Revolutionary then, but a common everyday event today, Prof. Catherine J. Golden will put the stamp on “Posting It, or Networking, Victorian Style,” based on her book Posting It: The Victorian Revolution in Letter Writing. She will autograph copies of her book during a Victorian tea following her presentation.
Before e-mails, Instagram, Facebook and blogs, letter writing was the only way to communicate with a broad audience. The recipient, not the sender, paid to receive a letter at the time of delivery. So high were postage rates in early Victorian Britain—determined by the number of pages in the letter and the route a letter traveled—that many people dreaded the postman’s knock.
But all that changed with the Penny Post established in 1840. In London by 1860, there were 12 postal deliveries a day, from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Letter writing—no longer a privilege for the wealthy—became an affordable way to connect with family, friends and beyond.
“Posting It, or Networking, Victorian Style” presents the story of this revolutionary change. Through a PowerPoint presentation and material objects on display, we will journey with Golden to Victorian England to see the first adhesive postage stamp, called the Penny Black, which allowed letters up to ½ ounce to travel anywhere in the UK for only a penny. Stamps and prepayment quickly became the model for other nations including the United States, which issued its first stamps in 1847.
George Elgar Hicks’s narrative painting The General Post Office: One Minute to Six (1860)—on the cover of Posting It—shows the relevance of the Penny Post for networking in Victorian times and our time. The painting serves as a point of origin for computer-mediated communication (CMC), complete with the excitement, challenges, and dangers that users experience today.
Golden will consider, too, how the Penny Post brought blessings and problems relevant in the twenty-first century. It facilitated family ties, promoted business, and spread information to an ever-widening postal “network”— but it also became a tool for blackmail, slander, unsolicited mass mailings and junk mail. The Penny Post anticipates and was as revolutionary to the Victorians in sending letters, newspapers, books and other information as e-mail, text messages, and blogs are to us today.
Golden is professor of English and the Tisch Chair in Arts and Letters at Skidmore College. She is author of Serials to Graphic Novels: The Evolution of the Victorian Illustrated Book (2017) and Images of the Woman Reader in Victorian British and American Fiction (2003). She is editor or coeditor of five additional books on topics ranging from Charlotte Perkins Gilman to Victorian illustration, literature and culture and a regular contributor to Illustration Magazine, a British arts journal.
Posting It received the 2010 DeLong Book History Prize for the best book on any aspect of the creation, dissemination, or uses of script or print awarded by SHARP, the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing. Autographed paperback copies of Posting It and Serials to Graphic Novels will be available for purchase at the tea.
Tickets for the Golden talk are $28 for advance reservations and $32 day of the event. Reservations are highly recommended as seating is limited. For reservations call us at 413-637-3206.