During her unprecedented 63-year reign, Queen Victoria grew up in front of the nation she led. After a gloomy and isolated childhood, she happily married her cousin Albert and gave birth to nine children. She reigned through multiple global conflicts and survived assassination attempts. Her popularity waxed and waned.
The subject of countless books, television shows and movies (who else has been portrayed by Emily Blunt and Dame Judy Dench?), Victoria is the very definition of an icon. Her correspondence and diaries have been pored over since her death in 1901 at age 81. But what is left to say about the much-documented life of Queen Victoria, perhaps the most scrutinized of monarchs?
Historian Lucy Worsley manages to offer a fresh look by focusing on 24 days throughout the monarch’s life. By zooming in on key dates to examine Victoria as a queen, wife and mother, the book is simultaneously fast-paced and substantial. Some scholars have tried to reframe Victoria as a feminist, a strong leader decades ahead of her time. But Worsley concludes Victoria was deeply traditional, gladly allowing Albert to influence her political decisions, parenting style and even home décor. Theirs was a complicated yet symbiotic relationship. Victoria struggled with depression, including after several of her pregnancies when she felt “lowness and tendency to cry.” Albert was a generally restrained man, and he encouraged Victoria to repress her own emotions. “Slowly, gradually, she began to check her feelings, to avoid angering or clashing with Albert,” Worsley writes. Victoria herself wrote, “My chief and great anxiety is—peace in the House. . . . God only knows how I love him. His position is difficult, heaven knows, and we must do everything to make it easier.”
Worsley’s portrait of the queen is unflinching. One can barely fault Victoria for being at times self-centered and bristly—her childhood was one marked by solitude and scheming adults who saw her as little more than a symbol of their own potential future power. Yet through Worsley’s clear-eyed and graceful writing, we also see a woman aiming to do right by her subjects and her family, even within the confines of the times.