Sunday Salon: What Is Your Golden Age?

This past week, I watched Midnight in Paris and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even better, it gave me an idea of something fun to talk about today!

The main character in the film is in love with 1920s Paris. The era fascinates and inspires him—the literature, the music, the art, all of it. To him, it is a Golden Age. He feels like he was born in the wrong time and that he’d fit in far better in 1920s Paris. Another character feels the same about La Belle Époque. That got me to thinking: What era would I consider my Golden Age?

My initial reaction was to say Edwardian England. You’ve great writers like Forster, Wodehouse, and Chesterton. On stage, you’ve got Shaw and Ibsen. The suffragettes are becoming a force to be reckoned with, scientific advances in flight and radio are connecting people with distant lands. And the outfits!

But the more I considered it, I the less sure I was. I am interested in the literature of the period, but I’ve not immersed myself in reading works from that era. Shaw and Ibsen’s plays can be awfully talky on stage. They’re among the few I’d almost rather read. The suffragettes are being imprisoned and force fed. And the corsets!

I’m afraid I’m too much of a literary and cultural dilletante to feel drawn to any era to the exclusion of others. There are some times and places I’m more drawn to, but I’m not sure I’d want to live in any of them. Perhaps my Golden Age resides in a little blue police box that would let me dip in and out of different times and places as my whim takes me. Then again, maybe the books I read serve as my TARDIS.

What about you? What era would you consider a Golden Age? Or, like me, do you find it impossible to commit?

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46 Responses to Sunday Salon: What Is Your Golden Age?

  1. There’s no one Golden age where I’d want to live, but I am continually drawn to the first World War and its aftermath as a reading venue.

  2. Nymeth says:

    “There are some times and places I’m more drawn to, but I’m not sure I’d want to live in any of them.”

    Yes, same here. I particularly enjoy reading about the Victorian era and the Interwar period, but I definitely don’t wish I had lived back then. Part of what draws me to these eras are all the struggles people had with social mores than constricted their lives, and that’s something best experienced from afar.

    • Teresa says:

      Yes, I’m prefectly happy to experience those struggles from afar. It’s not so much that I think today is better than the past in every respect, but I’m used to the struggles of our time. I know how to cope with them.

  3. Rayna (Libereading) says:

    Like Debbie, I also wouldn’t want to live in any other time period. It’s easy to romanticize the past, and I definitely wouldn’t want to live without certain freedoms and choices.

    However, I think the period I’m most drawn to in my reading is the colonial period in America, through the Revolutionary War. Although this doesn’t necessarily apply just to the US–I’m always drawn to colonial and post-colonial books of any country.

    I loved Midnight in Paris, too, and just forced my parents to rent it from Netflix. I’m waiting to hear if they liked it or not, but I’m pretty sure they will.

    • Teresa says:

      I think it’s all too easy for us to romanticize every era, including our own! But any time period has its problems.

      Colonial America has a happy place in my heart because I went to college in Williamsburg, so I got to practically live in one of the main bastions of U.S. Colonial history. It’s not an era I’ve read much about though!

  4. Lisa says:

    Even before I met Doctor Who, I’d always been drawn to the idea of visiting the past, but the more history I read, the more I’m convinced that even with all the problems we have today, I’m still best off here – so like you I’d vote for my own TARDIS, or the net of Connie Willis’ time-travel. But I do think the Edwardian years are a golden age for me as well – in the US as well as the UK, with the sense of optimism that came with the new century, the enthusiasm of the Progressives. If I could only have one trip in the TARDIS, though, it would be to the Civil War years in America.

    • Teresa says:

      I like the way you put it—where would you go if you had one trip in the TARDIS. That’s a much easier question, and I would absolutely say Edwardian England.

      I’m afraid I got sick to death of the Civil War when I was in school. It seemed like practically all my history teachers were Civil War buffs, so we spent tons of time on it, and usually on the most boring parts. Probably a side effect of growing up in Virginia where so much of the War was fought.

  5. Jeanne says:

    I’ve been told by one of my friends who studies Colonial America that I would almost certainly have been accused of witchcraft had I lived back then, and that’s only one of the many things that puts me off of wishing I lived at any point in the past. One of my favorite historical periods is 18th-century England, but I’d only want to live then if I were male, heterosexual, rich, and urban (also urbane).

    • Teresa says:

      Ooh, yes, those are good caveats. OK. Maybe I could live in Edwardian England if I were male and a reasonably wealthy landowner. Also old enough that I wouldn’t have to fight in the Great War, which would bring the added benefit of allowing me to live through more of the Victorian era. That might work.

  6. gaskella says:

    I’d find it impossible to commit to…. I do adore spec fiction though, so if I could travel into the near future, that would be pretty cool – I’d need that TARDIS though.

  7. I loved Midnight in Paris, too!

    To be honest, I don’t think i have enough depth of knowledge of any age to romanticize it entirely.

    • Teresa says:

      For me, it’s learning more that stopped my romanticizing. Being a suffragette seemed cool until I read about the force feedings, and I want no part of that. I just want the outfits!

  8. Lu says:

    For a long time, I was in love with 1940s USA. I thought it was really the time period I was meant to have lived in, but as I’ve gotten older, the only time period I’m in love with is our own. I think it’s easy to look back with hindsight and romanticize a time period, but as you said, there’s always something about it that we wouldn’t be able to live with. There are certainly time periods that I’m fascinated with and will read about endlessly, but ultimately, I’m just excited to see what happens in my own lifetime.

    • Teresa says:

      The 40s do seem fun–all those great movies! And I’d choose the US over the UK at that time, because the war was so much more difficult over there.

      I have more than my share of complaints about the present day, but I’m pretty sure I’d have complaints about any age I lived in. And when it comes down to it, I’ve got in pretty good in the here and now.

  9. Deb says:

    I suppose any period in history would be great–provided you were from the land-owning wealthy class and had access to reliable medical/dental care (which isn’t very likely until after WWii).

  10. Jenny says:

    It’s nearly always more fun to read about these eras than I imagine it would be to live in them. The Victorians are interesting, and so are the Edwardians and everyone, but I like being able to do all the things women can do now that they couldn’t do then. No Golden Age in my opinion.

    • Teresa says:

      Maybe authors choose the most interesting things and avoid talking about the day-to-day annoyances because that’s boring. Even the difficult events are made to seem dramatic and important and therefore worth the suffering.

  11. I’d like to take the TARDIS option, too, please! Although I DO love the 1920s, particularly New York in the 1920s (which is why I liked Bright Young Things so much), I don’t think I’d like to live there for very long. I’d miss the internet too much, I think.

  12. softdrink says:

    I don’t know that I’d be happy in any time but the present, especially as a woman! But I’d like to pop into the 1920s just to check it out. Maybe Anastasia and I could carpool in the TARDIS.

  13. Tony says:

    Japan, definitely, probably the early twentieth-century. Hopefully, I’d run into writers like Soseki and Akutagawa. I’d just need to get out of Tokyo before the earthquake hits though…

    • Teresa says:

      Nice to see someone suggest an Asian destination!

      I guess if we go back to our Golden Ages with knowledge of the present we could move out of the danger zone when necessary.

  14. Simon T says:

    The 1920s and 1930s, but only if I could be a woman. I definitely don’t want to go to war!

    • Teresa says:

      And here all us ladies are saying we’d want to be men!

      I suppose that if I had to choose between not having the vote and going to the trenches, I choose staying a woman. And at least some women had the vote by the 20s.

  15. Stefanie says:

    I’ll keep to my own era and just travel through time in my books. I doubt I’d know what to say to any of my favorite authors and I’d look a fool.

  16. Liburuak says:

    Like you, I think I’d have a hard time choosing, even though I’m more of a contemporary girl. I definitely couldn’t do the Middle Ages, for instance. I’m a love 20s art, music, etc., so maybe that would be my “Golden Age”?

  17. Jenny says:

    You are all so practical! Talking about women’s rights and dental insurance and corsets! Golden Ages don’t concern themselves with such details, nor with whether you’d be able to meet famous people. It would all just work out and everything would be perfect and I wouldn’t be myopic or need antibiotics, and castles are probably not as draughty as they seem, and all my favorite authors would take me out to little cafes and ask my opinion on their manuscripts (like Mr. Mybug) and laugh at my jokes. That’s a Golden Age, if you ask me.

    • Teresa says:

      Oh Jenny, you know that try as I might, I can’t take off my practical hat. But I *suppose* if we’re going to fantasize about living in a Golden Age, we can fantasize it into a perfect version of the period.

      Your comment about your favorite authors is definitely on the mark for Midnight in Paris (which you need to see if you haven’t),

  18. Diana says:

    I’m obsessed with the Victorian period (Regency period is runner up)! I love learning about it and reading texts by Victorian authors.

    But I know I wouldn’t want to live there. It wasn’t the best place to be a woman (your husband was legally allowed to beat you, property went to your husband upon marriage, no vote, etc.). I’d love to visit Victorian London, and roam the fog-filled streets, but to be consistently exposed to the smells and the pollution? No thanks. I’m content to learn as much as I can about it but stay where I am (though if that elusive time machine is ever invented I’d love to pop by for tea). :)

  19. I can’t think of a time I’d want to go back to, that seems like my Golden Age. Maybe the 1950s, but things were cookie-cutter, I’m not sure I’d like it. I love reading about the Puritans, but I know I would not want to live then.

  20. Carolyn says:

    Yes, I was also very stuck with that notion of a romanticized personal Golden Age when I watched Midnight in Paris in the theatre last summer. I’d enjoy popping into 1860s Paris — to be able to stroll the newly widened streets and see Manet’s paintings being argued over and all the new Impressionist art, as well as all the beautiful clothes! Of course, the movie made me feel that I should just be happy with my own time period, but I love being able to explore so many different places and times through books.

    • Teresa says:

      Even though the movie was all about being content with your own time, I can see the fun of being able to pop in and check things out! That was, after all, good fun for the main character, right?

  21. Marg says:

    Loved Midnight in Paris! Loved it!

    In terms of my Golden Age, I couldn’t commit. I’d be tempted by medieval times (maybe in the courts of Henry II) or perhaps the Restoration court of Charles II, or Renaissance Italy or…. or… or…

    So many choices, so many golden ages!

  22. Mona says:

    Sometimes, like you, I like to think about this (and Midnight in Paris has had me thinking more about it…it’s a great film). There are some historical events I would like to experience firsthand, mostly because they’ve touched me when I read about them or because I don’t have a great sense of what it would have been like to be an ordinary person living at that time. The ones that come to mind at the moment include Lincoln’s assassination, the 1950s-60s civil rights movement, the fall of Islamic Spain, and the Partition of India and Pakistan. If I had a time machine, though, I think the number one time I’d like to go is just a few generations back, to see how my grandparents and parents lived and grew up.

    But as for a Golden Age, I don’t think it exists. I love reading books and watching films set in American/British historical periods (e.g. the Jane Austen adaptations, Downton Abbey’s Edwardian period, etc.) but if I had actually been there, I would have stuck out like a sore thumb, on account of my skin color, ethnicity, and religion. I wouldn’t have had access to the higher echelons of society (definitely wouldn’t have been a Crawley sister) and if I had any place in America or Britain at that time, I’d most likely be a servant or slave hand. Not very golden, huh?:

    It’s interesting to think about though. That’s why I saved your post to answer when I had a chance – sorry for this very overdue comment!

    • Teresa says:

      I love that idea of going back to see how your grandparents lived when they were younger. From the stories my grandmother told, I think I’d have a hard time recognizing our hometown, so that would be fun to see.

      And that’s such a good point about any potential Golden Age not being a Golden Age for everyone. I know a couple of people who dislike Downton Abbey because it glorifies the class system. That’s not going to put me off watching it and enjoying the gorgeous costumes and all, but it is a fantasy version of the period.

  23. sakura says:

    I’d have to choose the interwar years. Or Florence during the Rennaissance. Or Elizabethan London. Or Japan at the end of the 19th century. But I’d probably want to be a man in the latter three periods!

  24. boardinginmyforties says:

    I think I could find several reasons why I would want to live in several time periods so I would be unable to commit to just one!

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