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In this impeccably researched work, an award-winning historian sweeps away the puritanical myths surrounding Queen Victoria to provide a fresh portrait of a stalwart, passionate Victoria who remains one of history's most intriguing rulers. 8 pp. of photos. 288 pp. Print ads. 25,000 print.
When the inexperienced, dowdy Princess Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, few people expected her to reign until 1901 or to give her name to an entire age. Reconstructing such homely matters as Victoria's daily routines with her dogs, her children, and her servants, veteran biographer Erickson (To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie Antoinette, 1991, etc.) overcomes the remoteness and abstraction of textbook history to demonstrate that Victoria was in some ways very un-Victorian. She had a passionate sex life with her husband, Albert. Although she believed that women had little place outside the home, she played an active, even aggressive role in public life, especially in foreign affairs. However, Erickson does not appear to recognize the dangers of identifying too closely with her subject. Victoria's attitude to her working-class subjects was a mixture of contempt, fear, and romantic idealization. She gloried in her elevation to the title of empress of India, but the Indian people were either unrealistically idealized for their spirituality or furiously vilified as the fiendish murderers of white women and children during the Mutiny of 1857. Victoria's narrow view of the world had important political consequences that Erickson ignores, notably in the case of Ireland. By her stubborn opposition to political rights for the Irish, Victoria helped to block the far-sighted attempt by her prime minister, William Gladstone, to grant them greater autonomy. The consequences of that failure have been tragic.
Although a useful introduction to the details of everyday life among the upper classes, this is an unreliable guide to the broader issues of 19th-century British and imperial history.