A couple of years ago, I reviewed "Victoria -- a Life" by A. N. Wilson. And now, "Victoria -- the Queen" by Julia Baird. Both volumes do yeoman's work to shed light on this less-than-light monarch. In fact, each less-than-light volume could easily raise the begonias on your window sill enough to catch maximum light... and this is to say nothing about other literary tributes that have bloomed since her death in 1901.
So, what is it about this new book? Baird has climbed into the Royal Archives to peel back the onion encapsulating the real Victoria. Even after a century, secrets remain. In fact, the onion has calcified as one peels deeper. Why? The Royals are devilishly secretive. (And you thought Hillary was a bit paranoid...) Victoria was a prolific diarist. But unfortunately, for posterity, a daughter, Beatrice, executed one of the most effective censorship's of the 19th Century by burning all of the juicy tidbits from Victoria's hand.
But the author here redefines relentless. Baird wriggled her way into the Archive's custodians... peeked at more than others could... and found a way to slip by the "crown's copyright" brigade. At any rate, there's a lot more "oh my goodness, I didn't know that" in this book. You know, the fun stuff. Maybe it's just a female author's way. And in this Queen, there's a lot to write about.
Victoria grew up a very "naughty princess". She was short-tempered, defiant, arrogant, lonely, selfish, capricious and domineering. (Sounds like fun, huh?) Yet she was loyal, unpretentious, a decisive ruler, truthful... and had a good heart. She saw nothing in bossing around contemporary lions of British history -- Disraeli, Gladstone and others. Victoria ruled with an iron fist. But as a wife, she lived in a time when wives were second fiddle to husbands -- e.g. their servants. The good news was her husband, Prince Albert was a nice guy. But wait a minute. After Albert's death, who was this Scot, a personal servant named John Brown, who some said "oft sported a tilt in his kilt"... and rubbed way too close to his Queen. Or an Indian fellow, "Munshi" Abdul Karim, whose sexual promiscuity was legendary... if not offensive.
You can read all about it here -- or at least what's available to tell. Victoria ruled the British Empire for more than 60 years. She gave birth to a family of rulers across Europe. And her influence is reflected in much of the way the civilized world is today. Not trivial. Pull up a spot of tea. Find a soft seat. Enjoy.
“Only 18 when she assumed the throne, Victoria ruled a vast empire for more than 60 years. In this biography Baird reveals a woman who so dominated the world that an entire epoch was named for her. Her nine children and their children inhabited most of the thrones of Europe until the upheaval of World War I, and her expansionist policies enabled Great Britain to rule over a quarter of the entire world. Baird also portrays a passionate and vibrant woman who struggled to assert herself in a time and place that was dismissive of the female sex. This enthralling biography is a welcome addition and nuanced look at a dynamic queen.”
— Barbara Hoagland (E), The King's English, Salt Lake City, UT