ARC Review: “Victoria: The Queen” by Julia Baird

Oh heavens me, I never feature a non-fiction book here! You guys know I’m a stickler for YA but when a e-galley about one of my favorite British queens popped up, I had to request a copy and I was EXCITED to be approved!

I have come out of my hidey-hole to review this book since the release date will be upon us soon!

Thanks to Netgalley.com and Random House for providing a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review!

victoria-the-queenTitle: Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire
Author: Julia Baird
Publisher: Random House
Expected release date: November 15, 2016
Genre: Non-fiction, biography, history
Length: 704 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) When Victoria was born, in 1819, the world was a very different place. Revolution would begin to threaten many of Europe’s monarchies in the coming decades. In Britain, a generation of royals had indulged their whims at the public’s expense, and republican sentiment was growing. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the landscape, and the British Empire was commanding ever larger tracts of the globe. Born into a world where woman were often powerless, during a century roiling with change, Victoria went on to rule the most powerful country on earth with a decisive hand.

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 vividly to life the fascinating 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. This sweeping, page-turning biography gives us the real woman behind the myth: a bold, glamorous, unbreakable queen—a Victoria for our times, a Victoria who endured.”

My rating: 4.5/5 stars

Whew, that’s a long synopsis.

It’s no joke that I’m an Anglophile and huge fan of the current royal family. I love reading about royal families because they’re quirky and sometimes downright crazy, but I find myself most intrigued by the British royal family, and Queen Victoria is one of my favorite queens to read about.

I’ve read a handful of small biographies about her life but each time, I learn something about her that I didn’t know before and this was no exception. I haven’t read all biographies about her but I can say that this one was the most all-encompassing, and that was a challenge. Baird wrote a biography about the whole of Victoria’s reign, including bits about her childhood as well. While that’s a feat in itself, as Victoria’s reign was only recently broken by her great-great-granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, writing such an expansive life about this monarch is also a feat as well.

One of my only complaint about this book is that if very often jumped around, which is only mildly understandable as there were certain events from previous years that affected Victoria’s viewpoint of a certain subject. The amount of censorship of her diaries and letters is one thing I didn’t realize happened so violently.

Trying to understand the relationship between Victoria and Albert can also be very trying, despite the queen’s many, many letters and diary entries.  One thing is obvious though–she loved him very much and, I believe, he loved her equally in return, though he also appeared to adhere to many of the hypocritical ideals of the time (though I did cheer that he stayed with Victoria through many of her childbirths). Their love for one another is infamous and one can see how heavily they leaned on one another. I also think their love was due to the fact that Victoria grew up without a father and Albert without a mother (though he actually remembered her). But I also believe that they pushed many ideas onto each other until they believed it to be a reality.

It wasn’t as if she tossed the reins to Albert. He actively sought things to do–politics, reforms, ideas, etc. He wanted to be involved. He had an incredibly sharp mind and it would have gone to waste had it not done anything. Of course, that doesn’t mean I agree with the fact that he and Victoria both did not support the suffrage moment, or that he tried to influence the government on his own. He did it because he saw it as something for the good of the people and the good of Victoria.

What I liked about this biography than I do above others is that mention of John Brown and Abdul Karim. Many biographies mostly ignore these two people in her life but these two men did to Victoria what she had always wanted: they preened, flattered, and charmed her–all to the abhorrence of her family.

Overall, this is an expansive biography and if you do not mind a bit of backtracking in relation to many events, you’ll enjoy this well-researched biography of Queen Victoria.

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