Victorian Visions of the Future

My current trilogy of novels is in the steampunk/sci-fi genre. One of the fascinating aspects of writing in this genre is when you imagine yourself as part of Victorian culture with the social morals and customs of this age that has come and gone, but with advanced technology that is based upon the idea that the steam engine was the driving force behind all the technology instead of the combustion engine or solid state electronics. The result is a technology that is rich in the ornate decor of Victorian England, combined with fanciful inventions and the introduction of modern cultural ideas against the backdrop of more old-fashioned morals. It makes for a rich writing environment.

How might the true Victorians have viewed their future and what sort of inventions could they have imagined to come along to enhanced their lives? Remarkably, I spotted a group of vintage French Victorian postcards created between 1899 and 1910 that depicted what life might be like for the then current day Victorians in the year 2000. I found the answer to this question to be both quaint and intriguing.

Vintage Victorian Postcard - Farming in Year 2000

We take mechanized farming for granted in the 21st century, but during Victorian times, the concept of machines handling the heavy lifting of the farmer must have been straight out of science fiction. I think that this concept is fairly close to the reality that we live today, although the postcard looks much prettier than what is now the real thing. Notice that the farm is laid out as if it was still being worked by hand, but with the machines added in as more an after thought. A far cry from today’s farming techniques.

Victorian Postcard - Video Chat

Thanks to the Apple iPhone, real time face to face phone conversations are now growing to be more commonplace around the world. This marvel of present day science was once just a glimmer of an idea. Notice that in the postcard, technology that was common during that time period is depicted and slightly altered to give the new way of communicating its life. While their imagining was larger than our present day phones, I have to say that their way was a bit more grand and picturesque.

Victorian Postcard - Barber

Thankfully, we of the 21st century have not automated the barber shop, but I love the octopus armed machine that this artist had imagined. This industrial machine is front and center in the shop, and I can see it going out of control like in a B rated horror movie.

Victorian Postcard Electric Rollarskates

Electric scooters, mopeds and other small wheeled vehicles are commonplace today. I am sure I’m not the only woman to have to dodge a child speeding through the park on a motorized or electric skateboard. Here the Victorian artist took the common scene of ice skaters and took it to the next level of technology. The idea that the wheels would allow the skaters to go other places than a rink might not have occurred to him since at that time all skating took place on ice only. I love the guy in the background who took a fall. That would be me at the skating rink!

Victorian Postcard - Whale Powered Submarine

Move over Captain Nemo, here is a Victorian vision of how to power a submarine before the age of the combustible engine or nuclear power. Looking at this image, I wonder how the artist thought that the future Victorians might capture and train these giant denizens of the deep to carry their underwater ships?

Victorian Postcard - French Air Force

Of the entire group, this is my favorite Victorian image. That of the Zeppelin French Air Force in battle. The Zeppelin is one of the more consummate symbols associated with the steampunk genre. Even in Victorian times, it was a symbol of power and state of the art technology.

Finding images from the past is certainly inspiring and these antique postcards are certainly helpful if you are interested in writing in the steampunk genre.

8 thoughts on “Victorian Visions of the Future”

    1. Steampunk is not an easy sub-genre to get a handle on, it takes research. Sometimes I feel that you have to be a Victorian historical writer FIRST and then move to give it that science fiction slant. It is fun once you get into into it. 🙂

  1. What is interesting to wonder looking at these old pictures is why they sometimes look better than the inventions we have today. Maybe it is because they look more entertaining, less functional…

    1. They are lovely sketches. They reflect the Victorian style of design and that might be way they seem more entertaining. In modern times we tend to go for clean lines as our style.

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