This review contains spoilers
Devotees of posh BBC shows like Downton Abbey and the new Netflix drama, The Crown, will surely appreciate Daisy Goodwin‘s juicy approach to historical and biographical fiction. Reading her debut novel, The American Heiress, satisfied the anglophile in me while I was between one of my binge watching phases, so I picked up Victoria expecting the same charm. Goodwin hasn’t lost her touch.
I was curious to see how she would construct a piece of fiction about a woman who is so well known and who has inspired a plethora of films, books, and television shows over the years, including The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt, and the ITV series, Victoria, starring Jenna Coleman, which was created by Goodwin—a television producer by day.
How, then, could she tell the young queen’s story in a way that hadn’t already been done to death? We all know she ends up with Albert, right?
I thought I knew quite a lot about Victoria, but I had no idea how close her relationship with Lord Melbourne was, and Goodwin spends most of the book building romantic tension between the two. To her credit, she’s able to do this without letting the reader lose sight of the fact that Victoria is naive and impressionable when she finally gets out from under her mother and John Conroy’s influence. That being said, I also didn’t know how badass she was when it came to dealing with people who were trying to discredit her authority or exert unjust influence over the crown. (I never thought I would get so angry on her behalf. I’m pretty sure I murmured, “You go, Vicky!” at least three times over the course of the novel.)
Her stubbornness, however, isn’t always easy to deal with as a politically minded reader. The fact that she concedes to Melbourne’s opinions and solutions without criticism—especially when it came to the Chartists—was irksome, but not without a level of understanding on my end. She had never experienced something like that before, and no one would have reasonably been able to deal with it without advice. I had to take a minute to separate my personal grievances with the institution of monarchy and elitism in order to make room to sympathize with Victoria’s personal preoccupations. When she commutes the sentence for the ringleaders of the Newport Rising against Melbourne’s wishes, I felt a deep happiness that she had matured enough to follow her own beliefs. (No offense to Melbourne. He was a pretty decent dude/politician.)
Victoria’s heartbreak over Melbourne is touching, but her love for him was just infatuation. Her physical reaction to Albert shows the reader that he is the real love of her life. In case you don’t know, the two have a happy marriage that produces nine children. His death in 1861 at the age of forty-two left Victoria in mourning for the rest of her life.
At the heart of her novel, Goodwin makes the reader ponder one essential question: Is Victoria a woman or a queen? In that respect, this novel goes a long way.