Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Sometimes it seemed as if Victoria was a permanent fixture on the landscape of Britain.” I’m starting to feel the same way about this book and the landscape of my book life. I started reading it on December 16 and I’m still at only 59%. Pro tip: If you want additional interesting little tidbits, comb through the notes, which I’ve been doing chapter by chapter. If you want to finish the book anytime soon, skip the notes. It’s worth noting that although the book clocks in at a kitten-squishing 752 pages, only ~500 of those are narrative; the rest is notes and works cited. That’s fairly concise, given Victoria’s long life and long reign. But I’ve watched two other e-books disappear unread from my tablet because the library loans ran out, while I diligently read this one because it’s an advance copy (my thanks to Random House, Net Galley, and the author for the ARC in exchange for my honest review). Although it’s very newly published, in November, I’m trying to stay as advance as I still can.
All of which is not to say that the book is a slog, because it’s not. Biographies can so easily be dry but this one is well-written, scads upon scads of wonderful information rendered in a quite readable voice. I’ve had a lot going on, including a brand-new, full-time job and a fairly serious case of the holiday blahs and now my son Monster is here visiting me from Nevada, yay, and Dream Girl is home for a couple of days too, yay again, and I have a houseful with people sleeping on the floor, and I’m so blessed and lucky and it’s time to get off my depressive whiney ass and communicate with people so I’ll start with this shoutout to the world in general. *stops for breath* The time it’s taken me to read this doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. It’s a highly engaging book.
One fairly large contextual error was a bit annoying, that being the author’s tendency to refer to young Victoria as a teenager. Technically she was, but the concept of the critter known today as the teenager, preoccupied with high school and dating and records/music downloads and makeup and video games, did not exist until the 1920’s or 1930’s along with compulsory education, and the term teenager was not coined until then. Referring to Victoria that way made me picture a gum-snapping bobby-soxer or a pink-haired cellphone zombie. Likewise, referring to her as single felt anachronistic. In the nomenclature of the times, she would have been a young woman, or unwed.
One particular thing tickled me: Referring to Her Majesty’s retreat at Glassalt Shiel as a “tiny cottage.” But I guess if you’re accustomed to the ~900,000 square-foot sprawl of Buckingham Palace, then, yeah. Perspective is everything.
This just might be the definitive biography of “the grandmother of Europe,” a queen whose influence is still heavily felt in the Western world. Along with history and politics, her personality shines through, along with the personalities of those who peopled her long life, for good or for ill, including Lord Melbourne, Benjamin Disraeli, the despised William Gladstone, and her beloved Prince Albert and the ghillie John Brown. That’s what I read biographies for. Recommended.
Bookshelves: biography, advance-review, i-am-an-anglophile, victorian-england
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