In 2015, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning sovereign in British history surpassing Queen Victoria who is the subject of an astounding biography by Julia Baird: Victoria, The Queen. Each era needs to have its own examination of great historical events and personalities; Julia Baird has met this need handsomely. This is a study by a relatively young woman grounded in the feminist perspective of her time. She makes the point that we still seem to have difficulty with reconciling women and power.
Victoria understood power and very quickly learned its uses; at the time of her birth, she was only fifth in line to the throne. In just eighteen years she was Queen. Her’s was an era in which the monarchy would shift from direct power to indirect influence. Victoria’s relations with men are of abiding interest. Her romantic, but probably unconsummated, teenage friendship with Lord Elphinstone was followed on her accession by a close but platonic relationship with her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. Much later she enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Benjamin Disraeli to the disadvantage of William Gladstone. Her defining relationship was her marriage to Prince Albert. On her side it was a true love match. Julia Baird writes: ‘Victoria’s delight in sexual pleasure was genuinely counter-cultural’. This may be a clue to her behaviour after Albert’s untimely death and to her intense relationship with John Brown. This book is a huge achievement, and an absolute page-turner.
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