A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy

A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy

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by Helen Rappaport
     
 

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As she did in her critically acclaimed The Last Days of the Romanovs, Helen Rappaport brings a compelling documentary feel to the story of this royal marriage and of the queen’s obsessive love for her husband – a story that began as fairy tale and ended in tragedy.

After the untimely death of Prince Albert, the queen and her nation were plunged

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Overview

As she did in her critically acclaimed The Last Days of the Romanovs, Helen Rappaport brings a compelling documentary feel to the story of this royal marriage and of the queen’s obsessive love for her husband – a story that began as fairy tale and ended in tragedy.

After the untimely death of Prince Albert, the queen and her nation were plunged into a state of grief so profound that this one event would dramatically alter the shape of the British monarchy. For Britain had not just lost a prince: during his twenty year marriage to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert had increasingly performed the function of King in all but name. The outpouring of grief after Albert’s death was so extreme, that its like would not be seen again until the death of Princess Diana 136 years later.

Drawing on many letters, diaries and memoirs from the Royal Archives and other neglected sources, as well as the newspapers of the day, Rappaport offers a new perspective on this compelling historical psychodramathe crucial final months of the prince’s life and the first long, dark ten years of the Queen’s retreat from public view. She draws a portrait of a queen obsessed with her living husband and –  after his death – with his enduring place in history. Magnificent Obsession will also throw new light on the true nature of the prince’s chronic physical condition, overturning for good the 150-year old myth that he died of typhoid fever.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a sad portrayal of Queen Victoria, Rappaport shows her plunged into deep mourning after the death of Prince Albert in 1861 at age 42. The queen avoided public appearances for 10 years, wearing black for the remainder of her life, and building enormously expensive memorials—and, says independent historian Rappaport, dangerously diminished the monarchy’s popularity and enabled republicanism in the process. Her orgy of grief—which Rappaport interprets as indulgent but also a sign of clinical depression—came to an end when her heir, the rakish Bertie, almost died of typhoid fever. In their 21-year marriage, Victoria was besotted with Albert, who eclipsed her relationship with her nine children, undermined her self-confidence, and made her totally dependent as he effectively ruled as king. Offering strong circumstantial evidence against the official report that Albert died of typhoid fever, Rappaport (The Last Days of the Romanovs) suggests that an overworked, depressed Albert—disliked by a nation he devotedly served and trying to keep Britain from entering the American Civil War on the side of the South—died of Crohn’s disease complicated by pneumonia. Rappaport offers an absorbing, perceptive, and detailed picture of a constitutional monarchy in crisis. 16 pages of b&w photos. Agent: Charlie Viney, the Vine Agency (U.K.) (Mar.)
Library Journal
Rappaport's (The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg) book is a revelation, presenting the story behind Queen Victoria's relationship with her beloved Consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Whereas historically Victoria was known as a steadfast, confident queen from the beginning of her reign in 1837, this well-researched study shows otherwise: it was Albert who actually ran the empire, directing a pliant Victoria and usurping her role as monarch. Though a sickly man prone to stomach ailments, he never allowed his illnesses to keep him from performing the duties of a head of state. Only upon Albert's death in late 1861 was Victoria allowed to emerge, assuming the strength and spirit of her late and much-mourned husband for the following four decades of her reign. Rappaport has revealed the true commanding presence of Albert: strong father, dictatorial husband, and king without the title—going so far as to describe the period as "Albertian" rather than "Victorian," a powerful and startling statement. VERDICT This riveting biography, which draws on documents previously overlooked, is a work of scholarship that would enhance any collection. Recommended for all readers of historical royal biography or 19th-century British history.—Lisa Guidarini, Algonquin P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
Absorbing account of the making of a queen through her awful, protracted grief. To Queen Victoria (1819–1901), her beloved husband Albert was counsel, teacher, co-ruler and more--"King in all but name," as British historian and Russian expert Rappaport (Conspirator: Lenin in Exile, 2010, etc.) depicts in this readable narrative. Twenty happy years of marriage had produced nine healthy children--unheard of in that era of common infant mortality--and a solid sovereign partnership by 1861. Yet within the year, the unthinkable happened: A mysterious debilitating illness seized her husband, and he died on Dec. 15. Victoria's all-consuming grief stemmed partly from a deliberate denial of the seriousness of Albert's disease, both on the part of the doctors and her own willful intractability. A man of regular habits, excellent education, incorruptible rectitude, absolute loyalty and finest culture, Prince Albert had instructed his wife over the years on how to be a proper queen, ironically bolstering her enormous popularity to the detriment of his own. Essentially for the next 10 years she devoted herself to preserving his memory. She erected monuments (a regular "Albertopolis"), banished all pleasures at court, supported an entire industry of black fabrics and jet jewelry and published his speeches and memoir of their life together in Scotland. Eventually the public and the government grew tired of her "luxury of woe" and by year three she was being roundly criticized for her seclusion. Thanks to the loyalty of her favored Highland attendant, John Brown, her fondness for Benjamin Disraeli and her distaste for her profligate heir, Bertie, Queen Victoria got back in the saddle--though Rappaport skates over her transformation in one concluding page, keeping readers wanting more. Fluid reading by the knowledgeable author of Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion.
From the Publisher

“A Magnificent Obsession will immerse you in history . . . Rappaport's book brings alive an almost forgotten time. A must-read if you love British history.” —British Weekly

“A fluid and astute writer, Rappaport delivers a historically discerning portrait of Victoria in the 1860s.” —Booklist

“Rappaport offers an absorbing, perceptive, and detailed picture of a constitutional monarchy in crisis.” —Publishers Weekly

“An absorbing account of the making of a queen through her awful, protracted grief.” —Kirkus Reviews

“As shocking and immediate as a thriller. . . . [A] gripping read.” —People magazine (3 ½ stars) on The Last Days of the Romanovs

“Quite simply, stunning. . . . Chilling and poignant, this is how history books should be written.” —Alison Weir, author of Henry VIII: The King and His Court, on The Last Days of the Romanovs

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312621056
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
03/13/2012
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

HELEN RAPPAPORT studied Russian at Leeds University and is a specialist in Russian and nineteenth-century women’s history. She lives in Oxford.

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