Packard falls far short of the mark in his effort to write a multibiography of five intrinsically fascinating, unexplored...



Packard falls far short of the mark in his effort to write a multibiography of five intrinsically fascinating, unexplored subjects. Packard, an independent historian, has written a previous biography of Queen Victoria (Farewell in Splendor, 1995, etc.); here he turns his attention to following the life passages of her five daughters. Victoria herself takes a real beating in this treatment as a distant, demanding mother, setting impossible standards for her children and arranging not just their marriages, but their lives. (Prince Albert, in contrast, comes across as a doting father, as well as a hyperdedicated co-monarch.) All five daughters were married off to various noblemen: the oldest, Vicky, wed the crown prince of Prussia and was mother to the erratic Kaiser William of WWI; the second daughter also married into the Prussian aristocracy and bore Alexandra, who was murdered in the Bolshevik Revolution with her husband, Czar Nicholas. (Clearly, Victoria's plans for preserving European peace by forging powerful alliances through marriage came to disastrous results after her death.) Another was dispatched to Canada to further the British Empire with her carefully chosen husband, the governor-general. A fourth daughter married a minor German prince; and the fifth Victoria had intended to keep single as her secretary, but she fell in love at age 27 and was finally allowed to marry. The biography succeeds best at evoking an aesthetic sense of place; some of it reads like a Robin Leach travelogue of the various cities and palaces where the five princesses resided. Also, Packard's authentically Victorian obsession with ancestry and family connections fills this work with superfluous characters and renders it hopelessly confusing. That said, Packard writes well, and his attention to detail can occasionally be rewarding, especially if one enjoys armchair-visiting the various palaces he describes so lavishly. Mildly entertaining, although it sidesteps many more provocative arguments about European politics, women's issues, and class struggles in the heyday of the British Empire.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 1998

ISBN: 0312244967

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

Close Quickview