Dr. Catherine Golden gives the prestigious Moseley Lecture: English professor unpacks the complexities of the Victorian era

Posted by Sarah Barry

Professor Catherine Golden, Skidmore's award-winning jam maker and Victorian literature and culture expert, received the College's highest honor conferred by other faculty last Thursday when she presented the Edwin M. Moseley lecture in Gannett Auditorium.

Golden's lecture, titled "Victorian Culture on Display: Decorative Objects in "the time of chivalry...the age of steam," explored the relevance of material objects to Victorian life.

"I'm not at all sure if Catherine regards herself as a woman of the 21 century," said vice president for Academic Affairs Susan Kress in her introduction.

Golden took the packed auditorium on a trip through historical moments in the Victorian era. She highlighted events during Queen Victoria's reign, including the first World Fair and the writings of Charles Darwin. Golden explained that although Victoria's rule lasted from 1837-1901, the term Victorian characterizes British life up to the start of World War One.

Golden illustrated the complexities and character of the Victorian era through an examination of five objects: (list them here).

"Popular culture has sterilized the Victorian age and idealized it" Golden said. She described that in reality, the era is full of contradictions and dualities. The moral and refined lifestyle was paired with prostitution, poverty and religious crisis.

Golden delved into the importance of a tea chest or tea-caddy, a mulready envelope, a lap desk or Victorian writing desk, a Tussey Mussey (a petit vase) and a fully gilded book. Upon closer examination, these objects indicate the intricate customs and history of Victorian culture. Unlike our smart phone gadgets, most objects served only one purpose in the Victorian age. The Tussey Mussey for example would hold a small bouquet of flowers. However, Golden explained how specific colors and species of flowers carried specific meaning. This "language of the flowers" allowed Victorians to communicate without words.

Animated throughout the lecture, Golden drew the audience in through demonstrations of fan poses, popular Victorian texts and popular period works such as Lewis Caroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and the current trend called "steam punk" which emulates Victorian culture.

"I loved seeing real objects with the lecture. She was funny and animated as usual" said Phoebe Pundyk '12.

"I enjoyed the lecture, she was a really entertaining speaker," said Eleazer Amarteyfio '15.

A member of Skidmore's faculty for 26 years, Golden teaches and writes on the Victorian era in the English department. The classes she teaches include: the Victorian Illustrated Book, Children's Literature and the 19th Century British novel among others. Golden was also named director of Skidmore's Periclean Honors Forum in 2011 and she leads an Honors Forum travel seminar to Bath English, titled "Jane Austen in Bath."

More information about Professor Golden's research and publications can be found on the English Department's faculty page.

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