Category Archives: Victorian

The Young Victoria

This is my third review for the 2010 Period Drama Challenge hosted by Lights, Camera…History!

“Some people are born more fortunate than others,” says Victoria (played by Emily Blunt) in a voiceover at the beginning of the film, but she doesn’t feel fortunate. The teenage Princess is controlled by a strict set of rules implemented by her mother, The Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), and her household comptroller Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong). These rules forbid her from sleeping in a room without her mother and from walking down a flight of stairs without an escort to hold her hand. Despite Conroy’s attempts to force the seventeen-year-old Victoria to sign a regency order, which would allow the Duchess of Kent to reign for her underage daughter, Victoria stubbornly refuses to sign away her crown. When she reaches her eighteenth birthday the order becomes obsolete and upon the death of her Uncle King William IV (Jim Broadbent), she is crowned Queen.

Victoria initially delights in the new freedom that being Queen brings, refusing to see Sir John Conroy and having the Duchess’ bed moved from her room. Although pressure is placed on her to marry, she is unwilling to give up her newfound independence and delays a decision, turning instead to the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), for advice. Victoria’s unwillingness to lose Melbourne turns public opinion against her though and the Queen decides that she is ready for a partner who will “play the game with” her. This partner is Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Rupert Friend), with whom she falls deeply in love. Both have been pawns in their families’ political aspirations though, and both are strong-willed, resulting in an inevitable clash of character.

Victoria is informed that she is now Queen.

Victoria really did interfere with politics by refusing to appoint Tory-affiliated ladies of the bedchamber. The “bedchamber crisis”, as it was dubbed, occurred when Lord Melbourne, the Whig Prime Minister she had become close friends with, resigned from government. Sir Robert Peel, a Tory, was given a chance to form a government but the Queen had appointed Melbourne’s choices as her ladies of the bedchamber, all of whom came from prominent Whig families. She refused to let some of these ladies be replaced with Tory choices, citing her royal prerogative to retain ladies regardless of their political affiliations. Peel believed that this refusal meant he did not have the Queen’s confidence and refused to form a government. The result was that Victoria kept Melbourne in government as her Prime Minister but was criticized mercilessly by the press and hissed at by the people, who called her “Mrs. Melbourne”.

The Young Victoria also depicts King William’s speech at his birthday dinner in which he denounced the Duchess of Kent for her behaviour and for keeping her daughter away from court. Not only is this true, but some of the speech is quoted word for word from what the King reportedly said! The difference lies in the aftermath. In the film the Duchess storms out and Victoria just appears upset, but in reality, Victoria burst into tears and the Duchess remained in the room, sitting next to the King at that so one imagines it made for an awkward meal!

On a lighter note, there is a brief scene in which the Duke of Wellington uses a yo-yo. Much to my surprise, the Duke was reportedly an enthusiast of the toy, although it was then known as a ‘quiz’ or a ‘bandalore’ rather than a ‘yo-yo’.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Although The Young Victoria portrays him as a seducer, it’s worth noting that Lord Melbourne was forty years Victoria’s senior, an age few would guess at in the film given Paul Bettany’s youthful makeup and costuming. Victoria never knew her father and Lord Melbourne had lost his child so it is likely that their relationship was more paternal than romantic.

The only large change comes in an assassination attempt made late in the film that I suspect was added as a dramatic way for Albert and Victoria to reconcile after an argument. Albert is shot defending his wife in the scene and Victoria tearfully reaffirms her love. Although many attempts were made on Victoria’s life throughout her sixty-three year reign, Albert was never wounded during one.

Additionally, Leopold, King of the Belgians, is depicted as a rather one-note schemer. While he certainly did train his nephew to woo Victoria, he was also Victoria’s favourite Uncle and a great influence on her.

My mother, the Grammarian, kindly went to see the film with me even though she doesn’t share my passion for history and she enjoyed it. Part of The Young Victoria‘s appeal is that it has something for everyone. Yes it’s a romance and a period piece, but it also has politics and characters who are relatable in the modern age. It’s largely historically accurate and features stunning costumes and a great cast. Some have criticized Emily Blunt for not looking enough like the Queen, but she has Victoria’s stubbornness and her charms completely. In my opinion, it is Rupert Friend who is the real star of the movie though. His Albert is a Prince that any girl would be glad to have by her side and is obviously loving, but also displays human flaws, showing frustration when he must wait for Victoria to choose him and at her dependence on “Lord M”.

The Young Victoria is a wonderful film that I would recommend to anyone.



Filed under British History, Period Drama Challenge, Victorian

We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals

We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill. Ballantine Books, 2009.

Gillian Gill’s We Two is a biographical look at Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In it she presents the argument that their marriage was not a case of Victoria submitting to Albert, but a constant struggle for power. She begins with Victoria’s unhappy childhood as a virtual captive in her own home, forced to abide by a set of strict rules implemented by her mother and the household comptroller Sir John Conroy which came to be known as the Kensington System. She then examines Albert’s childhood in Germany before discussing their marriage and their family life including the nine royal children who would marry into Royal houses across Europe.

We Two gets off to a great start. While it includes historical detail, it is also very readable and Gill’s narrative style flows. Some interesting details are offered, including the fact that the morality for which the Victorian age is remembered was due to Albert’s influence rather than Victoria’s, and I loved the descriptions of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Royal Visit to France. These events are presented in such vivid detail that the reader can feel the enthusiasm Gill’s subjects must have felt during these events. The biography sets out to demonstrate that Victoria and Albert’s marriage was a constant power struggle but the strongest chapters are those dealing with Victoria’s youth and their family life together.

Unfortunately Gill is less effective when she writes about Albert and the early years of their marriage. Biographers must walk a fine line. They must be interested enough in their subjects to devote months or even years of study to them, but identifying too closely with the subject may cause the work to become a biased text that overlooks flaws and criticism in favour of undisguised adoration. This is not Gill’s problem. In fact she leans too far to the other side of the spectrum, making this reader wonder why she would bother writing on two subjects when she so clearly dislikes one of them!

Gill is extremely hard on Prince Albert, especially during the chapters chronicling the early years of his marriage to Victoria, so I can only imagine what reading Duff’s biography, which Gill cites as a “scathing indictment” of the Prince in her endnotes, would be like! Throughout We Two she complains about Albert’s excessive morality, his lack of humour and warmth with the general populace, and his desire for political and household control. These can be easily accepted as human flaws, but Gill goes one step further by using the label ‘misogynist’ for Albert.

Was the Prince Consort sexist by 21st century standards? Absolutely, as were most men of his time, but labeling him a misogynist, a term defined by The Oxford English Dictionary as a “man who hates women”, is completely unfounded. Feminist theory suggests that there is no difference between sexism and misogyny. I respectfully disagree.

Albert did hold sexist views. He was raised in Germany, where law forbid women from inheriting the throne, and was surrounded entirely by other men in the form of his father, brother Ernest, and uncle Leopold. His mother was exiled from court when he was six and passed away five years later. It’s hardly a surprise that the ambitious Albert doubted his wife’s ability to reign as a consequence; yet Albert loved his mother as a boy, showed affection for Victoria throughout their marriage, and doted on his eldest daughter Vicky, The Princess Royal. Certainly in the nineteenth century it was possible to hold sexist views, as Albert did, without hating women. The friction in Albert and Victoria’s relationship over power demonstrates that both had human flaws but it does not constitute misogyny and Gill’s labeling of it as such put me off her biography.

It is also worth mentioning that she not only uses the word in reference to Albert more than once but also uses it to label other male characters. Admittedly this is something that I found extremely off-putting personally but that might not influence other readers’ enjoyment of the work. If this mislabeling doesn’t bother you or if you choose to believe that misogyny and sexism are one and the same then you will likely enjoy this biography. It just wasn’t for me.

On an unrelated note, the choice of endnotes over footnotes might be more appealing for a popular history work, but it is distracting to have to flip back and forth to expand on sources.

Verdict: Your mileage may vary on this one. While I found Gillian Gill to be a capable writer, her obvious bias put me off and I can’t recommend this book. If you are interested in reading it borrow the book rather than buying it and take what she writes about the Prince Consort with a grain of salt.


Filed under Biography, British History, Victorian

Sunday Spotlight: Enchanted by Josephine

I hadn’t planned on doing a Sunday Spotlight post this week, but when I found out Enchanted by Josephine was holding a Victoria Day Weekend event I couldn’t resist! I’ve been reading Lucy’s blog for awhile now and was even been tempted to join her French Historicals Reading Challenge this year, although I ultimately decided to keep my number of challenges small.

As you might have guessed, her blog is named for Josephine, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, and her interests lie in French and Italian history. Enchanted by Josephine features historical posts, author guest posts, book reviews of historical fiction and non-fiction, and an interesting feature called ‘Historical Flavour of the Month’ where she features brief but fascinating biographies of women in history. Specific pages collect her posts on Venice and Josephine, two of her favourite subjects. Lucy is also a member of the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table, which writes about new historical fiction releases and is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the genre.

As a fellow Canadian blogger, Lucy is celebrating the long weekend with a Queen Victoria event. Enchanted by Josephine has already reviewed a biography on the Queen by Grace Greenwood and is planning more Victoria-themed content including a giveaway. Anyone who posts on Queen Victoria is invited to share their links on Enchanted by Josephine as part of the ‘Queen Victoria Long Weekend Binge’ here.

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Filed under British History, Sunday Spotlight, Victorian

YotH: The Queen and Lord M

The Queen and Lord M by Jean Plaidy. Robert Hale Limited, 1973.

This is my May entry in the 2010 reading challenge Year of the Historical.

The second in her four book Queen Victoria series, Jean Plaidy’s The Queen and Lord M chronicles Victoria’s life through her time at Kensington Palace while she waits to become Queen and her marriage to Albert. As the title suggests this is the story of Victoria’s close relationship with the Prime Minister. Although forty years her elder, Lord Melbourne charmed the Queen and was the most important male figure in her life until she married Albert. Victoria’s attachment to her dear “Lord M” is at first charming as he guides her through the earliest days of her reign, but her unwillingness to let go of their close friendship threatens the country when she stubbornly refuses to let Melbourne’s failing government be replaced by Sir Robert Peel’s Tories.

Plaidy’s novel is largely historically accurate, but does take one liberty with the age of “the boy Jones”. She writes that a boy of eight or nine was discovered in Buckingham Palace where he had hoped to meet the Queen. While there was a boy who found his way into the palace, he was Edward Jones, a fifteen-year-old sweep who had squeezed through a hole in the Marble Arch in 1938. The press called him “In-I-Go Jones” because his ability to find an entrance meant that he must be “a descendant of In-I-Go Jones”, a reference to Renaissance architect Inigo Jones. Jones made a second visit to the palace two years later when he was found under the sofa in Her Majesty’s dressing room.

The unfortunate case of Lady Flora Hastings is also true. She began to experience swelling in 1839 but refused a medical examination so the physician believed her to be pregnant. The pregnancy rumour was spread by Baroness Lehzen, Victoria’s old governess and close friend, and the Marchioness of Tavistock. Flora Hastings did eventually submit to an examination in early 1839 and the doctor found a liver tumor. After she passed away in July of that year, her brother and Sir John Conroy began a press campaign against the Queen and all others involved in the scandal.

She has been called one of the ‘grande dames’ of historical fiction, but until I started following historical fiction blogs I had never even heard of Jean Plaidy, let alone read any of her many novels. Although her books were published between 1941 and the early 90s, they have enduring appeal for many historical fiction devotees and there is even a Plaidy reading challenge you can take part in. Unfortunately many of her books are now out of print and I borrowed my copy from the local library.

I’m not quite ready to declare her the ‘Queen of historical fiction’ but I do understand why she is admired by so many. What Plaidy does well in this novel is to give realistic but interesting voices to historical figures. The Queen and Lord M didn’t immediately hook me, but once Victoria met Melbourne the witty conversations between Prime Minister and Queen captured my attention and didn’t let go. I thought that Plaidy did a wonderful job of getting into the minds of these characters and giving them distinct voices. Although the film came much later, I can just hear Paul Bettany and Emily Blunt as Lord M and Victoria from the wonderful movie The Young Victoria having these conversations as I read, and think that this makes a wonderful companion piece for anyone who enjoyed the film.

Of course the true strength of this novel is the amount of research that went into it, a joy for those historical fiction readers who like their novels heavy on the history but still very readable. If you read to expand your vocabulary you’ll also be in for a treat. Plaidy uses a number of unusual words but not in a way that suggests a case of Thesaurusitus.

This one really is a nitpick, but I found that Plaidy significantly overused the expression “with tears in his eyes” when referring to Lord Melbourne. Unless he was a particularly weepy man or prone to allergies I can’t imagine anyone being so often on the verge of tears. What begins as a touching reminder of his affection for Victoria quickly became, in my opinion, an odd and overused image in an otherwise realistic novel.

So how did I feel about my first Plaidy novel? I enjoyed it a great deal and I hope to read more by her in the future. Unfortunately, my local library doesn’t have a copy of the third Victoria novel (The Queen’s Husband) so I’ll be on my own tracking that one down.

Verdict: Recommended. Especially for anyone who enjoyed The Young Victoria and wants to learn more.

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Filed under British History, Victorian

Victoria Weekend at Truth in Fiction

This Monday marks the birth of the longest reigning British Monarch in history, Queen Victoria. Born on the 24th of May, Victoria reigned from June of 1837 until her death in 1901 and her 9 children and 42 grandchildren married into other royal families across Europe. In Canada her birth is celebrated on the Monday before the 25th of May and marks an unofficial start to summer.

We don’t often consider the Queen whose birthday we are celebrating though. For most of us Victoria Day, a statutory holiday, is simply a long weekend and a time for fireworks or enjoying time with our families. It’s even referred to as the May two-four weekend rather than Victoria Day. But with The Young Victoria now on DVD, it’s a great time to reflect on this fascinating woman, and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate here at Truth in Fiction than with a weekend of posts devoted to her. I’ll be reviewing The Young Victoria, taking a look at both fiction and non-fictional works about the Queen, and providing some historical tales about her life.

But the end of May marks the birth not only of the longest serving British Monarch but also one of its longest serving Prime Ministers. As an admirer of William Pitt the Younger, I couldn’t let the anniversary of his birth go unnoticed and will also be posting on his life and portrayal in pop culture.

I wish you all a happy and safe Victoria Day Weekend!

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Filed under British History, Historical Tales, Victorian