Victorian is flowering anew, in restored buildings of the era, revived interest in 19th-century decorative arts and crafts. The period once was widely dismissed as being ugly, over-elaborate and pretentious.
The pendulum has swung. The 19th century each year becomes more distant, and thus more enchanting to our view.
"It's amazing what has been happening as the surge of interest in the Victorian period has swelled in this country," remarks Joan Wells, executive director of the Victorian Society in America.
"Victorian has suddenly become respectable. There has been a complete turn-around of sentiment. An amazing reappreciation is happening. We have become less critical and more aware of 19th-century values. We used to have to battle the fact that to most people Victorian was a pejorative word, used to depreciate and disparage. Now we don't have to apologize anymore and the new approbation and admiration is quite pleasing.
"We can even laugh with others and at ourselves and be amused at what is amusing," says Mrs. Wells. "After we decided that lovers of Victorian things can now relax and be less on the defensive, we adopted the slogan, 'Victorian lovers have more fun.' And we do, too.
"We also think this tidal wave of new interest hasn't crested at all. Within the next 20 years we'll put that much mlre distance between us and the last century, and the appreciation will grow greatly. Time is really on our side."
The Victorian Society in America was formed in 1966 in New York, and in 1969 it was invited by the Athenaeum, a private research library specializing in the 19th century, at East Washington Squre in Philadelphia, to share its quarters.
The society's founding aim was to foster public understanding and appreciation of the artistic expression of the 19th century; to educate the public to the merits of significant Victorian architecture, design, art and decoration; and to help in the preservation of both buildings and artifacts.
Three years ago, the society had 1,600 members; a year ago it had 3,000. In the last 12 months it has doubled its membership, which is now soaring past the 6,000 mark. There are now 26 chapters in the 6,000 mark. There are now 26 chapters in the United States and several in foreign countries.
Generally, the local chapters engage in preservation activities to save and restore certain structures. The society's magazine is its primary vehicle for informing and educating and a monthly newsletter lists current seminars, exhibitions and workshops.
Already plans are in the works for a 1979 Victorian Society symposium on 19th-century resorts and hotels and in a 1980 symposium on 19th-century music and music halls.
"We are both a social and a cultural organization interested in the Victorian period in this country, as well as abroad," says the society's director.
"Queen Victoria's dates were from 1837 to 1901, but since Victoria was not our queen, we don't feel as obliged to stick to those dates. Our span of interest is really from the late 1790s to 1917. We are also quite interested in the European things because they influenced this country."
"Upstairs and Downstairs in the Victorian House" is a one-day workshop put together to help owners of Victorian houses. Successfully initiated in Philadelphia, it is now taking to the road.
Local historical societies or groups may ask to sponsor such a Victorian Society workshop. Also, readers may purchase the workshop kit with information and sources for the Victorian homeowner, by ordering the Restoration packet for $5 from the Victorian Society. East Washington Square, Philadelphia, Pa. 19106.