QUEEN VICTORIA: The Woman, the Monarchy, and the People by Dorothy Thompson

QUEEN VICTORIA: The Woman, the Monarchy, and the People

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In an anecdotal and balanced interpretation, Thompson (History/Birmingham; The Chartists, 1984) demonstrates how the longest-reigning (1837-1901) monarch of England overcame the limitations of her own origins and character and, at a time when the throne was becoming an anachronism, restored its dignity and became the symbol of the age named for her. A passionate, uninhibited, but pitiful-looking little woman who laughed and ate heartily and who, however obese, refused to wear corsets, Victoria came to a throne compromised by the disreputable behavior of her uncles. She married her formidable cousin Albert, bore nine children, withdrew into a prolonged widowhood, entered an ""irregular sexual relationship"" with a Highlander servant. During the last 20 years of her reign, just as England was at the peak of its commercial and industrial empire-building, she recovered her power, celebrated by the working classes--who, in Thompson's version, Victoria seems most to resemble. Thompson, a labor historian, is attuned to the power of the working classes to whose chivalrous sentiments she claims Victoria in her weakness appealed. Thompson also recognizes the power of the press, in this first age of popular journalism, in creating Victoria's image of grim virtue and puffy rectitude. In the end, it is a royal success story, a study in the dynamics of monarchic rule in a society that was increasingly democratic. Insightful; and although Thompson's biases are clearly liberal and feminist, she makes few value judgments except for attributing Victoria's ""robust constitution"" and longevity to her otherwise incompetent mother's breast-feeding her.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Pantheon