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-Victoria the Queen, Julia Baird's exquisitely wrought and meticulously researched biography, brushes the dusty myth off this extraordinary monarch.---The New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice)
When Victoria was born, in 1819, the world was a very different place. Revolution would threaten many of Europe's monarchies in the coming decades. In Britain, a generation of royals had indulged their whims at the public's expense, and republican sentiment was growing. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the landscape, and the British Empire was commanding ever larger tracts of the globe. In a world where women were often powerless, during a century roiling with change, Victoria went on to rule the most powerful country on earth with a decisive hand.
Fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, Victoria was an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary role. As a girl, she defied her mother's meddling and an adviser's bullying, forging an iron will of her own. As a teenage queen, she eagerly grasped the crown and relished the freedom it brought her. At twenty, she fell passionately in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, eventually giving birth to nine children. She loved sex and delighted in power. She was outspoken with her ministers, overstepping conventional boundaries and asserting her opinions. After the death of her adored Albert, she began a controversial, intimate relationship with her servant John Brown. She survived eight assassination attempts over the course of her lifetime. And as science, technology, and democracy were dramatically reshaping the world, Victoria was a symbol of steadfastness and security--queen of a quarter of the world's population at the height of the British Empire's reach.
Drawing on sources that include fresh revelations about Victoria's relationship with John Brown, Julia Baird brings vividly to life the fascinating story of a woman who struggled with so many of the things we do today: balancing work and family, raising children, navigating marital strife, losing parents, combating anxiety and self-doubt, finding an identity, searching for meaning.
Praise for Victoria: The Queen
-In Baird's deft portrayal, Victoria lives, breathes, and struts before us in all her complexity. . . . On a geopolitical level, Baird's sweeping historical portrait also illuminates just how interconnected the European royal families were during this time. . . . Historical astuteness aside, the pages gallop along enhanced by titillating morsels of info.---Esquire
-A vivid portrait of one of England's longest-reigning monarchs.---Entertainment Weekly
- A] success from start to finish . . . Baird's] Victoria is a vivid, visceral creature. . . . Baird also does a lively, excellent job of detailing Victoria's later years. . . . She] paints a touching picture of those final decades, during which Victoria strove to feel alive despite the fact that the great love of her life was dead.---The Christian Science Monitor
-Like the best biographers, Baird writes like a novelist, and her book is crammed with irresistible detail and description.---The Seattle Times
- ISBN-13: 9781400069880
- ISBN-10: 1400069882
- Publisher: Random House
- Publish Date: November 2016
- Page Count: 752
- Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-10-03
- Reviewer: Staff
Journalist Baird dedicates this florid, heaving biography of Queen Victoria to undoing the myths that continue to surround the woman whose era bears her namespecifically, that she was eclipsed by her husband, Albert, in matters of state; was incapable of loving her children; and was an absentee monarch after Alberts untimely death. Instead, Victoria emerges in Bairds fluid prose as a figure to be reckoned with in her own right, a passionate wife as well as an unbending ruler who defied no fewer than seven assassination attempts. Victorias rich personal life makes for interesting reading, but Bairds attempts to trace the beginnings of the suffrage and anti-slavery movements to the values embodied in Victorias reign are unconvincing, grafted as they are onto a mass of details about white dresses edged with swansdown and the Prince of Waless sordid love life. Bairds empathy for her subject is apparent throughout, however, and when Victoria finally exits the stage at age 81, the narrative seems to exhale, drained. Royal biographies tend to be breathless and straitened at the same time, and Bairds contribution is no exception, but she imbues the chilly figure of Victoria with welcome humor and warmth. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Dec.)
England's leading lady
Two new books, one fiction and one nonfiction, offer insight into Britain’s Queen Victoria, who reigned during a time of radical change.
British writer Daisy Goodwin’s novel Victoria is a delicious introduction to the young monarch’s world. Meant as a companion to the PBS series of the same name, which will air in the U.S. in January, it tells the story of Victoria’s personal and political struggles after her ascension to the throne. Goodwin’s engaging style is immediately captivating, and she deftly brings fresh life to a story familiar to many.
All historical fiction takes liberties, but Goodwin stays true to the basic facts while imaginatively filling in gaps in the record. Her queen is strong-willed and impetuous: a classic teenager, but one with a great deal more power than her counterparts. She frees herself from the control of her mother and Sir John Conroy, bonds with her first Prime Minister and navigates the difficult world between adolescence and adulthood. Goodwin makes us care about Victoria the girl, even when she behaves badly, because she breathes humanity into her.
One notable aspect of Goodwin’s account is her depiction of Victoria falling in love with Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. Readers who wonder if Goodwin is taking liberties here can turn to Julia Baird’s impressive biography Victoria: The Queen for answers—Baird confirms that the Queen had quite a crush on her Prime Minister. While many biographies can be a slog to read, Baird’s is a delight. She uses her sources well while employing a narrative style that is a joy to read; all history should be this well-written.
Victoria was a complex woman, and Baird presents the queen in all her contradictions. We cringe at her notorious tantrums and cheer when she manages to outmaneuver more experienced ministers. Baird reminds us that some commonly accepted truths about Victoria don’t hold up under scrutiny. For example, Baird argues against the idea that after Albert’s death, Victoria all but abandoned her responsibilities. While her devotion to mourning and excessive displays of grief are well-known, Victoria did not completely remove herself from the business of running the Empire.
Much of the difficulty in painting a full picture of the Queen comes from the destruction of many of her letters and diaries, done on Victoria’s orders. Later, the male editors of her correspondence excluded much they deemed unfeminine or inappropriate. Baird does a thorough job of synthesizing the primary sources that do exist, and even manages to dig up new information on the queen’s controversial relationship with her Highland servant, John Brown. A woman of her time, Victoria did not fight for women’s rights and was opposed to women’s suffrage. She was often more interested in intervening in individual situations than pushing for sweeping reforms, yet Baird skillfully avoids judging Victoria by modern standards.
Goodwin and Baird have given us two books that complement each other beautifully, offering readers the chance to learn more about one of Britain’s most famous queens.
Novelist Tasha Alexander is the author of the bestselling Lady Emily series, set in the Victorian era.