A shimmering portrait of a tempestuous monarch.
British novelist and biographer Wilson (The Potter’s Hand, 2012, etc.) has written on a wide variety of major historical figures, from John Milton to Leo Tolstoy to C.S Lewis to Adolph Hitler. Here, he lends a lively expertise to his portrayal of the forthright, formidable, still-enigmatic sovereign. In 1837, 18-year-old Victoria, a rather “ignorant little child,” acceded to the throne, delighted to be independent of her overbearing mother but hardly schooled in political and constitutional matters. Wilson gradually reveals the unfolding of her true self apart from her marriage to the beloved Albert, prince consort. The author examines her platonic yet significant relationships with succeeding prime ministers and her mysterious Scottish manservant, John Brown. Aside from didactic correspondence from her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, Victoria was first taught about the affairs of a head of state by Lord Melbourne, who was also her first crush, until her marriage to Albert of Coburg, her German-speaking cousin whose solid Protestant intellectual ideals helped “establish monarchy as a workable modern political institution” in England. Their family of nine children, all of whom survived childhood and were used to cement familial ties to the neighboring monarchies, created a bulwark against the forces of revolution overtaking Europe. Yet Wilson also notes how the marriage caused Victoria to surrender “her own freedom and personality.” She was not a happy mother, always scolding her children, and she was immensely volatile, especially after Albert’s death, when she largely retired from court to her estates in Scotland or the Isle of Wight. In the company of Brown, she resisted her official public duties, preferring instead to write in her journals. During her long reign, Victoria had come to embody the experience of an entire age, overseeing great reform and the strengthening of ties between India and the British Empire.
A robust, immensely entertaining portrait from a master biographer.