When it comes to being a world builder, it doesn’t get much bigger than having an entire historical period named after you.
But when eighteen year old Alexandrina Victoria ascended to the British throne following her uncle’s death, nobody was really thinking of her future reign in such grand terms. For the most part, they were just hoping she didn’t do anything too obviously embarrassing.
Victoria’s growing pains as a young monarch in the tumultuous first couple of years of her reign is explored in a recent novel and TV series from Daisy Goodwin.
Goodwin knows her subject well–she’s been intrigued by Queen Victoria ever since she studied history at Cambridge University. After then pursuing a career as a television producer and author in her native England, it was perhaps only inevitable that she would go on to write both a book and television series about the queen.
I thought both would be an interesting entry for this series because I so rarely get to evaluate an adaptation where the original writer is involved in both. And in another unusual turn, the TV series actually came first–it aired last summer, while the book was not released until later in the year.
I followed suit by watching the show first and then reading the book, but we’ll cover the book first. (My blog, my rules.)
Thoughts on the book:
The book briefly touches on a defining moment for Victoria before she became queen–an instance of illness when she was a teenager before jumping ahead a couple of years to the day she was informed her uncle had died and she was now queen of Great Britain. From there, the book chronicles the sharp learning curve she experiences as she figures out the limits and rules that shape the constitutional monarchy, under the tutelage of her beloved Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, and the power struggles that erupt within her inner circle and family as they all jostle for control.
Goodwin does a good job of establishing why Victoria was so hostile toward these power struggles. After the strict control her mother and her mother’s companion, Sir John Conroy, placed on her as a child and young woman, she was very determined to assert her own will. But her fierce insistence on independence sometimes backfired on her.
I appreciated that Goodwin didn’t always feel the need to paint Victoria in a flattering light. The sordid incident of Victoria humiliating and falsely accusing one of her mother’s friends and attendants, Flora Hastings, of scandalous behavior was a particular low point, and I liked that the book did not try to skim over it.
Goodwin also steers her reader through the time period with ease. She is able to explain the major events and personalities in a way that is easy to follow. But I found myself wishing it was a little more than that–probably because I have been spoiled by Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction. One reason I enjoy Mantel’s work so well is she really manages to capture the complexity of famous historical figures’ personalities. I don’t think Goodwin imbues her characters with anywhere near as much insight as Mantel does–and her prose is a lot more pedestrian than Mantel’s gorgeous, intricate wordsmithing.
However, that’s not to say that Goodwin’s work is not good on its own, and I think those qualities definitely make Goodwin’s work far more accessible than Mantel. The only real complaints I had about the book are the ending and the fictionalization of one aspect of Victoria’s life. (More on that when we discuss the show.) The ending Goodwin choose for the story is a logical stopping point, but it also just seemed kind of sudden. I haven’t seen anything about Goodwin planning to write a sequel, but it was a stopping point that just kind of begged for the story to be continued.
*Ebook also available on Libby.
Follow the link below to the next page to read my thoughts about the movie.