Victoria's Daughters

Jerrold M. Packard, Author St. Martin's Press $29.95 (370p) ISBN 978-0-312-19562-5

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had nine children--five of them daughters--and 40 grandchildren. In this engaging group biography, Packard (Farewell in Splendor) writes about scores of lives and several generations of this fecund couple's progeny--which is why the book is best devoured in small bites and why the comprehensive list of ""Principal Characters"" is indispensable. As a family, the V&As make for a story as dramatic as any fictional saga, but Packard also shows real sympathy and affection for these royal individuals, including the vastly complicated Queen Victoria herself. Packard combed the daily correspondence the sovereign required of her eldest daughter, Vicky, as well as letters, journals, memoirs and biographies of the other principals involved. In addition, his loving (or disparaging) descriptions of the five daughters' residences in London, Argyll, Berlin, Darmstadt and Ottowa reflect his eager research. History was no mere backdrop to these lives: Vicky's eldest child, Willy, grew up to become Kaiser Wilhelm II, to her great despair, and Alice's daughter Alexandra married Tsar Nicholas II. Packard's narrative is accessible, unpretentious and solidly written (except for one particularly bad pun on a widow's peak). He manages to treat historical events succinctly while emphasizing the princesses' individual lives and family relationships, their talents in music and art, their patronage of schools and hospitals and their pioneering advocacy of women's education and employment. (Nov.)