Steampunk Sourcebook: Victorian Vampires

Fun Facts and Context

  • There are many different terms for vampires (also spelled vampyre in English), such as vyrkolakas (Greek), Bulgarian and Macedonian вампир (vampir), Bosnian: lampir, Croatian vampir, Czech and Slovak upír, Polish wąpierz, and (perhaps East Slavic-influenced) upiór, Ukrainian упир (upyr), Russian упырь (upyr‍ ’​), Belarusian упыр (upyr). However, “nosferatu” was not actually a term in any language for vampire until it appeared in a travelogue. Most likely, this word came from a mis-attribution of a word the loosely means “devil” or “demon” in old Romanian, and referred specifically to the illegitimate offspring of illegitimate parents.
  • Cultures across the ages and the globe have some variation of the vampire in their mythology. But, the vampire as we know it in the English-speaking world is largely based on the same handful of European legends, and aspects of these stories have become canon. The Victorian era (and those immediately before and after) was when many of these tales were recorded for the first time. This is what we know about vampires from that era:
    • They are dead. Or, undead to be more precise.
    • They are cold, on account of said dead-ness.
    • They have bad breath.
    • They drink blood. They don’t seem to do so maliciously, rather they are trying to prolong their existences. (Though of course, certain individuals who were probably jerks in their regular lives as well as their after lives, prove to enjoy mind games in addition to supper.)
    • In these stories, there is a first-person narrator but it is never the vampire. There is a survivor telling a tale to others, be it around the fire at Christmas or just to record it for posterity. This gives the stories the feeling of a warning or morality tale.
  • draculaThen there are the things that we all think we know about vampires, but only became canon later in a large part because of films like Nosferatu (1922) and Dracula (1931), which were both more or less based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel. Here are some examples:
    • They hate Christian stuff such as crucifixes and communion wafers. Despite being one of the first things a person will say if you ask them to describe a vampire, I didn’t find many references to this particular phobia in my research. This appears to be a totally Victorian era addition to the lore. It may have had something to do with the belief that the bodies of heretics do not in fact decompose.
    • They can turn into other things, such as bats, wolves or mist. Again, this is not common. They may have power over animals, but this seems to be more like a large predator scaring away smaller ones rather than some sort of magical ability.
    • They need to return to their coffins (or at least to the soil in which they were buried) in order to sustain themselves. Blood alone is not enough. Though many vampires rest in their coffins, this seems to have more to do with safety than any real need.
    • Vampires hate garlic. This is from the Slavic vampire tradition, from which Stoker drew for his material. People in this part of the world believed that garlic was effective against a number of supernatural evils, including witches. If one was suspected of cavorting with the supernatural, they were given garlic either raw or cooked into a dish. This practice continued as late the 1970s in some churches in the Slavic region, as well as stuffing the mouths of the deceased with garlic to keep evil spirits from inhabiting the body.
    • They sleep all day and only come out at night. And, when it is their nap time, vamps don’t put up much of a fight.
  • Then, of course, there are things that are true for some tales and not for others. The earliest vampire stories and myths that influenced the Victorian era were from places like Hungary and, of course, Romania. Each culture has a slightly different take on vampire detection and habits. For instance:
    • Hungarian vampires only feed on family members. In small, rural villages this could mean that an entire settlement can become infected with vampirism due to the shallowness of the gene pool. The family tie vampires seem to be the most concerned with making more vampires, while the majority are only eating folks to keep themselves living.
    • Some vampires only come out at night, while others are at total liberty to walk about as they please.
    • Some vampires are snappy dressers, while others prefer to wear whatever rags they still have from their burial.
    • Many vampires have been imprisoned for centuries, only to awaken because of a disturbance of their tombs. This is an interesting parallel to another fan favorite of the Victorian era, stories of a mummy’s curse.
    • While some tales favor burning the body as a means to a final end, others advocated the driving of a stake through the heart, decapitation, an incantation/prayer, or some combination of these. Starvation can occasionally do the trick, but usually only incapacitates rather than kills.
    • As convenient as it is for vampire slayers when their victims turn to dust, this isn’t always the case in the lore. This seems to only happen if the vampire is extremely old, where new vampires just look like corpses once slain.
    • Some vampires are cold-blooded predators, while others feel really bad about what they are doing to their victims and try to make what is left of their lives pleasant.
    • Some of them have hypnotic powers which can be used to seduce their victims or to make witnesses keep a vow of secrecy.
    • In some cultures you should never speak the name of a deceased person whom you suspect could rise as a vampire or it will come to pass.
    • Though many vampires take pains to get a formal invitation into their victims’ homes, others just break in and take what they want.
    • Some vampires are made by other vampires, but living a “sacrilegious life” in Greece could also do the trick, and includes such small infractions as drinking too much. Slavs should also be on the lookout for people who are excessively happy, while we are told that in the 1700’s in Moravia it was not uncommon for dead people to show up at a party and point out the next to die, who will repeat the performance for the next victim unless precautions are taken.


As I discussed in last month’s How to Punk Your Steam article, the steam era was full of supernatural stories and creatures to lurk in the shadows of our nightmares. Unlike today, it was not uncommon for people in the 18th-19th centuries to see dead bodies, either right after death or after they were exumed to make more room in an over-crowded cemetery. Public executions and dissections were treated as a cause for celebration. But, even though there was more exposure to the dead, the nature of decomposition was not well-understood. Sometimes corpses just refused to look the way people thought they should, whether due to the amount of moisture or acid in the soil, depth of burial, or some other factor. This often lead to supernatural explanations for totally natural phenomena.

varney-coverMen and women penned vampire tales for periodicals, short story collections and even recorded myths in their travelogues. I recently finished a fantastic collection of these stories published in 2010 called Dracula’s Guest: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories and edited by Michael Sims (The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime, Arsene Lupi, Gentleman Thief). The following is a partial list of vampire stories based on his selections, and while many are old enough to be in the public domain they can be hard to track down on their own.

A Mystery of the Campagna, Anne Crawford

A True Story of a Vampire, Eric, Count Stenbock

And the Creature Came in, Augustus Hare

Good Lady Ducayne, Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Let Loose, Mary Cholmondeley

The End of My Journey, George Gordon, Lord Byron

The Family of the Vourdalak, Aleksei Tolstoy

The Mysterious Stranger, Anonymous

The Tomb of Sarah, F. G. Loring

The Vampyre, John Polidori

Varney the Vampire, James Malcom Rymer

Wake Not the Dead, Theophile Gautier

Take a Trip Down Memory Lane with the Earliest Footage of London

Yestervid is a super cool website that compiles footage from the earliest days of filmmaking. This montage features some of the oldest film and sound recordings around the city of London, and they have a map showing the exact location and camera angle for reference.

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.”

Hyde Park

Hyde ParkThere are eight Royal Parks in London, and this one dates back to the 1500s. Over time, different monarchs, architects, and gardeners have changed the landscape from a prime place to hunt deer to a sprawling grassy knoll perfect for picnics. It’s an appropriate site for “steam tourism” because the Great Exhibition was held on its grounds in 1851. There is nothing left of the Crystal Palace today, but this green respite is still a very nice place to visit.

Victorian_Mobs_RiotsIf you are there on a Sunday and you stop by Speaker’s Corner on the north-east side of the park, you may still see people exercising their right to free speech on the same spot that has seen countless protests and demonstrations, including several advocating for the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the early 1900s. The Kensington Gardens used to be part of Hyde Park, but today they are considered separate entities due to a road that was built in the 1820s.

How to Punk Your Steam Part 3: Make it Multicultural

For some people, Steampunk isn’t Steampunk unless there is some connection to jolly ol’ England, but I find this view to be unreasonably limiting. The period surrounding the Industrial Revolution in England saw unprecedented opportunities for travel and exploration, and the people of Western Europe became fascinated with (sometimes fictionalized) accounts of these journeys. These travelogues were definitely influenced by the culture of the observers and can tell us just as much, or in some cases more, about the writers than the places they actually visit.

For instance, Jules Verne’s contrasting characterizations of the phlegmatic Phileas Fogg (English), the emotional and adventurous Passepartout (French), and the short-tempered, violent Colonel Stamp Proctor (American) from Around the World in 80 Days, as well as the unflappable Hans (Icelandic) from Journey to the Center of the Earth, are all attributed to their country of origin. He and Arthur Conan Doyle also capture classist attitudes that were prevalent at the time in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Lost World, respectively. In both of these stories, there are the people who are really considered people (the aristocrats, scientists and journalists) and those who are barely regarded as such (servants, fishermen, crew and porters). When reading The Lost World, I was particularly struck by this when at one point a character laments being left “completely alone” by his comrades, when in fact there are several native people carrying his gear only a few feet away.

These attitudes were very real and abundant, and it is one reason that there are people who openly criticize Steampunk. They believe that to laud the writings and styles of those times is the celebrate this kind of bigotry and narrow view of the world. I completely disagree. Steampunk is a chance to confront issues like increasing wealth disparity and racism that still exist today. We’ve made some great social strides in the last 100 years, but we are still far from having “fixed” these problems, and fiction is a wonderful way to open the discussion, not to mention the minds of readers. As authors, we can create any world we want, be it “true” to the times we want to reflect, or acting as a direct confrontation to the ideals of that period.

As you probably know, one of the best places to find information about multiculturalism in Steampunk is the Beyond Victoriana website, but if you have never visited I highly recommend it. This the blurb from their homepage:

The Nutshell Explanation
“Beyond Victoriana is the oldest-running blog about multicultural steampunk and retro-futurism–that is, steampunk outside of a Western-dominant, Eurocentric framework. Founded in 2009, Beyond Victoriana focuses on non-Western cultures, underrepresented minorities in Western histories (Asian / Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, First Nation, Hispanic, black / African & other marginalized identities), and the cultural intersection between the West and the non-West.”

One of my favorite features of this site is how many videos of panels and discussions they have posted. Here is just one of the may they have to offer.

The Arrival cover
The Arrival cover

I also enjoy the work that Suna Dasi and Yomi Ayeni do over at Steampunk India. The relationship between England and its various colonies during the Victorian era is a fascinating bit of history and cultural intersection. I missed connecting with Suna while I was in the UK last summer, but I did get a chance to chat with Ayeni while he was selling and signing books at Weekend at the Asylum in Lincoln. I picked up one of his books, The Arrival, and I plan to review it a little bit later in 2015, but the world of Clockwork Watch goes much deeper than just the three books. Ayeni is actively engaged in “transmedia” which involves telling a single continuous story across many different media including online participation, live theater, and film as well as books and graphic novels.

But, there is a lot of the world that was never colonized by the Brits, and there were fascinating things going on during the time period most often involved in Steampunk. Bulgaria, for instance, has a very interesting history. Since living here I have seen distinctive 19th century architecture from the neo-Byzantine period and learned about the turmoil and uprising against the Ottoman Empire during the 1870s. Another place I have called home this year is Greece, which faced impoverished conditions in the 1890s that forced many of its people to the flee to the United States in hopes of finding a better life. Spain had an Empire that rivaled England’s and was in turmoil after Napolean’s occupation (1808-1814), paving the way for multiple uprisings and changes of leadership. History is full of stories just begging to be told through a Steampunk lens!

Bath house, Sofia Bulgaria
Bath house, Sofia Bulgaria

Steam Garden posterThe mid to late 1800s also saw an unprecedented “opening” of Japan. Britain had colonies as far east as China, but Japan had remained totally isolated from the rest of the world until the American government negotiated the first trade agreement in 1851. By 1854 Japan was doing a brisk business in Western Europe, and items like silk and kimonos were all the rage. There are some beautiful examples of this in the Victorian and Albert Museum in London. According to an article published in 1854, “In view of the events that have followed, the ending of Japan’s self-isolation and opening of the country, first to American commerce and later to world-wise intercourse, must now be regarded as an achievement of momentous consequence, far exceeding in important all that even the most prophetic statesmanship of the time could foresee” (Matthew C. Perry)

Steampunk itself has recently gained traction in modern day Japan, and they now hold their own Steampunk events.

And let’s not forget that there was racial and cultural diversity within English-speaking countries. The experiences of free and enslaved Africans in the US in the period surrounding the American Civil War would have been very different than those of their white counterparts. Out West it was largely Chinese immigrants who built the railroads, and the fight for the Alamo (1836) resulted in a victory for Mexico.

Bringing in some of this diversity can really add depth and interest to a story or costume, and you can be sure that many of the people living during the Victorian era would have been very aware of these goings on.

Want to see more images of multicultural Steampunk? Check out this post.

Looking for more fun ways to “punk your steam?” Read the series!

Have you found good examples of racial and cultural diversity in any Steampunk works? Please leave a comment! 

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?