“They think I am still a little girl who is not capable of being a Queen.”
Lord Melbourne turned to look at Victoria. “They are mistaken. I have not known you long, but I observe in you a natural dignity that cannot be learnt. To me, ma’am, you are every inch a Queen.”
In 1837, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria – sheltered, small in stature, and female – became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Many thought it was preposterous: Alexandrina — Drina to her family — had always been tightly controlled by her mother and her household, and was surely too unprepossessing to hold the throne. Yet from the moment William IV died, the young Queen startled everyone: abandoning her hated first name in favour of Victoria; insisting, for the first time in her life, on sleeping in a room apart from her mother; resolute about meeting with her ministers alone.
One of those ministers, Lord Melbourne, became Victoria’s private secretary. Perhaps he might have become more than that, except everyone argued she was destined to marry her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. But Victoria had met Albert as a child and found him stiff and critical: surely the last man she would want for a husband….
Drawing on Victoria’s diaries as well as her own brilliant gifts for history and drama, Daisy Goodwin, author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter as well as creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria, brings the young queen even more richly to life in this magnificent novel.
In the two weeks leading up to Christmas, I began watching a television series called Victoria, created and written by a woman named Daisy Goodwin. From the very first episode, I was drawn in and captivated by this beautifully atmospheric and richly historical series. I was so pleased to discover that Daisy Goodwin had also written Victoria as a novel, so I eagerly bought it but set it aside to read once I’d watched seasons one and two of Victoria.
The novel, Victoria, was written by Daisy Goodwin alongside the series, so it isn’t actually a spin off. It would have been quite a feat, I imagine, writing the same story simultaneously as a novel and a script for a television series. Having both watched and read Daisy’s efforts, I am in awe of her talent; she has created an exceptional television series and an excellent novel, neither dependent on the other for clarification. Having said this though, I feel the two make great companions, for many reasons, all of which will be addressed throughout this review. Just note, that unless I specifically mention the television show from here on in, it is safe to assume that all of my comments are about the novel.
Victoria opens with a telling prologue that sets the scene of her upbringing with awful clarity. From here, it swiftly moves two years ahead to her ascension to the throne as an 18 year old. In consultation with Queen Victoria’s personal diaries, along with other historical material, Daisy Goodwin has fashioned a beautifully accessible Victoria for us. While vulnerable to her elders and insecure on account of her age and lack of worldly exposure, Victoria has an inner strength and compassion that steers her as a monarch. She makes mistakes, yet she learns from them, and fashions herself into a modern Queen, whose sole aim is to rule over her subjects with empathy and understanding. At times idealistic, she revels in her new freedom from her mother’s skirts, simultaneously discovering many things about herself as well as the duties of a monarch, shouldering the burdens with grace and celebrating the triumphs with dignity. I loved the Victoria that Daisy Goodwin has created, and I loved meeting her at the beginning of her life as Queen. This is a true coming of age novel, with strong character development and a sympathy for the real Queen Victoria. She appears to me to have been a woman of great feeling, compassionate and dedicated, with a sparkling wit that those closest to her would have appreciated greatly. It comes as no surprise to me that she was a favourite with the public.
The novel is largely concerned with the relationship between Victoria and her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, who is quite the dashing older man. He steps up to counsel the Queen right from the beginning and quickly becomes her closest friend and confidant. Lord Melbourne, now widowed, did not have a happy marriage, and his reputation concerns many, yet he is true to two things: Queen and country, unwaveringly so. As time passes, his affection for Victoria runs deep and if she hadn’t been a Queen, I am certain he would have acted upon his feelings. For Victoria, her feelings for Lord Melbourne equate to her first love, and she spends a great deal of time agonising over these feelings, trying to orchestrate a way that they might able to be together, a situation that can never eventuate. Lord Melbourne is a character I fell rapidly in love with. His dignity and self-regulation along with his dashing manners and wit were much to be admired. He loved Victoria, quite deeply, yet knew his place and sacrificed his heart to Albert, who he knew instinctively would replace him as Victoria’s true love, long before she or Albert even knew it. Lord Melbourne was a true gentleman, both on the page and on the screen, Rufus Sewell bringing him to life with sophistication and feeling.
And now we come to Albert, the Prince that stole Victoria’s heart, despite her adamant insistence that she could not be bothered with him. But the Albert of Victoria’s memory was quite different to the young man that arrived at the palace with his brother in tow, summoned by his and Victoria’s mutual uncle, the Belgian King Leopold I, with an order to marry his cousin, regardless of his own feeling on the matter. Albert was a deeply sensitive and incredibly philosophical young man, fiercely intelligent and curious about everything, he was a strident modernist who delighted in the advancement of society through technology and science. His superior intelligence gave him a tendency to come across as arrogant and disapproving, yet he was far from it. He had no time for artifice or frivolity, his serious nature making social interactions quite difficult for him. And there was a cultural barrier as well which led to Albert appearing humourless at times. But I loved him – of course! – right from the start, and Daisy Goodwin did an excellent job at showing Albert’s true nature best through his interactions with his adorable rake of a brother, Ernst, who was a delightfully sparkling addition to both the novel and the television series. Ernst quickly became a favourite of mine, particularly in the television show, where we see his character developed much further throughout the second season. Albert had a real way about him, he didn’t stand on ceremony and often said what he felt, whether it was the done thing or not, yet he was surprisingly sophisticated with this, his statements delivered with a poignancy that conveyed how precise his timing could be. His compassion for the poor was very much evident, along with his passion for progression and appreciation for the arts.
Despite Victoria’s destiny lying with Albert, he only appears in the novel close to the end, around the 80% mark in the e-book. You get a whole lot more of Albert and his romance with Victoria in the television series, as this continues on from the novel quite extensively. I’ve seen a few criticisms of the novel not containing enough of Albert and too much of Lord Melbourne, but to me the novel was paced and structured to perfection. Lord Melbourne had such a great influence over Victoria when she was still forming into a Queen, and he also had great influence on her heart as a young and impressionable girl. And besides, while watching the marriage of Albert and Victoria played out against the drama and politics of the era was engrossing television, I don’t feel this would be so interesting on the page. The push and pull of their courtship was beautifully done in the novel, but once they were engaged, that tension was resolved, and consequently, it was an excellent point at which to close the novel. I absolutely adore this exchange upon their engagement:
As already mentioned, the series continues on well past this point, and I have read recently that it has been approved for a third season. One thing the television show does that the novel did not, is explore the lives of the supporting characters in more detail. The servants, the other members of court, the other royals; the scope of this would have been too much for a novel but worked so well for the television series. Another thing was the portrayal of the political and social details of the era, along with key defining events in history. Make no mistake, this series showcases so much more than a love affair between a Queen and her husband. I’m not sure if Daisy Goodwin is going to leave Victoria as a stand alone novel; she could really go either way, keep on writing or rely on the television series to maintain the story. I will be following along regardless! Daisy Goodwin has ignited within me a great interest in Queen Victoria. I plan to soon read the much lauded biography by Julia Baird which was published this year, and I just bought the movie Victoria and Abdul starring Judy Dench, which I see has rave reviews. I’ve always been a keen royalist so it doesn’t take much to pull me into a monarch’s history. I’ve had similar obsessions with Elizabeth I and King Henry VIII and I’m sure I will in due course move onto another monarch once I’ve exhausted all things Victoria. If you haven’t watched the series, or even heard of it, I have included here a splendid trailer of the first season, which also showcases the story portrayed within the novel. Victoria is a stunning production and a gloriously romantic novel, both of which I recommend with the highest regard.
DAISY GOODWIN, a Harkness scholar who attended Columbia University’s film school after earning a degree in history at Cambridge University, is a leading television producer in the U.K. Her poetry anthologies, including 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life, have introduced many new readers to the pleasures of poetry, and she was Chair of the judging panel of the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction. That was the year she published her first novel the American Heiress ( My Last Duchess in UK) , followed by The Fortune Hunter and now Victoria. She has also created VICTORIA the PBS/ITV series which starts in January. She has three dogs, two dogs, and one husband.