Julia Baird has written a fresh and eminently readable biography of Victoria R.I. Here, Ms. Baird recaps the familiar milestones and major relationships of Victoria’s life, but also presents a novel take on many of the most repeated stories and characteristics that were first attributed to Victoria by her male biographers and then parroted innumerable times in movies and books ever since. Baird asserts that we’ve seen Victoria through a certain lens, a lens that probably exaggerated and distorted themes that were largely based on the diaries and correspondence her family worked so hard to censor after her death. Now, thanks to other sources and more recent information, we are able to see Victoria in a new light. Victoria’s early biographers defined her as: a woman who did not take great joy in her children, a woman who allowed Albert to rule in her place, and a woman who never regained enjoyment of life after Albert’s death, to name a few.
To the contrary, there is ample evidence that Victoria was an excellent mother who treasured her children. Diaries show that she spent ample time in the nursery. Victoria was keen to be a good ruler, but the demands of her life shaped and limited her in ways big and small, requiring her to lean on the only person she trusted completely, Albert. We learn that Victoria did mourn Albert excessively but also came to rely upon and love one of her servants, John Brown.
Inside these pages, we see a very stubborn, independent young woman who was forced to rely more and more heavily on her husband when frequent pregnancies, many children, and the demands of state became an immense burden, a woman who voluntarily turned over much of her identity, independence, and self-confidence when life forced her to simultaneously balance the unprecedented roles of wife, sovereign, and mother. She demonstrated amazing physical courage (she had no fear of the many lunatics that shot at her), and still she shrank behind her philosophical husband and his cultivated circle of thinkers. Baird reminds us that Victoria was in a terribly peculiar position for her gender and era: she was queen regnant and yet still expected to play the domestic roles typical of her time. She was a woman of many contradictions: forceful, opinionated, hard working and intelligent, yet her well educated, exceptionally moral, forward thinking, and workaholic husband often (perhaps inadvertently) made her feel foolish and out of her place; she greatly enjoyed dancing but was never happier than at Osborne House or Balmoral, where she and Albert relished their quiet domesticity.
For anyone who wants a fresh look at a well studied subject, I highly recommend this one. It reads like a novel but makes you reconsider everything you’ve ever read about the most powerful woman of her time.
Amazon link is here.