Items Tagged: Victoria

originally published at ENGL 1102

A strange tale to say the least, Paul Di Filippo’s Victoria charters a unique path through the steampunk genre; unique not only for its creative biological concoction, but also the incorporation of sexual themes juxtaposed with an almost humanitarian perspective of the urban squalor of London. While a stunning example of the steampunk genre, I also feel that the story is rebelling against more than just the Edisonades which preceded it. This story is also displays a “punk” attitude with respect to the role of women as well as child labor.

From the very beginning, Di Filippo makes it clear that Cosmo has had sexual relations with his eugenic, growth-hormone-induced creation, the newt Victoria. This is also mirrored at the end of the story where William Lamb is found laying with newt Victoria in the Palace: the intentional conclusion of a circuitous farce intended to divert Cosmo’s attention away from the newt Victoria while Lamb could have his way with her. The actions of both Cosmo and Lamb are in clear rebellion to the ideas of the Edisonades. No longer are the scientists and officers of high political standing and influence masters over their creations. Control is not made manifest in their personality; replaced, rather, with a heap of dependence ultimately bringing the master and creation down to the same level if not implying a slight power in the latter.

Throughout the story, Cosmo repeatedly returns to thoughts of newt Victoria and whether or not she is okay or needs attention. Similarly, when newt Victoria is taken away from Lamb he proclaims that he “cannot do without her now” and in an almost comical display of his dependence on her pulls on her arm so hard that it falls off (Di Filippo 292). An otherwise morbid scene, in this case it is comical because of the newt’s ability to regenerate limbs. Nonetheless it is an accurate display of both men’s dependency on the creation, lest one forget that it took the pulling of both men on opposite sides of her, in a sort of dependence tug-of-war, to separate her arm from her body.

During his journey to find the real Victoria, Cosmo explores many of the dilapidated, waste-strewn boroughs of London. During such instances, the air is devoid of all humor, replaced by a sharp forthrightness. I feel that the author adopts said tone during these instances to comment on the reality of the life for the poor in London; many of whom trudge through the filth and feces, quite literally clearing a path, as well as cripple themselves to earn a few pennies. This is in rebellion to the ignorance that the Edisonades and society in general had with respect to the realities of the urban poor. Whilst heroes were off on their adventures in the savage lands of Africa or elsewhere, the urban poor were forgotten and left voiceless. The highly symbolic interaction between Cosmo and Tiptoft is reflective of Di Filippo’s desire to not forget the plight of the urban poor, and possibly have scientists and inventors actually help them out.

For all his character flaws, I feel that Cosmo is more a hero than any of those described in the Edisonades. Moral in action and reflective of consequences, Cosmo and Nails are realistic heralds of the perspective that Di Filippo hopes to interject into the mind of contemporary society.