Victoria, The Queen, by Julia Baird
An Intimate Biography of the Woman who Ruled an Empire. 696 pages, Random House.
My husband had pre-ordered the book, so we were delighted to receive a signed copy. I was about half way through when I heard Julia being interviewed by Margaret Throsby. Throughout the interview Julia’s voice was palpable with excitement and enthusiasm.
What an achievement this beautifully researched book is. Having great difficulty getting access to the royal archives, the author was blocked at every turn until she asked help from the Governor General of the time Quentin Bryce, who obtained access for her.
With good sized text, great illustrations and substantial paper, working through the book was easy. However, it was very heavy and I had to use a book-stand while I was reading, it was not possible to read in bed unless I was sitting up.
There are several books already written about Queen Victoria, but the author felt there was another approach and aimed to position the biography from a woman’s point of view, to consider this long serving Queen as a woman.
Some of the most engaging parts of the book were exactly that, particularly her intimate daily life. I loved the portraits of the Prime Ministers the Queen worked with. Julia recorded so many details of the conversations with the PMs, I almost felt like an eavesdropper behind the curtains. Her clear and detailed writing managed to give us a vivid picture, and as a reader I became engaged with the Queen’s close friendships and extreme dislikes of some PMs. I was very interested to read how the various PMs managed her, the clever ones who flattered her – to whom she responded very happily, and the others who simply didn’t know how to deal with her and did not waste any time on flattery. She hated them.
Julia gives a very fair and balanced account, but she couldn’t persuade me to like the Queen. I found this powerful woman very frustrating and cannot imagine how horrendous it was for the politicians who had to work with her and deal with her interference in the running of the country, and in particular with preserving the British Empire.
The Queen had great authority, but appeared to be naive and despite trying hard, her personal likes and dislikes annoyed me. She frequently irritated me, what a self-centred person she was.
Queen Victoria’s life was in two distinctive parts – life with Albert, and life after Albert. Her life with misogynist Albert was fascinating, and particularly how much patience Albert had with his wife and how he manipulated her. Very much in love with her husband, most of the time she was a birthing factory, producing a child almost every year. As a result of this her health and her body suffered terribly in her later years.
Julia managed to discover the family of Queen Victoria’s doctor who treated her in her latter years. His family ignored requests to destroy this man’s diaries and notes and shared them with Julia. They were very revealing, particularly concerning her relationship with her devoted Scottish servant John Brown, which the Royal family was desperate to conceal.
This is a book well worth reading – I note she had one research assistant – and if you like expanding history with some intimate details, and discovering the personality of this extraordinary powerful woman, you will enjoy it.
Reviews by Jean Lombard
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