Punking the Machine: Reengineering Victorian Literature in Contemporary Cinema

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    Presented as part of Seminar S43: “Victorian and Neo-Victorian Screen Adaptations"

    In this paper I will evaluate a wave of twenty-first-century blockbusters that, whilst often defined via different terminology, adapt previously existing texts into discernible ‘steampunk’ identities. The topic of discussion will not only be ‘adaptations’, but the acts of adaptation and appropriation that allow millennial anxieties to be reimagined through the industrial smog of nineteenth-century innovation. Shaped and defined through countless re-imaginings, the popularised imagery of Frankenstein’s laboratory has become a staple not only of the cinematic imagination, but also the thematic and aesthetic signifiers that can be drawn through literary fiction into modern day steampunk. However, it may be Frankenstein’s nameless monster itself that offers the most appropriate analogy to steampunk’s construction within film. Reanimated via the allotransplantation of alternative sources, the genre is made up of convoluted - yet unmistakable - patchwork hybrids. In steampunk’s literary antecedent, the life with which inanimate flesh is repurposed is met with revulsion; with steampunk itself, the reconstitution of revered texts into new forms is met with similar scorn. I will begin by questioning the low cultural and critically reviled position of the steampunk adaptation, and consider how it is not only textual content that Hollywood steampunk has adapted, but troublingly for some, subcultural identities too. Placing steampunk within the contexts of adaptation theory, I will consider how these productions, like the steampunk ‘gizmo’ itself, encourage renewed archaeological agency, making the past re-present through industrialized acts of recycling, borrowing and the (potential) robbery of historical artefacts that have come before. By focusing on texts such as The Time Machine (2002), Around the World in 80 Days (2004), Sherlock Holmes (2009) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), I shall argue that cinema’s contemporary identity is as deeply rooted in the industrial reengineering of literary works as it was in its own nineteenth-century formation. Transformed into highoctane blockbuster texts, my conclusions will query how Neo-Victorianism has afforded a mass-cultural means for society to mythologize a past century as an era of incredible technological upheaval that acts as an analogue to our own fin de siècle hopes and fears.

    My completed doctoral thesis and continued research focuses on a growing number of steampunk films that have recast the nineteenth-century into a realm where past, present and future collide. I am an active academic specialising in neo-Victorian film, and occupy the post of Module Coordinator and Lead Lecturer for Film History and Film Theory at Staffordshire University.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusUnpublished - 25 Aug 2016
    EventConference of The European Society For The Study of English - National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
    Duration: 22 Aug 201626 Aug 2016
    Conference number: 13

    Academic conference

    Academic conferenceConference of The European Society For The Study of English
    Abbreviated titleESSE Conference
    Internet address


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