invisible Man (1897)    

  • Short Synopsis: A scientist devises a way to make the human body refract light, rendering it invisible. Unfortunately, he is unable to find a way to reverse the effect, and in his desperation he turns to a life of crime.
  • It was first serialized in Pearson’s Weekly during 1897 and came out as a novella the same year.
  • Unlike Wells’ earlier novels which are told from the viewpoint of a first-person narrator, this book is in the third person.
  • The first film adaptation in 1933 is hailed as one of the most important horror movies of all time. Though few of the later films follow Wells’ story, an invisible villain is an oft-used trope in scary movies, whereas in TV the protagonist sometimes uses his powers for the forces of good.
  • Hawley Griffin, the mad scientist behind the formula, appears in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels and, true to Wells’ story, he is more often a villain than a hero even though he is a member of the League. For the movie, they had to create a new “invisible man” character named Rodney Skinner due to copyright issues surrounding the 1933 movie.

The War of the Worlds (1898)

  • Short synopsis: The Earth is put in mortal danger when be-tentacled Martians and their massive walking death rays land in Surrey. (Read my review)
  • Serialized simultaneously in Pearson’s Magazine (UK) and Cosmopolitan (US) in 1897. Two different US magazines pirated Wells’ story shortly after it concluded in Pearson’s and changed the setting to New York and Boston respectively. A year later Garret P. Serviss wrote a sequel called Edison’s Conquest of Mars.
  • Since it was first published as a novel in 1898 it has never gone out of print.
  • Woking homage by War of DreamsWells was living in Surrey with his second wife when he wrote the book. He came up with the idea while on walk in the countryside. Many of the characters were based on acquaintances from the area. A statue of a Martian tripod can be seen at the Woking train station today.
  • Most people have heard the urban legend of the mass hysteria caused by a 1938 Halloween radio broadcast of the tale. In fact, the accounts were likely exaggerated by the newspaper industry in an attempt to demonize and undermine the new radio technology and protect their business interests.
  • There have been three full-length, live-action adaptations made of this story. The original one was made in 1953 but it was the updated, big-budget Steven Spielberg flick from 2005 that I saw first. Within the last few years, a less-touted version called “War of the Worlds The True Story” goes back to the novel’s roots and posits the tale as the firsthand account of one Bertie Wells, the last survivor of the Martian War.
  • The first film spawned a TV sequel, and in the late 1980’s a version of events set in that present came to televisions everywhere.
  • There have also been several movie “sequels” (often straight to VHS jobs) where the narrators fears are realized and angry Martians return to re-ignite the fight.
  • On the animated front, Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Angel) lent his voice to an film called War of the Worlds Goliath in 2012.
  • There is currently a short film getting ready for production that will tell the story from the perspective of the Martians.  I’ll give you the details once the Kickstarter is launched.
  • The events of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 2 are based on this book.
  • In 2014, a Twitter user named Henry Legg live-tweeted as if he was experiencing The War of the Worlds first-hand. He later tweeted that he hopes to make it an annual event with other Twitter users adding their voices to the event.

The First Men in the Moon (1901)THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (HI RES)

  • Short synopsis: Thanks to a revolutionary new metal, two men travel to the moon and are taken prisoner by the insect-like inhabitants of the tunnels that run throughout. (Read my review)
  • During Wells’ time, astronomers already knew that the moon was made up of material similar to that of the Earth, but they also knew it was only about 1/3 the density. Their highly logical, though we know now totally wrong, conclusion was that the moon must be filled with tunnels that ran deep into the sphere. Wells also placed a massive lake at the center.
  • The aliens, called Selenites after the goddess of the moon, Selena (in Greek mythology), are manipulated from birth to fulfill one very specific function each. The society is built on each member doing their single job, and if there is no work to be done, they are put to sleep to conserve resources.
  • This tale has been adapted to film four times between 1969 and 2010. The most recent, and by accounts the most faithful adaptation, was a made for TV movie for the BBC and starred Mark Gatiss, co-creator and writer for BBC’s Sherlock.

Have you read any of these books? Or other works by Wells? Please share below!