FAREWELL IN SPLENDOR by Jerrold M. Packard


The Passing of Queen Victoria and Her Age
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 This account of Queen Victoria's last two weeks of life is narrated in a candid, practical voice of which the common-sense queen would heartily have approved. Victoria's death pushed her subjects irrevocably out of the stuffy drawing rooms of the-way-it's-always-been and into the bewildering 20th century. As woman, monarch, mother, and symbol, her colossal international stature meant that no one knew quite what to do when she suddenly ceased to exist. Historian Packard (Neither Friend Nor Foe, 1992) begins his story on January 14, 1901, the first day in anyone's memory that Victoria stayed in bed at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and he concludes on February 4, 1901, when she was laid to rest in the mausoleum at Windsor, where her beloved Albert's remains had waited 40 years for her company. Packard fills the gaps in the action with broad strokes of color, managing to present the distinct personalities, quirks, failings, and agendas of Victoria's vast brood of international and intermarried royals. The deathwatch family gathering, from vapid Bertie, soon to be King Edward VII, to bombastic grandson William, Germany's kaiser, is an extraordinary picture of befuddled power. But once the royal family is standing hushed by the royal bed, Packard loses the narrative momentum with which he whirled so smoothly through the characters and politics of the day. The reader begins to identify with the majority of Victoria's subjects, for whom, writes Packard, ``the watching and waiting were monotonous in the extreme.'' Packard describes every diplomatic and aesthetic decision involved in Victoria's unprecedented funeral ceremonies. As historical information it's worth recording, but it slows the action to a crawl and shortchanges any analysis of the impact of the monarch's death on a population that had known no other ruler. Queen Victoria's life defined an age; unfortunately for this intelligent chronicle, the events of her death were not all that exciting.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1995
ISBN: 0-525-93730-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1994


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