The Victorian Era at the Neville Public Museum (by Leigh Baker)
Before entering this class, the Victorian Era was one that seemed pretty two-dimensional and straightforward to me. My idea of the time was a bit off—as I discovered soon after visiting the Neville Museum exhibit. Rather than puffy dresses and embellishments, I found the era to be much more practical and humble that I first believed.
In looking at “Images of Victoria,” I found many artifacts to be intriguing. The two I found most interesting were paintings of Victoria during two very different time periods of the queen’s life. The first portrait was the coronation when the queen was just 18 years old. This was just after William IV died when Victoria succeeded to the crown.
I believe this portrait vividly expresses how much pressure Victoria had felt at this time as alluded to in Elizabeth Browning’s “The Young Queen”—
|Her thoughts are deep within her:||25|
|No outward pageants win her|
|From memories that in her soul are rolling wave on wave—|
|Her palace walls enring|
|The dust that was a king—|
|And very cold beneath her feet she feels her father’s grave.||30|
The second portrait I chose to examine was of Queen Victoria a year before her death. At this point of her life, Queen Victoria’s roles were more limited as she neared her last days. However, the woman was still viewed as formidable.
In both portraits I find the portrayal of Victoria to be very accurate and representative of the time. In the first portrait, Victoria is surrounded, appearing young and overwhelmed with her current position. In the latter, she is well-rounded and has seen it all. At least these specific images seem very realistic, to me.
In the “Victorian Americans” exhibit, I found the alternative and luxurious zinc-lined bathtub to be most interesting. I was surprised to read that most baths were found in Victorian kitchens. It surprised me most how useful the bath was—when not bathing, a seat would top it to make a convenient kitchen bench.
The item I found most mysterious was the male Native American head on the wall. I found it rather disturbing and confusing in its trophy-like nature. It hung on the wall as if it was a twenty-point buck. I still am unsure of what exactly this means for the era and the views of its people at the time.
The most apparent part of the Victorian Era the exhibit made me aware of was how different ideas of gender were seen and demonstrated during the time. Though women were clearly not as “able” as men, the queen showed otherwise. Most women of the middle class had one role: to maintain politeness and a perfectly clean home (especially for their husbands). However, the queen is respected to such a great power and is trusted accordingly. This juxtaposition not only struck me the strongest in examining the two Victorian Era exhibits, but it will continue to be a question I will attempt answering.