Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.
Inspired by pages of steampunk tropes, I wanted to compile a list of common characters found in steampunk speculative fiction and media. The first group that I focused on were upstanding ladies, usually upholding good Victorian morals. They are known for their respectability and femininity at home in London as well as while adventuring abroad.
I am also working on a second group of ladies who are more working class, the engineers and actresses embodying the fledgling feminist movement.
If you have suggestions of archtypes to add or corrections that need to be made, please feel free to let me know in the comments. If you’d like to see more lists like this, also please let me know. Thanks!
Determined Widow – She is usually presented in two versions, either the young widow on her own, or an older widow with dependents, either young children or aged relatives. The young widow is often a damsel in distress, naïve and unprepared for the harshness of reality that has been revealed upon her husband’s death. The older widow, by contrast, has an iron will and will do what is necessary to support her family. She is a strong woman, responsible and capable, and often has trouble relying on others. Both are focused on survival and are often seeking a new partner, whether subconsciously or overtly, to improve their quality of life.
Governess – Often characterized by her black bombazine dress and prim-and-proper bun, the Governess is responsible for the raising of young children and the finishing of young ladies. Her moral character is unquestionable and grounds for dismissal if ever tarnished. She is educated, yet lonely, existing in the awkward social class between nobility and household staff. If the Governess is younger, she may be cultured nobility herself, forced by circumstance into a lower position. If she is an older woman, she is conservative and tightly-laced, sometimes bitter by the lonely, unmarried life she has led.
Grande Dame – Defender of respectability, the Grande Dame is an older, upper-class woman of stately bearing, often wielding her fur stole and bejeweled lorgnette as if they were royal accessories. She believes in the natural order of society and strongly defends the status quo. She is sometimes a dowager duchess defending the family name despite the careless actions of younger generations. The Grande Dame is often a patroness of the arts and looks down upon the uncultured masses. Renowned for her eccentricities, she has a well-trained household and is sometimes accompanied by a quirky pet, such as a lapdog or exotic parrot, with whom she converses for intelligent conversation.
Lady of Action – Graceful and poised, the Lady of Action is fully capable of going toe-to-toe with the most dastardly of villains. She is well-educated and has studied combat with an elegant weapon from a young age. She chooses weapons with dance-like choreography, such as the rapier, which emphasize her femininity and has been known to carry a pearl-handled revolver in her purse. She is characterized by her physical prowess and ability to keep up with the gents, but not at the cost of her ladylike decorum.
Lady of Adventure – She is a high-class lady with a taste for excitement. The Lady of Adventure is a thrill-seeker, much to the dismay of her refined friends and family. She disregards the opinions of others, choosing to make her own decisions, especially regarding marriage. The Lady of Adventure is independently wealthy and without older male relatives to rein in her enthusiasms. She often travels with an older companion for the sake of respectability, although this is not an important virtue to her.
Librarian Bluestocking – Interested in intellectual pursuits, the Librarian Bluestocking has been set on the shelf, no longer considered a candidate for marriage. Usually in her mid-twenties, she is prim and proper, often wearing glasses and unattractive dresses. She can range from shy to outspoken, but is unconventional in her worldview, espousing values of feminism contrary to Victorian morality. Most notably, she is a bookworm and will often pack more books than clothes when traveling.
Proper Lady – Whether she is an English Rose or a Southern Belle, a Proper Lady embodies all the womanly virtues of the Victorian Era. She is pure as snow, capable of running a household, and devoted to her family. She aspires to have a good match if she is unmarried, and to raise her children in a loving, traditional fashion. Her manners and personal grooming are impeccable, and she is often known for her charity work, especially at a hospital or orphanage.
Pictures from http://www.metmuseum.org