The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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August 23, 2010
Becoming Queen Victoria
We're reminded that Jane Austen hated the Prince Regent (and that's good enough for me), and that the British public detested his dissolute brothers. In contrast, Princess Charlotte was young and beautiful, and a sign of hope. When she died in childbirth, Williams tells us, the Dukes were 'galvanized into action,' racing each other to produce a new heir. Prince Leopold, the widower, introduced the Duke of Kent, who had been living in Brussels with his mistress of 30 years, to his sister, Victoire, and they married and became the parents of Princess Victoria. When no surviving children were born to William IV, and her uncle and father died prematurely, Victoria was recognized as the heir presumptive.
The lives and fates of the two princesses were surrounded by politics, rivalries and power struggles among their relatives and the court, and all of that makes for fascinating reading. The other main theme is the difficult relationship between the young Victoria and her controlling and in turn, controlled, mother, the Duchess of Kent.
This book, which takes us up through Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert and the birth of their first two children, is very readable and engaging. In addition to a good refresher on the history, Kate Williams paints vivid portraits of the Prince Regent, Princess Charlotte, the Duchess of Kent, and Victoria, their lives at court and their eccentricities. For me, a book like this (and like Jerrold Packard's) only makes me want to read more about these figures and this time...and a very enjoyable way to spend my reading time, in its own right.
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