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Judith Martorelli wears the costume she will use for her talk to the Victorian Society. Courtesy Judith Martorelli.

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news
If she could, Judith Martorelli would hold flowers when she gives her talk about Queen Victoria on Monday, April 17.

That would be more in keeping with the Victorian-style costume and wig that she will wear.

But flowers probably won’t work so well as a pointer, nor can they change the slide on a PowerPoint presentation.

And when you think about it, Martorelli said, a PowerPoint presentation really isn’t so jarring in a talk to the Victorian Society in America Northern New Jersey Chapter.

If you go back in history, monks were working on projecting images, said the retired teacher.

The VSANNJ has existed since the mid ’70s, said Adriana O’Toole, who co-founded it. The national VSA is based in Philadelphia.

O’Toole, a Realtor, was inspired by architecture, although she herself lived in a ranch house. “At that period of time, Victorian architecture was down in the dumps,” she said. The magazines focusing on Victoriana all started later. And the Victorian period is such a long and fascinating era, spanning much of the 19th century, from 1837 to 1901, she pointed out.
The class structure was defined, “like in Masterpiece Theatre plays,” she said. The era encompassed the Spanish Civil War, the American Civil War, and “when the industrial period started, it changed people’s lives: Thomas Edison, advancements in medicine.”

The group meets on the third Monday of the month, except during the summer. It holds an annual Christmas party, and gives awards for restoration.

Interest is high: average attendance at a program is between 50 and 70 people, and when Ulysses Dietz, the chief curator of the Newark Museum, appears, the turnout could be closer to 90, O’Toole said.

“If the program is on the history of this area, we get a lot of people,” she said. Programs on the Civil War attract more men. Those on dress attract more women.
The group also takes trips to historical spots.

Martorelli has appeared in costume before at VSANNJ, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday.

“I think it adds a little bit to it,” she said.

Portrait of Victoria with her spaniel Dash by George Hayter, 1833. Wikimedia Commons.

Her talk will be about how Queen Victoria came to be queen, a point that went by very quickly in the recent PBS series “Victoria.” In that series, which aired this winter, Victoria learns of the succession in the first episode.

But since Victoria’s father wasn’t king, it’s actually not an obvious story, Martorelli observed.

Her penchant for dressing up comes perhaps from her background in musical theater. Although she no longer sings publicly, Martorelli sang “from the time I was 9.”

Because the Victorian era lasted so long, “costume changed completely,” so there could be other costumed talks in the future.

“The Empire style [the high-waisted style associated with Jane Austen] was the fashion at the beginning of Victoria’s life, and comes back in 1912,” Martorelli said.

For the talk, she not only had a dress made, she had a wig made: she’s not cobbling something together with a shawl and a bobby pin.

It was at her own expense, but, she said, “it was something I’ve wanted to do for them.”

Monday, April 17, 8 p.m.
Montclair Women’s Club, 82 Union St.

Presented by Victorian Society in America, Northern NJ chapter

Free to members, $5 for others

christina.mayer@fmglobal.com
973-744-5916