If you know about Queen Victoria’s life, this book will confirm the details; if you do not, it is a good introduction. But even first-time readers are bound to have a package of familiar mental images. Highlights of Victoria’s life and times have appeared in countless movies and novels, beginning with the famous scene when the eighteen- year-old girl receives dignitaries in her dressing gown and is told she has become Queen. Then come tales of her jealous mother, devoted governess, wicked uncles and strict court; the intellectual flirtation with the Prime Minister, Melbourne, and the ‘bedchamber crisis’ when she refuses to accept his successor; malicious gossip about Lady Flora Hastings, suspected of pregnancy when she has a fatal tumour; the Queen asking Prince Albert to marry her because etiquette forbids him to propose; the mother of nine, who defies the Bible’s pronouncement ‘in sorrow shall she bring forth children’ and says: ‘We are having the baby, we shall have the chloroform.’
The Prince Consort dies of typhoid, she heaps the blame on her scapegrace heir and luxuriates in self-indulgent grief for decades, the reclusive Widow of Windsor and the target of more cartoons and criticism than any other modern monarch. Disraeli delivers an empire; John Brown dares to be rude. At last redeemed in public opinion by old age, she is seen as the Grandmother of Europe, famously ‘not amused’.