January 12, 2017

Life with Queen Victoria: Marie Mallet's letters from Court, 1887-1901

... Matilda sat beside her and laughed when she saw the title of the book Maud had been reading. 'Last time I was here, it was the memoirs of a lady-in-waiting,' she said, teasing Maud.
      Mockery slid off the armor of Maud's self-sufficiency. 'I like that kind of book,' she replied simply.
from Envious Casca, by Georgette Heyer

{Hearing these lines in the audiobook I'm listening to, just about the time I was starting this book, was just too, too perfect.}

After reading quotes from it in a book I read last month, I was very happy to find this book at the library.  I'm a Queen Victoria groupie, as you may have noticed, and reading about life at court in a book of letters is just icing on the cake as far as I'm concerned. :)

Marie Mallet, who was born into an aristocratic family who often served at Court, became a Maid of Honour and later a Woman of the Bedchamber (a more senior and influential position)  to Queen Victoria, serving on and off until Victoria's death in 1901. Her role was part companion, part social secretary; she read to the Queen, played piano duets with her daughters, answered letters and telegrams, and accompanied the Queen on relentless and unavoidable carriage rides in every kind of bad weather.  'Waiting' involved hours of waiting for the Queen, and Marie writes about the boredom, and the great discomfort of being at Balmoral in cold weather and at Osborne House in the heat. But she also comments on the personalities and foibles of the ministers and royals who visited the Queen, and on the political and historical events she learns about at close range.

All of this is described in letters she wrote to her husband Bernard, a civil servant, and to her mother, who had also served at Court, and there's a wonderful mix of gossip, exasperation, fascination and a deep sense of honor and devotion.  One of the charms of the book is the Queen's fondness for Marie's young son Victor, who edited the letters and adds some of his own reminiscences.  But what comes across most is Marie's love and admiration for the Queen, and the Queen's great affection and confidence in her.  It all makes an unimaginable life very human.

Are you looking forward to Victoria, starting on Sunday? I am.  To be honest I was a little less then impressed with the novel it's based on, but it's hard to imagine that the sets and costumes won't give the story more life. And Rufus Sewall. I'm just saying.

Life with Queen Victoria:  Marie Mallet's letters from Court, 1887-1901, edited by Victor Mallet
John Murray, 1968
Borrowed from the Boston Athenaeum


JoAnn said...

So glad I read your post this morning... with all the excitement this week (finally made it to FL), I'd forgotten about the series!

Nicola said...

Queen Victoria groupie! Yes, fascinating story.