Victoria: A Life

A.N. Wilson. Penguin Press, $36 (630p) ISBN 978-1-59420-599-6
Wilson (The Elizabethans) chronicles the life of Victoria, England’s longest-reigning monarch, in all its personal and political complexities. The product of a race to produce an heir after the premature death of Princess Charlotte, the future King George IV’s only heir, in 1817, Victoria grows up caught between her German mother’s influence and that of the British royal family. Ascending the throne at 18 and “at the mercy of the major political interest groups,” her wedding to Prince Albert follows, with their progeny marrying into positions of conflicting interest across Europe. Wilson exhibits a knack for description, his subject in turns “instinctively indiscreet,” “an impenitent imperialist,” and most notably, “a difficult woman to like, but an easy woman to love”—Victoria referred to her eldest daughter’s pregnancy as “horrid news,” and told her son upon his sister’s death, “The good are always taken and the bad remain.” Wilson captures the quirks of Victoria’s various prime ministers and the “drunken, loud-mouthed Highlander” John Brown, the queen’s “constant companion” and object of endless scandalous conjecture. Victorian era politics receive meticulous attention bordering on tedium, including suffrage for a growing middle class; increasing public questions about the utility of monarchy; and the trials of colonialism in India, Ireland, and South Africa. More than a Victoria biography, Wilson skillfully weaves the vast narrative of the Victorian landscape, despite being laden with bureaucratic minutiae. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/25/2014
Release date: 10/23/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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