The Remarkable Queen Victoria


The Remarkable Queen Victoria

by Catherine Milne, HarperCollins Publisher of Victoria by Julia Baird

Sometimes I think we forget how remarkable Victoria was.

When Alexandrina Victoria became Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on 20 June 1837, she was 18 years old and barely five feet tall. Her subjects were fascinated and intrigued; some felt sorry for her. Writer Thomas Carlyle, watching her gilded coach draw away from her coronation a year later said:

‘Poor little Queen, she is at an age at which a girl can hardly be trusted to choose a bonnet for herself; yet a task is laid upon her from which an archangel might shrink.’

But he underestimated her. Shrinking was the very last thing that this tiny, powerful woman did. Victoria reigned for an astonishing 64 years, gave birth to nine children, and by the time of her Diamond Jubilee procession in 1897, her empire covered over a fourth of the inhabitable part of the world and she had 400 million subjects.

How did she do it? What sort of a woman was she?

To be honest, before I read this biography of Queen Victoria, the most enduring image I had in my head of her had been drawn from the huge bronze statue of the stodgy, grumpy, elderly queen that sits outside Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building that I walk past most days on my way to work. In her statue, Victoria is portrayed as a jowly, stout old woman, firmly holding her sceptre and looking most forbidding. Boring, I thought to myself. I had a vague apprehension from half-forgotten history lessons that Victoria lacked ambition, disliked children, didn’t enjoy ruling, effectively buried herself alive for decades after her husband died, and more, that she was a killjoy, a prude, a wowser. Didn’t, after all, the famous English prudery about sex date from her reign? And all those cloth-covered piano legs, aspidistras in the parlour, the pursed lips of ‘we are not amused’?

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

What surprised and absolutely delighted me, when I read the pages of Julia Baird’s fabulous new biography of Queen Victoria, is how much I got wrong – and how real, complicated and so much more interesting Victoria is than the myths that have sprung up about her. It is the skill of Julia Baird, as a writer and as a historian, that she’s able to bring Victoria so vividly to life in such a readable, engaging, even thrilling biography. This lively, complex and fascinating woman was sentimental, candid, stroppy and stubborn. She loved sex, delighted in power. She resisted all efforts – by her mother, her advisers, her husband, her prime ministers – to shape, mould and influence her. She wanted to govern her way – and she did. She was a working mother (and for 40 years she was the single mother of nine children), trying to balance her children’s needs, her needs and the needs of her growing empire, all in a rapidly changing world that was undergoing significant industrial expansion and social and cultural change. (And we think we get stressed …)

I was fascinated to learn that the genesis of this project came out of Julia Baird’s PhD thesis on female politicians and the media, and also the after-effects of the 2008 US presidential election, which featured high profile female politicians like Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton. Why, Julia Baird wondered, do we so struggle to imagine women exercising power? Well, if you want to read a completely enthralling, inspiring and revelatory book about a woman who reinvented the rules and ruled, and ruled well, a woman who it could be said made the modern world, then this is the book for you. It’s an absolute humdinger – as was Victoria herself.



Victoria is now available at all good bookstores and online!

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Posted on November 7, 2016 by

This entry was posted in Catherine Milne, Guest Post, Inspiring, Memoir & Biography, Recommendations and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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