cover image Her Little Majesty: The Life of Queen Victoria

Her Little Majesty: The Life of Queen Victoria

Carolly Erickson. Simon & Schuster, $23 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-684-80765-2

A brief biography written in gushy style, with cliches to match, Her Little Majesty-the title is apparently ironic in several senses-is a portrayal of the queen who, at the close of her reign, was ""almost as broad as she was long."" Erickson (Bloody Mary) has apparently put her book together from other books, with no new documentation and with errors emerging as early as the second page. One discovers there that Victoria was the only living legitimate heir to the throne in her generation, although she had two male cousins of her age, each a Prince George. Erickson also has a tendency to put thoughts-often total irrelevancies-into the heads of her characters: ""But of course she could not go to [live in] Australia, for Albert would not have gone with her, and she needed Albert desperately."" Fictional devices proliferate: ""The baby slept on, and her mother, feeling safer than she had in months...."" The biography is most striking in undoing the fawning portraiture of artistic flatterers (""Beneath her layers of fat, her lined face and heavy round cheeks"") and in exploiting at length costume and fashion over the Victorian decades to exemplify social change. That strategy may also serve to keep some readers turning pages to learn about ""lemon bosoms"" and ""bustle pads."" Entire years escape the narrative, but Erickson has a knack for plucking pithy quotes, and the essentials of the queen's life are often deftly set out. Illustrations not seen by PW. BOMC, QPB and History Book Club alternates. (Mar.)