Sunday, December 23, 2018

Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life

Recent books and films have overturned the popular image of Queen Victoria as a dour recluse widow of ponderous dimensions to include the lively, stubborn girl-queen who loved dancing and wine and the young wife who enjoyed sex.

Lucy Worsley wanted to expand Victoria's story beyond the "dancing princess to potato" to include the woman who preserved the monarchy and ruled an empire. Worsley draws from Victoria's diaries and journals, probing behind the polished exterior presented for posterity. Her Victoria is a fully human, complicated, person, someone we can admire and dislike at the same time.

The book concentrates on twenty-four days in Victoria's life through which readers come to understand her family background and relationships, her love for Albert (who both supported and limited her as queen), the places she loved, her political alliances and battles, the few people who became more than servants and valued as trusted friends, and her grief, loneliness, and physical incapacities in old age.

Worsley writes in the preface, "I hope that seeing her [Victoria] up close, examining her face-to-face, as she lived hour-to-hour through twenty-four days of her life, might help you to imagine meeting her yourself, so that you can form your own opinion on the contradictions at the heart of British history's most recognizable woman."

the young Queen Victoria in an idealized portrait by Winterhalter, 1843
The physical woman Victoria is given attention. At her prime, Victoria was 5 feet and 1 1/4 inch tall, with tiny feet, large blue prominent eyes, and a "fine bust." Her lower lip hung open, but she also had a wide-open smile when delighted. Her weight yo-yoed with health, illness, pregnancy, dieting, and the incapacitation that in old age left her unable to walk. And she loved to walk on a brisk, cold day. 
Queen Victoria, 1899
Victoria ruled throughout most of the 19th c when monarchies across Europe were ended by revolutions. She came to the throne with everything against her, especially being a young and inexperienced girl. 

She was constantly being watched for signs of madness, both genetic and related to the "female problems" which were believed to trigger hysteria and madness. 

It was imperative that she marry and it was arranged she marry her German cousin Albert. She fell in love with his beauty and goodness. To compensate for his parental scandalous infidelities he was committed to being a loving father and husband. But Albert was a German and he had to win the British people's trust and love. His German coldness and exacting values could be hard to live with. He did not approve of Victoria's love of dancing and drinking.

With Victoria perpetually pregnant (nine times!), Albert applied himself to fulfill her duties. Victoria came to rely on his guidance; his early death was devastating to her as queen as well as wife. 

In spite of her liaisons with unsuitable friends, the gilly John Brown and the Muslim Abdul, Victoria became the public image of the proper Victorian wife and widow, an "ordinary good woman."

I found the book to be vastly interesting and enjoyable. It expanded my understanding of Victoria. It amazed me how much of Victoria's life Worsley covered in those twenty-four days! 

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Worsley's previous book was Jane Austen at Home, which I reviewed here.

Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life
by Lucy Worsley
St. Martin's Press
Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019
ISBN: 9781250201423
PRICE: $32.50 (USD)

I had previously read Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird; read my review here. And also Victoria and Abdul, read my review here.

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