Though Mrs. Cecil Woodham-Smith's biography of Queen Victoria stops, or rather expires, with the death of Prince Albert,...


QUEEN VICTORIA: From Her Birth to the Death of the Prince Consort

Though Mrs. Cecil Woodham-Smith's biography of Queen Victoria stops, or rather expires, with the death of Prince Albert, this is still the most detailed life of the queen to appear in many years. The author's scholarship is impeccable and her knowledge of Victorian England vast; the more's the pity that so little of it is allowed to impinge on this overwhelmingly domestically oriented biography. Except for an occasional royal visit to France or the Belgian court of Victoria's Saxe-Coburg Uncle Leopold, Mrs. Woodham-Smith rarely ventures beyond the grounds of Windsor, Buckingham Palace or the other royal residences. The Queen, although she lived in an age of great social upheaval, was interested in ""neither public health, nor housing, nor the education of her people, nor their representation""; perhaps to accommodate her, Woodham-Smith keeps these matters discreetly off-stage. Familial relationships on the other hand are fully developed from Victoria's birth which aroused so much enmity and jealousy among her ducal uncles through the loneliness of her adolescent years when, estranged from her mother, she became dependent on her governess-nana, Lehzen, to that spectacularly successful marriage to her cousin. Like Duff(Victoria and Albert, p. 1057) and so many others, Woodham-Smith believes that Albert was the focal point of her life; under his influence she changed from a willful, capricious and rather foolish young girl to a mature though still obstinate sovereign whose political judgments, while never brilliant, were endowed with a good deal of common sense. The author also confirms the influence of Melbourne, Prime Minister during the first years of her reign -- indeed Woodham-Smith blames the cavalier old man for blunting Victoria's natural sympathies for the common people. As parents constantly fretting over affairs in the nursery, Victoria and Albert are shown at their best -- though in typically Hanoverian fashion Victoria was a cold and insensitive mother to her eldest son ""Bertie."" Since international diplomacy was in the Queen's mind closely tied to royal marriage alliances, Victoria became a more astute observer of foreign affairs than domestic politics, and of course Albert's tutelage helped. What's chiefly missing here is the interaction of sovereign with her subjects and the great issues of the day -- the social ferment of the Age of Improvement. Withal, the book will be widely and pleasurably read; as always Mrs. Woodham-Smith strikes a felicitous balance between academic and popular history.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 1972


Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1972