Australian journalist and historian Baird (Media Tarts: Female Politicians and the Press, 2004) draws on previously unpublished sources to fashion a lively, perceptive portrait of the long-reigning queen.
Victoria (1819-1901), writes the author, was an adoring wife, overbearing mother, and “a clever and forceful political calculator.” Characterizing her subject as “the most famous working mother in the world,” Baird focuses intently on love, sex, and family: Victoria’s marriage to Albert and protracted mourning after he died; her attitudes toward childbearing and mothering her extensive brood; her postpartum depressions; her adoration of the “blunt, bearded Scotsman” John Brown; and her relationships with many men in her government. Although there are few surprises for readers familiar with previous biographies by A.N. Wilson, Christopher Hibbert, Matthew Dennison, and Carrolly Erickson, to name a few, Baird shrewdly assesses the quality of the queen’s family life and creates sharply drawn portraits of the major players in her circle. The queen “budded in the presence of a man who charmed her, who confided in her and sought her approval,” such as her first prime minister, Lord Melbourne, with whom she had “one of the great platonic romances of modern history,” and the sympathetic, witty Benjamin Disraeli. As for her marriage, Baird sees both Victoria and Albert as stubborn and strong-willed. “Albert was aiming for greatness,” the author observes, and was happy when his wife was pregnant so he could take a role in governing. He believed women were inferior to men, and Victoria conceded, “Albert’s talents were superior.” As far as motherhood, Baird reveals that Victoria hated being pregnant, feared that she would die in childbirth, was sometimes “doting,” but also described her children “bluntly and often harshly” and clearly had her favorites. On the political landscape, Victoria witnessed the devastating Crimean War, uprisings across Europe, famine in Ireland, and domestic social pressures. She sought to transcend a “primarily ceremonial and symbolic” role to one of power and influence.
A well-researched biography sensitive to Queen Victoria as a woman.