Review: Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird

Release Date: November 22nd, 2016
Publisher: Random House
Type: Adult Non-Fiction Biography
Pages: 752

Summary: Drawing on previously unpublished papers, Victoria: The Queen is a new portrait of the real woman behind the myth—a story of love and heartbreak, of devotion and grief, of strength and resilience.

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 years old, 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 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 revelations about Victoria’s relationship with John Brown, Julia Baird brings to life the 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.

My Review:
This book came highly recommended to me by a coworker. She said that the writing was very readable for a biography and that she wished the author had written more books. I can't agree more! Julia Baird did an amazing thing with Victoria the Queen. I had previously seen the movie Young Victoria and I had seen the Doctor Who episode “Tooth and Claw” that featured am elderly Victoria. One featured a young, driven, mischievous woman who was a abused as a child yet was still fierce, laughed easily, and fell in love completely. I could not connect that woman with the old, grieving woman who was “not amused.” What had happened to completely change her? I knew it dealt with Albert's death but I didn't know how.

Baird's tome, because any other word won't do a book of this magnitude justice, is rich in details. The sheer amount of research that she had to do to create this masterpiece blows my mind. I also live that she has new information that had never been published widely before. Victoria is a queen who has been misconstrued for years. Baird cleared up a lot of these notions. She was given full access to everything. During her research she found some of the important things such as Victoria's relationship with John Brown that hadn't been published before. Baird published everything she could to complete Victoria's story despite the Royal archivists advising her not to. I think that because of this new information and the tasteful way Baird handled Victoria's entire life the biography was incredibly readable. In fact, I forgot that it wasn't a historical novel at times and it was hard to put down.

Victoria led a magnificent life. A life that, unlike most, has distinct sections: childhood, teenage queen, life with Albert, life without him, life with Brown, and finally life without him. Each part of her life was equally important and fascinating. I was most interested in her life with and without Albert because I knew that she considered her time with him the most important of her life. Before marrying Albert, Victoria was insistent that she did not need a husband that, she was perfectly capable of managing the country all by herself. I admired that a woman dug her heels in and refused to do anything she didn't want to because she knew she was the most powerful woman in the world. She used that power to her advantage all of the time from keeping Lord Melbourne in office to marrying who she deemed worthy. All that changed when she married Albert though.

Baird paints a mixed picture of Albert. An extraordinary intellect who wanted power not just to have it but to use it to help the British people. At times I loved what he was trying to do for his adopted country but I was also annoyed that he just kept trying to take over the sovereign. His ambition was too much for his place at times, but his ethic and moral code was admirable. While Victoria was pregnant she went from not allowing him anywhere near anything to do with her work to basically handing everything over to him. During this period and for years after his death she insisted that he was the one who kept the country going because she simply couldn't due to being a woman. No, she allowed him to do it because she believed he was better than she. In the years following his death she belittled herself to make Albert seem larger than life and I don't believe it. Victoria was extraordinary in her own right. After decades without Albert, Victoria found her way back to being that headstrong young Queen. From talking to her troops to consoling fellow widows, she was an active monarch who had a hand in all things.

Baird's biography went into details about the good and the bad. She addressed rumors and misconceptions, she treated everything with the same critical non-biased eye that one expects from a great biography. At over 700 pages long (this includes the notes and introduction, the bibliography and index) it took me quite a while to read. As such, I found myself thinking about Victoria and her time often. Even if you only have the slightest interest in Victoria this biography is worth a read.