Skip to main content

Victorian Virtue

June 2024
1min read

Victorian America Classical Romanticism to Gilded Opulence

by Wendell Garrett, edited by David Larkin, principal photography by Paul Rocheleau, Rizzoli, 300 pages.

A generation ago the Victorian Age was derided and dismissed. Its garish eclecticism and overt materialism offended modern sensibilities. Today it is enjoying a revival that verges on full redemption. Victorian America shows why. A worthy sequel by the same team that created Classic America , this survey is divided into three regional essays that take us from the antebellum South through the industrializing North and onto the West Coast and the dawn of our own century. The text accurately conveys what the photographs of the houses and buildings vividly confirm: the Victorian Age was marked by dynamic change, confidence, and burgeoning wealth.

Appropriately enough, we begin with Andrew Jackson’s Tennessee home, the Hermitage. In its modest but comfortable rooms, Rococo Revival furniture mingles casually with Classical Revival pieces. By the time Stanton Hall was built in Natchez, Mississippi, during the 1850s, Rococo decorative elements dominated the old-fashioned Greek Revival architecture, and both were already being superseded in more fashionable circles in the North. There Italianate architecture and the Renaissance Revival were the styles of choice, and they are shown here magnificently combined in Victoria Mansion, in Portland, Maine.

As the century progressed, the taste for revival styles (the Egyptian, Gothic, and Queen Anne were also popular at times) embraced a fascination with the Near East and the Orient as well as other influences. The aptly named Gingerbread Mansion in Ferndale, California, built in 1899, makes a suitable finale for this wonderful book and the exuberant and appealing era it documents.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.