Not only is this book superbly researched; it is fascinating reading. I have read a great deal about Queen Victoria, some of it impossibly heavy going, and some of it frankly salacious. Julia Baird brings this amazing woman to life, and allows us to see her with all her strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand she worked tirelessly for her country, showing great understanding of political issues, and frequently attempting to override long suffering prime ministers, and on the other hand she was a devoted (some would say 'over-devoted') mother, and of course, most famously, the adoring wife of Prince Albert. It is an enormous pity that Victoria's children so ruthlessly burnt or edited Victoria's voluminous diaries and correspondence, but sufficient material exists that enabled Julia Baird to portray a mighty personality who nevertheless had many personal weaknesses, not least of which was an overwhelming capacity for self pity, which pretty much crippled her personality in the decades after her beloved Albert's death. This work is illuminating, but objective. All praise to Julia Baird for adding a new perspective to our view of the great Victoria and her legacy for current times.
I really enjoyed this new biography of Victoria, well I have to admit I'd never been tempted by any of the other ones, being by no means a royalty enthusiast. But the first chapter reassured me as: a) the fantastic writing would easily see me through such a tome, and b) Baird puts as much effort into describing the social and historic context of Victoria's time, which I find more interesting than the life of a strange spoiled child. Baird does sometimes (well mostly in the introduction) seem to exaggerate the importance of Victoria, there's a sense that because society changed so much during her reign that she must be responsible for these changes. But then in the body Baird does do a good job showing in which instances Victoria was politically powerless or going against the grain of progress, so it's more a stylistic issue. I can heartily recommend this as a very easy to read history of the period, even if it is from the perspective of royalty. 'Serious History' folk might find the language a little flowery at times, and a few assertions a little poorly evidenced. Everyone else will love it and learn a lot.
As an insight into Queen Victoria it is wonderful and answers so many questions about the mother of nine children who gave her name to an era.
As a history record it describes without judgment the smells and the squalor that were consequences of growth of knowledge and technology unparalleled in history.
As an anthropological account of explaining history, it puts into perspective the gap between ambitions of people put in authority to govern and the structural elements that kept those ambitions in check and kept the rate of change sustainable, just.
It is a mirror to our own times and by implication contrasts our preciousness about miniscule pollution with the stoic way people tolerated and worked to combat the gross filth from which no person could escape in the nineteenth century.
This is a wonderful book that gives insight into systems and how individuals make systems work and how checks and balances work and how individuals solve the problems of systems.
I enjoyed this book , it offered a different perspective to the one that I was taught in history lessons so long ago, from memory, that of a perpetual grieving queen who withdrew from public life and disliked children. She was anything but uninvolved and disinterested and the power and influence she yielded and used was surprising and even shocking on occasions.