Tag Archives: Queen Victoria

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

The question isn’t whether the teenage Queen Victoria had a crush on her elderly Private Secretary, the question remains about what sort of feelings Lord Melbourne had towards Her Majesty.

Daisy Goodwin in both her book and PBS miniseries Victoria extensively used Queen Victoria’s diaries to weave her tale of Alexandrina Victoria’s ascension to the throne. Unfortunately, although Victoria kept all encompassing diaries about not just her actions, but her thoughts and attitudes towards life, her youngest daughter Beatrice edited these reflections (at her mother’s request), copying them over and burning the originals. Thus it is only the redacted words which were left behind. Still, Goodwin was able to glean that Victoria definitely had more than just daughterly feelings towards the 58 year old Prime Minister. The gallant, amiable gentleman did everything he could to please his young mentor, yet despite their closeness, even he at times became the target of her ire.

The novel has Victoria mildly flirting with the man who seems charmed by her youthful exuberance although he keeps his personal feelings private knowing it would be inappropriate for him to have a romantic relationship with the young Queen. Victoria is drawn to his life of tragic romance when as Charles Lamb his wife Caroline ran off with the salacious author Lord Byron gallivanting throughout London Society causing scandalized tongues to wag. Caroline returned to her husband after being dumped by the “evil” Lord, and proceeded to publish a “fictionalized” novel containing thinly veiled details of her affair. Lamb suffered from these insults but remained by her side as she died of dropsy at the age of 42.

Trouble followed the now Lord Melbourne as his name was romantically linked to another lady and brought to court charged with adultery or as they called it “a criminal conversation”. Despite these scandals, he was able to retain his role as Prime Minister of England and ultimately became the Personal Secretary of a Queen who was fascinated by his lovelorn past.

Victoria monopolizes so much of Melborne’s time that one wonders how he was able to fulfill his role of Prime Minister. Her devotion to the man was revealed when she refused to accept his Tory opponent, Sir Robert Peel, as a replacement when Melbourne attempted to step down (after almost losing a vote on an important measure), forcing Parliament to decline his resignation to keep the government intact.

Goodwin introduces us to life at Buckingham Palace in 1837 where the willful young Queen has temper tantrums, throws things about, and sulks if she doesn’t get her way. Victoria was mean to her mother, obsessed with her hair and wardrobe, and unaware of the needs of those who surrounded her, lacking any sort of empathy for the very people who fulfilled her demands. However, what can one expect of a child kept isolated and under the thumb of a controlling mother (who forced “Drina” to sleep on a cot by her side and did not allow her daughter to walk down the stairs unassisted), brought up under the auspices of a predestined life of royalty.

My favorite scene is when her two cousins are visiting and Ernest strikes up a conversation with Victoria while the others are vigorously eating their meal. To his astonishment, the footman takes away his dinner mid bite. Although he complains he hasn’t finished, the fact is that when the Queen is done eating, everyone is done as well. (And the Queen was infamous for gulping down her food). Of course the reader knows this will happen since this is not the first mention of this tradition within the pages of this book.

While lengthy, the book only deals with the early years of Victoria’s reign up to the point where she asks her handsome cousin Albert to be her husband. (The mini series proceeds a little farther to when her first of nine children are born).

I was slightly disappointed. There was so much fascinating material here to be fictionalized, yet Goodwin kept repeating the same thoughts or ideas through the voices of numerous characters. I appreciated that the author used actually quotes, but at times the dialogue was too staid and as in many historical novels featuring biographical content, the author included too many particulars from the past, although I personally liked the mention of hairstyles and clothing choices as well as the social scenes such as the various balls, dancing, and the trip to Windsor. Perhaps too much attention was paid to some of the specific events which shaped those first few months of her reign. An author needs to pick and choose their focus so we don’t get bogged down in unnecessary minutiae. If I wanted to read a nonfiction book detailing Queen Victoria’s life I would have read Victoria: the Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird (which I just might do).

Nevertheless, I did enjoy this book and recommend it to others. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and St Martin’s Press for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

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Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef

Florence Nightingale was named after the Italian city of her birth on May 12, 1820. Despite society’s restrictions she forged her way to the front lines to follow her desire to help the sick and wounded taking advantage of a British experiment to provide female nurses on the war front during the Crimean War. Her talents to organize and clean up the mess she found provided hope to the soldiers as she ministered to their needs. Gaining worldwide renown, Florence Nightingale soon became known as “The Lady with the Lamp” named for her nocturnal wanderings taking care of the wounded throughout the wards. Catherine Reef goes into detail examining the life and times of this famous healer in her biography, Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse.

Even as a child, Florence was fascinated by illness, keeping a journal with the various ailments of family members and their treatments. Contrary to the views of the times, Florence and her sister Parthenope were taught by their father who believed girls were just as capable as boys, providing them with a comparable education to what he would have given a son. The family completed their daughters education with a continental tour. Being born into an affluent family, Florence followed the example of her mother’s charity work by visiting and nursing the poor. Although she had many suitors, Florence felt that she had been called by God to minister to the sick and infirmed. While traveling with friends in Germany, she had the opportunity to spend two weeks at Kaiserswerth, a Lutheran facility containing a hospital staffed by deaconesses. However, her family disapproved of her desire to be a nurse and only begrudgingly conceding to her wish to further her education, honing her nursing skills at Kaiserswerth, partly due to her melancholy (as well as her veiled threats of suicide). Although Florence admired and developed a friendship with Elizabeth Blackwell, she felt that nursing was a better path to caring for those in need than being a doctor. She furthered her career by becoming the administrator of a small hospital for impoverished gentlewomen (a position which remained unpaid due to her social standing). All these experiences helped her when she was assigned to be the supervisor at a wartime hospital in Istanbul. While the French soldiers had the Sisters of Charity to provide for their needs, the British wounded had Florence Nightingale. Against the odds she used her connections to help improve the living conditions of the wounded and increase their chances of survival. This was an almost impossible task due to all the red tape as well as the reluctance (actually disdain) of the head doctor to support her requests. Unfortunately, she caught what was known as Crimean Fever, a bacterial infection, which continued to plague her throughout her life.

After the war 45,000 pounds was collected for Florence to open a nursing school, but first she wanted improve the health care system, especially for the military. Using her fame or “Nightingale Power”, along with the help of numerous influential friends (including Queen Victoria), she convinced the military to make changes by using statistics to show that more soldiers died from the conditions in the hospitals than from actual combat. Even at home the death rate of soldiers was double that of civilians. Florence then opened a school to train nurses, accomplished while she suffered from the lingering effects of her Crimean illness. She relied on the help of family and friends to do the footwork while she dictated action from her sickbed. Florence even published three widely read books toting her theories of health care advocating “sleep, fresh air, and regular food: these are the three great medicines”. At first Nightingale followed the theory of miasma – that disease was affected by the lack of cleanliness, fresh air, good food, and well lit comfortable accommodations. Eventually she adopted the teachings of Lister realizing that contagion played a part in the spread of illness, necessitating not just cleanliness, but disinfecting solutions.

Throughout this biography is an undercurrent of Florence Nightingale’s true character. She was not only driven in her personal behaviors but also demanded complete loyalty from her friends and family, expecting them to totally devote themselves to the cause. Such dedication was detrimental not only to her own health but also to those closest to her, and she found herself outliving all those she truly loved. She also liked to be the one in charge resenting any direct competition. Stubbornness was in her nature.

However, Nightingale was a true advocate of women’s rights, disdaining the nineteenth century mores which kept women homebound caring for children and doing household tasks, while being considered inferior to men as if they were lacking the ability to fulfill their true advocations. She lived until 1910, and thus saw others take up the mantle of women’s rights.

While this book contained detailed and fascinating information about Florence Nightingale, the question remains on who the true audience is for this particular biography. Its focus and vocabulary are a little above a typical children’s book. While the name dropping of the famous friends surrounding Florence were fascinating to me, most teens would not appreciate their relevance. I was impressed by the lengthy bibliography and the numerous photographs and illustrations scattered throughout the book, as well as the detailed index. Yet this well researched biography, containing a number of primary sources, falls between the cracks being too simplistic for adults, not compelling enough for the YA crowd, and too difficult for the average middle school student (unless they are assigned a research project on this topic). If this was written for school aged children it should have contained a timeline of events as a reference, and perhaps an annotated list of the people who were part of Nightingale’s life.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Clarion books who provided this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Reluctant Countess by Sharon Cullen

Author Sharon Cullen never fails to disappoint. In the Victorian Romance “The Reluctant Duchess”, Cullen reintroduces Lady Sara Emerson, a minor character from the book “His Saving Grace”. Sara is still grieving the loss of her charismatic cousin, Meredith, who was brutally murdered two years earlier. Now she is in London waiting for Gabriel Ferguson, the intimidating Duke of Rossmoyne, Meredith’s former fiancĂ©, who pledged to provide help if needed. Ross has spent the past two years in India fleeing from the aftermath of Meredith’s gruesome death. Upon awakening on the morning after his return to London, the Duke discovers a distraught Sara needing his assistance in discovering who is behind the bizarre letters she has been receiving. Unsure if these letters are a prank or a real threat, Ross insists that Sara take up residence in his home so he can keep her safe. With the help of his close friend Sir William Montgomery (the inspector from Scotland Yard who was in charge of Meredith’s case), Ross and Sara set out to discover the truth behind the letters as well as the identity of Meredith’s deranged killer. Ross’ mother, Lady Elizabeth, acts as chaperone, but not even her eagle eye can keep her son and Sara apart or prevent them from behaving inappropriately. Sara, anxious in social situations, is the opposite of her outgoing cousin, even though they were raised as sisters after her parents’ death. Due to Sara’s shy demeanor and Ross’ reputation as a charmer, nobody believes that the two would suit. Still, they are inexplicably drawn together, bringing out the best qualities in one another. Sara insists she will never marry due to the needs of her grieving father who has been abandoned by his wife, while Ross won’t fully compromise the girl he delights in kissing unless they wed, but that leaves a lot of room for experimentation without actually doing “the act”. The romantic scenes stir the heart, and the danger is very real. Although the villain becomes obvious halfway through the novel, that doesn’t make the climax any less exciting. Cullen moves back and forth between the introspection of the two protagonists. My only complaint is that their constant worries over a possible future together and the reasons it can’t happen were a tad repetitious, but otherwise the dialogue was witty and the action moved the story along at a decent pace. In addition, while the secondary characters were intriguing, they could have been fleshed out a bit more, but providing a glimpse of Grace and Michael from “His Saving Grace” was a nice touch for the loyal readers who collect all of Cullen’s novels.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Loveswept Books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.