Schildts & Söderströms, 2013.
Reviewed by Eric Dickens in SBR 2014:1
Review Section: Fiction, Light-Hearted and More Serious
This is a delightful novel. It examines the life of Queen Victoria from girlhood to dotage. With one difference: it avoids affairs of state almost entirely, instead devoting a section each to Victoria the girl, the wife and the widow.
The tone is just right. It is a firstperson narrative; Victoria tells the story. Girlish naïveté is very much present in the opening section, as is the confusion of old age at the end. In between, we read about the family, Victoria’s many children, her life with her Consort, Prince Albert.
Victoria’s childhood is lonely. She mixes with several adults, one of whom is her old uncle, Prinny (King George IV), whose passions focus on creating Brighton Pavilion. She does not get on particularly well with her mother, who, in true Victorian fashion, binds her wrists to the sides of the bed at night to prevent things awful. We read about Victoria’s childhood fantasies, which gives the first section a magic realist overtone. One recurring morbid musing is about Charlotte, heir to the throne before Victoria, who died in childbirth, having given birth to a stillborn child.
The middle, more realistic section is about life with the German Prince Albert (they often converse in his native tongue) and how he encourages her to shape up as Queen. Victoria is madly in love with him. They live, for part of the year, at Balmoral, which they built, and in the spacious Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Victoria’s relationship with Albert is not unclouded; he has a propensity for Germanic thoroughness, for order and reason. His way of talking to her is that of parent to child, while she looks up to him as an authority and mentor. Victoria is much more of a sensuous person than Albert and seems to love him more than he loves her. She enjoys lying in bed in the morning, eating more than she should. She becomes Queen about one third of the way through the novel. The couple open the Great Exhibition, one of Albert’s pet projects, where the Crystal Palace is centrepiece.
There is much illness in the novel: Victoria’s, her son Bertie’s and Albert’s among others. Victoria, who lived in an era when many children were an insurance against child mortality, has nine children. Her beloved Albert dies young. In later years, now widowed, she leans, mentally and physically, on her valet John Brown, a manly, open-air Highland type, unlike Albert who preferred shut windows and an organised life.
The novel is well-researched by its Finland-Swedish author. The eleven books referred to are listed at the end, five of them written in English.
The title refers to a comment made by Victoria’s mother: she suggests that her daughter should treat everything, including disappointment, as if it were her crown or the book balanced on her head, in true finishing-school fashion.