Thursday, June 25, 2015

Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson: A Book Review

Victoria: A Life
Author: A.N. Wilson
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Penguin Press
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 656
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: When Queen Victoria died in 1901, she had ruled for nearly sixty-four years. She was a mother of nine and grandmother of forty-two and the matriarch of royal Europe through her children’s marriages. To many, Queen Victoria is a ruler shrouded in myth and mystique, an aging, stiff widow paraded as the figurehead to an all-male imperial enterprise. But in truth, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch was one of the most passionate, expressive, humorous and unconventional women who ever lived, and the story of her life continues to fascinate.
     
A. N. Wilson’s exhaustively researched and definitive biography includes a wealth of new material from previously unseen sources to show us Queen Victoria as she’s never been seen before. Wilson explores the curious set of circumstances that led to Victoria’s coronation, her strange and isolated childhood, her passionate marriage to Prince Albert and his pivotal influence even after death and her widowhood and subsequent intimate friendship with her Highland servant John Brown, all set against the backdrop of this momentous epoch in Britain’s history—and the world’s.
     
Born at the very moment of the expansion of British political and commercial power across the globe, Victoria went on to chart a unique course for her country even as she became the matriarch of nearly every great dynasty of Europe. Her destiny was thus interwoven with those of millions of people—not just in Europe but in the ever-expanding empire that Britain was becoming throughout the nineteenth century. The famed queen had a face that adorned postage stamps, banners, statues and busts all over the known world.

     Wilson’s Victoria is a towering achievement, a masterpiece of biography by a writer at the height of his powers.

     My review: Queen Victoria is Britain’s longest reigning monarch. Her reign symbolized the expansion of the British empire and gave her the title Empress of India. Also events in her reign included but were not limited to The Great Exhibition, Jack the Ripper, Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and the popularity of Sherlock Holmes made the Victorian era seem captivating and alluring. Queen Victoria’s era made people interested in learning about the monarch more in detail.

     While Victoria’s reign is really interesting, this book was not. This book was very dry and read like a college textbook. The book was so boring that instead of reading it during the daytime, I read it in bed at nighttime and it helped put me to sleep really fast. The 656 pages seemed like forever, and by page 100 I was really bored and disappointed. I picked this book because I wanted to learn more about Queen Victoria because she has always been a mysterious figure to me because of how popular culture has portrayed her.

      This book did not do the queen justice. This book is not really about her, but that of her prime ministers, Melbourne, Peel, Palmerston, and Disraeli. This book focused more on the politics of her reign rather than on Victoria herself. Much of Victoria’s personal life was glossed over, and seemed like a mere footnote. After reading the book, I felt that I did not know Victoria, and that the book did not give me any new details that I didn’t already know about the Victorian era. Most of the accomplishments, like the Great Exhibition, were only given mention for a few pages. Also, the personal relationship between Albert and Victoria was not discussed much in the book, only talking about Albert’s taking over politics while Victoria was mostly busy with childbearing. This biography mostly showed Victoria’s faults and criticisms rather than her good qualities. I believe that the biographer should have featured a balance of both.

     I also didn’t like how the book was structured. I don’t think this biography was well organized. It was not in chronological order, and jumped many times all over the place. It was not neat and it was not comprehensible to the reader. Many times I had to reread the page or the paragraph to understand what was going on. 

     Overall, I was very disappointed in this biography. The book was dry, disorganized, and really did not give a good portrait of Queen Victoria. He did not really answer the questions about Victoria very well, like the queen's dislike of John Conroy and her relationship with John Brown. This to me was very poorly written. And because the biographer had access to many materials that other biographers didn’t, I feel that this should have been a better biography and to have new groundbreaking material. Sadly, there was nothing new and it was basically a rehash of information about the Victorian era. This book is not comprehensible to the general reader. The reader has to know a certain knowledge of the Victorian era to understand this book. For those who are interested in learning about the politics of the Victorian era, this would be a good book for you. For those who are interested in learning about Victoria herself and her accomplishments, skip this biography and read other biographies about her instead. I recommend Victoria R.I by Elizabeth Longford or Lytton Strachey’s Queen Victoria.

Rating: 2 ½  out of 5 stars 

Here the author's talks about his book, Victoria: A Life:


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