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by Lynne Vallone

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-300-08950-3
Publisher: Yale Univ.

The childhood, youth, and education of Victoria, from cradle to coronation eve (1819–37).

Vallone (English/Texas A&M) has done her homework: she examined young Victoria’s journals, schoolwork, creative writing, sketches, and “Behaviour Books”—accounts of her conduct kept by her influential governess, Louise Lehzen; and she inspected the toys and prized possessions of the princess. She read (and here summarizes) the books that Victoria read—those assigned to her by family and tutors as well as those the princess read for her own edification and pleasure (including James Fenimore Cooper’s The Bravo and Fanny Kemble’s Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation). Vallone consulted books from the period dealing with child-rearing and the deportment of girls. She examined the many portraits of young Victoria, both for their accuracy and for their symbolic values. She explored the curriculum Victoria experienced—her studies of Latin, French, German, and Italian (her weakest language) and of history, literature, science, and mathematics. (Victoria, in Vallone’s view, was “an able student with an active mind.”) She explains Victoria’s interests in riding, theater-going, singing, and dancing and presents intimate aspects of Victoria’s life as well, describing her childhood willfulness, speculating about her menstrual cycle, and describing her initial encounters with her cousin Albert, who would become the love of her life. Emerging from all of this impressive research is a much more human and even humane Victoria than suggested by the later photographs of the dour, dumpy queen. The Victoria that Vallone reveals is a young woman with spirit—and a temper—with an education both unusual and conventional, and with a sympathy for the poor. By the time her uncle William IV died, Victoria was a competent and caring young woman ready for the role history had so improbably awarded her. Though her scholarship is impeccable, Vallone lacks any irony or humor and sometimes over-stuffs her copious parentheses; occasionally, she sacrifices freshness for familiarity (people tend to “pull punches” and “play a waiting game”).

Much scholarly vigor, very little animating vim. (46 illustrations)