I’m gearing up to write about the new miniseries about Queen Victoria when it airs here on PBS in January (all of you in Britain have already seen it, lucky ducks!). I’ve been doing my homework, and one of the books I’ve been enjoying most while brushing up is Julia Baird’s new biography of Queen Victoria.
Victoria: The Queen doesn’t really cover a lot of new territory — how can you possibly do that when she’s one of the most written-about women in the world? But it does breathe a little extra life and color into Victoria’s story. Baird is very good at constructing a compelling, readable narrative. The book doesn’t feel stale or overly bogged-down by the material. Instead, it’s kind of a page-turner — really rare for a book that clocks in at around 500 pages — and 250 additional pages of notes! (As you all probably have realized by now, I love a good footnote, and Baird’s are excellent.)
Baird’s book makes Victoria feel like a real person. She also does a wonderful job of contextualizing the lives of the British royals at the time, providing details about contemporary life at the time. I love the little moments when she steps back from Victoria to remind us of what her contemporaries — like Florence Nightingale, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot — were doing at the same moment. We’re reminded of precisely how much changed in Britain from the beginning of Victoria’s life until the end, and it helps make the entire narrative much richer.
If you’re also looking to brush up on Victoria’s life story before watching the television show, I’d definitely recommend this book. I’ve reviewed other books about Victoria here on the blog, including A.N. Wilson’s Victoria: A Life (which is now available in paperback). Baird’s book, though, is the most personal portrait I’ve read of Victoria in recent memory. I’ll definitely be consulting it often as I write my recaps!