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.
Found this fresh, new biography on Queen Victoria an absolutely riveting and absorbing read. Julia Baird does a great job of showing Victoria as a woman in relation to the social norms of the time she lived in and how she coped. Meticulously researched and beautifully written. Highly recommended.
A great read, thoroughly enjoyable. Julia has opened a window to view and understand Queen Victoria who was a 'working mother ' during a time of great technological change and expansion of the British Empire.
I heard the author interviewed while she was in the throes of writing this book and made a mental note then to read it as soon as it was published. I was not disappointed. Meticulously researched, Victoria's life has been chronicled faithfully and echoes the times in which she ruled, the events she witnessed during her long reign, and her cohorts. I was fascinated when the pages dropped me right into the daily life of the queen. I was privy to her thoughts, her opinions, her moods and her perceived shortcomings. I watched as history unfolded through her eyes, faithfully gleaned from her journal entries, archives and the written observations of those closest to her.
If you were expecting a tough slog through history then this book is not for you. If you want to meet the woman who made the modern world, then treat yourself and begin an amazing journey through 19th century England, alongside one of the most redoubtable rulers in recent history.
Sub-titled an intimate biography of the woman who ruled an empire, this book seeks to portray the person of Victoria behind the myth that has arisen since her death. Myth? Many of Queen Victoria’s papers were destroyed or censored after her death, to preserve a particular image of her. In preparing this biography, Ms Baird has had access to previously unpublished papers. In a general note, at the end of the book Ms Baird states: ‘All passages that discuss what Victoria was thinking, feeling or wearing are based directly on journal entries, letters and other contemporary evidence referenced below.’
A lot has been written about Queen Victoria. Born in 1819, she was fifth in the line to the throne and was never expected to become queen. When Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, she was aged just eighteen. She lived through a period of great change and by the time of her death in 1901, aged eighty-one, the world had changed significantly. This was the era of great technological change, of disastrous wars, and colonial expansion. It was also the era of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, and Florence Nightingale.
But what of the woman herself? Victoria was aged twenty when she fell in love with her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. They had nine children. In Ms Baird’s words:
‘The marriage between Victoria and Albert is one of the greatest romances of modern history. It was genuine, devoted and fruitful. Together, they ushered in an era when the monarchy would shift from direct power to indirect influence, and from being the fruit of the aristocracy to becoming the symbol of the middle class.’
Victoria was no cipher: when dealing with her ministers, she was outspoken and asserted her opinions. She also survived eight assassination attempts. After Albert died, aged only forty-two, she had a close relationship with her servant John Brown. A passionate woman who needed intimacy and closeness. The image I’d previously formed was quite different. I kept reading, interested to find out more about this woman who was still Queen when two of my grandparents were born towards the end of the nineteenth century. I was fascinated, too, that the adjective ‘Victorian’ had come to mean stuffy, prudish or hypocritical when Victoria herself seemed more broad-minded.
‘What is more startling today is to discover what a robust and interventionist ruler Victoria was.’
This is one of the most accessible and interesting biographies I have read recently. There are pages and pages of notes for those interested in sources, but the notes themselves do not interrupt the flow of the book. The picture of Victoria that emerges is of a complicated woman, a successful and strong woman who negotiated her path in an overwhelmingly patriarchal society. I was interested in how closely she worked with her prime ministers, especially Disraeli, and how she disliked Gladstone.
I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in the life and reign of Queen Victoria.