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’.
Queen Victoria’s circumstances make us interested in and even fond of her, despite characteristics that would have been called hysterical, selfish, domineering and unkind in any less exalted individual. But she was also candid and unaffected (at least in her journals), industrious and capable of great common sense. Whatever her