Published by St. Martin's Press
Publication date: November 22nd 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
In 1837, barely after turning eighteen, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent became the queen of England. She stood a mere 4’11” tall and had led a life largely isolated from society. For modern day readers it is almost incomprehensible to imagine that a tiny teenager could rule one of the most powerful and widespread empires in the world. Thankfully, author Daisy Goodwin’s imagination rises to the task in her new novel, Victoria.
The novel spans the three years from Victoria’s ascension to the throne to her proposal of marriage to Prince Albert (because no man can ask for a queen’s hand). Despite coming to the throne 300 years after the last British queen the attitude of Victoria’s ministers was not that much different than what Elizabeth I faced in the 1500s: Get married. The combination of her age and her upbringing led to fears that she could not rule and through Goodwin’s eyes we see that this concern is not entirely misplaced. Victoria was raised in near isolation with only her governess and tutors for company as her mother was in thrall to Sir John Conroy, a man with aspirations to rule. Goodwin conveys the oppressive passive-aggressiveness of her mother who alternates fawning concern with sly comments about Victoria’s size, her small hands, her ‘delicate’ health, her mental well-being—unending mind games cloaked as maternal love.
At the same time, Goodwin does not shy away from some of Victoria’s early missteps. She developed an emotional over-dependence on her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne and behaved foolishly because of him. In these moments her need to rebel against her mother and Conroy and to enjoy her new found freedom meant that she misused her power.
Victoria is a well-documented novel in keeping with Goodwin’s ability to personalize women in history that have not garnered much attention. Yes, Victoria has been written about extensively in her later years and as a ruler, but this novel strips away the shield of royalty and reveals a young girl being thrown into a life for which she is unprepared. At some points, the slant towards a flighty, frivolous teen wears a bit thin, as does the interminable pressure to marry Albert, but this may well be an accurate reflection of the times. Regardless, I was disappointed that the novel ends with Victoria’s betrothal and am hoping that Goodwin is already working a sequel. I’d love to read her take on Victoria’s reign within the dynamic of her marriage.