Today is Queen Victoria’s birthday. We think of her as round and grim, the symbol of empire and the Victorian obsession with mourning. In this excellent biography by Lucy Worsley, we get to know the queen better. Examining twenty-four separate days, from her parents’ wedding in 1818 to her death in 1901, this book is a fascinating insight.
Victoria’s life conveniently divides into three parts, reflected in this book: ‘A Naughty Daughter’, ‘The Good Wife’ and ‘The Widow of Windsor’. Most of the content is about her own feelings, her significant experiences and the relationships with her family. It’s necessarily selective (I’ve previously read Elizabeth Longford’s biography Queen Victoria, which was packed with a lot of information but was less readable). There is more of a focus on the early years of her reign and on her marriage to Albert than anything else. I didn’t mind that, because it’s the most interesting part of her life. Later chapters did tend to skip a decade, giving the impression of her life speeding up. Generally the book addresses the popular assumptions made about Victoria, with two exceptions: her legendary catchphrase ‘we are not amused’ and her apparent belief that lesbians didn’t exist. I would have liked Lucy Worsley to discuss these.
As with her biography of Jane Austen, the text is easy to read and, although referenced, is not too academic. It’s not quite as fun or personal as the biography of Austen, but I still enjoyed it.
Recommended if you want to know what it was like to be Queen Victoria!
First published in 2018 by Hodder & Stoughton. There are two sections of well-chosen colour plates.