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Summary

To many Queen Victoria was a ruler shrouded in myth and mystique, portrayed as an aging, stiff widow. But in truth Britain’s longest-reigning monarch was passionate, expressive, humorous, and unconventional.

A. N. Wilson’s exhaustively researched and definitive biography includes a wealth of new material from previously unseen sources, showing us Queen Victoria as she’s never been seen before. Wilson explores the circumstances that led to Victoria’s coronation, her isolated childhood, her passionate marriage to Prince Albert, and her widowhood, all set against the backdrop of this momentous epoch in world history.

©2015 A.N. Wilson (P)2015 Oakhill Publishing

Critic reviews

"[A] splendid biography--this book is a gem: thoughtful, witty, insightful, striking a balance between political commentary and personal gossip.... As this terrific biography shows, there really was a human being behind the gloomy portraits." (Dominic Sandbrook, Evening Standard)
"Subtle, thoughtful...a shimmering and rather wonderful biography." (Kathryn Hughes, Guardian)
"Wilson is affectionately alert to the rich contradictions of his subject's personality, and his deliciously readable biography becomes increasingly fascinating as Victoria's reign unfolds." (Jane Shilling, Daily Mail Book of the Week)
"Wilson is an excellent history teacher. He orders and narrates the hugely complex socio-political events and party infighting of the 19th century with a rare clarity.... His own achievement, sustained by a lifetime's scholarly fascination with the Victorian era, is also in its way, awesome." (John Sutherland, Financial Times)
"A. N. Wilson has written a sympathetic but by no means hagiographic biography of her that will probably overturn many people's prejudiced conception of her.... Wilson's picture of her is a rounded one, with her vices and virtues." (Theodore Dalrymple, The Times)

What listeners say about Victoria

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    5 out of 5 stars

Riveting and entertaining?

So much mythologising and fictionalising of Victoria’s life groans on the bookshelves and airwaves already, one has got to ask: do we really need another, can it say anything new? Well, incredibly, yes, because what the author has done here is take the reader (or listener) right into the heart of the woman, building up an extremely plausible psychology. When A N Wilson finally lays bare the his analysis of her, you say, “Ah, yes, so that’s why she did this ... “ (or failed to do that)!

I don’t think the author set out to do a ‘character analysis’ - at least not in any clinical way. But clearly after years with his subject he’s had to come to some inevitable conclusions. And he admits, “You don’t necessarily have to like a person to love them.” Many of her close entourage must have grappled with that dichotomy all their lives; the patterned carpets are strewn with carcasses.

Mercifully this book doesn’t spend too much time eulogising Albert. Credit where it’s due, but it is also pointed out that the man was turning into a grumpy old killjoy! Much more interesting are the relationships with Victoria’s prime ministers and aides, and the tactics some of them were forced to deploy to curb her temper and prejudices.

We see a foot-stamping, hot-headed little girl mature very little. It took a great deal of persuading from some of the greatest lights in the land to get her off her backside and doing a few simple things a monarch should do. She was idle and indolent, monumentally selfish and self-indulgent. The vast quantities of food that found their way into that 5 foot frame are also testament to that. Oh, and claret mixed with whisky, so much so that messages (usually furious ones) to Ministers were quite unintelligible.

Being emotionally incontinent Victoria spewed her every thought onto paper. MILLIONS of words, decade after decade, in journals and letters. Many haven’t survived the purges of PR savvy daughters, but enough have remained to enable us to see glimpses of the daily commentary of an inveterate gossip on matters of virtually no importance whatsoever mingled with earth-shattering affairs of State. Mr Wilson has done a very good job at explaining things like the Crimean War or the Boer War or the significance of the name ‘Empress’, all of which flummoxed me when doing History ‘O’ level; without over simplification and certainly with no obfuscation he brings some understanding to these often unpalatable matters. Thus that century of profound change marches before our eyes, accompanied by the ‘bell voiced’ (as her intonation was said to be) soundtrack of Queen Victoria’s asides, bitchings, jokes, gripes, irrelevancies, stubbornness - or a tipsy squiggle.

I think A N Wilson has ended up espousing the cause of loving someone you can’t quite bring yourself to like. He makes heroic efforts to explain certain character traits with empathy (e.g. menopause, depression - even the insecurity of the immigrant) and takes readers along this prickly journey.

Gareth Armstrong is a perfect coupling. He gets Victoria’s pitch just right, without going all squeaky or faux contralto. His Scotsmen sound as forthright as they’re meant to be, and his Germans fuss around, as I expect they would have.

No more silly TV for me! I’ve got what I wanted and have already started right back at the beginning again.



22 people found this helpful

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Inspiring and edifying

An excellent biography and reading of Queen Victoria addressing the many aspects of her life and reign.

Well read throughout.

6 people found this helpful

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Ambitious biography - absorbing listen

One can only admire the scholarship and research that the author must have undertaken to write this biography. The author is also to be praised for his distance from his subject which allows him to present her in a fair way - non-judgemental. The downside is the fact that Victoria reigned for so many years and during her reign England changed at a phenomenal pace from a relatively rural country with a few highly developed towns into a network of ever-expanding urban developments, such that it is hard to write her biography without making choices as to what to develop and what to gloss over so that inevitably some readers might feel there are gaps. At the same time England was involved in overseas expansion and becoming one of the most powerful imperialist nations and throughout her reign Britain was more or less involved in military action on various scales - skirmishes to wars. The Irish question was another burning topic in the later years of her reign and also the growth of a labour movement. Meanwhile Victoria was also a private person with a large family and her relations by ties of marriage to other crowned heads of Europe was very extensive. The author has such a wealth of material it is perhaps overambitious to write a chronological biography of such a figure. Considering how daunting the task is A.N. Wilson has done a masterly job. I felt rather frustrated at times because some subjects had to be glossed over to keep the book to a manageable length. I think I would prefer books that take a more single subject focus such as Victoria's private life or Victoria and her Prime Ministers.
On the whole I would reccommend this book to anyone with some prior knowledge of the socio-political background to the era but it might be rather arduous for someone who is ignorant of the period.

5 people found this helpful

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  • D
  • 26-08-17

Absolutely wonderful

I've listened to this sumptuous audiobook so many times and just dip into it for pleasure every now and then. It is such a rich feast with so many fascinating personages bought vividly to life in the context of their times and with tantalising glimpses into the private lives of Victoria's sprawling and dysfunctional family. As for the matriarch herself : truly what a funny little woman she is indeed!

4 people found this helpful

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  • PT
  • 15-06-15

Myth buster history

This gives an insight into the myth of the widow of Windsor. A much more complex and far less benign person than folklore would have us believe. A very detailed history of the turbulent times as well as the personal history of Victoria. It makes you glad to call yourself an Elizabethan!

4 people found this helpful

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Boring and very disappointing

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Was really looking forward to this book but instead of focusing on her life it was detail-less and generic. The speaker read in a monotone and it made me fall asleep and lose where I was. Didn't even finish it.

Any additional comments?

Don't bother with this. Some excellent historical biographies out there. This wasn't one of them alas.

2 people found this helpful

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Send her Victorious!

As we have come to expect from A.N. Wilson, this book is the product of both deep and wide scholarship. It is also beautifully read.

1 person found this helpful

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A nation revealed through one person

This audio book reveals the soul of a nation through the life of one person; Victoria. For someone who only knew about Victoria though her image on stamps and coins it opened up her life and personality with all it's nooks and crannies. Very detailed and very well told. Congratulations to Mr Wilson and Mr Armstrong.
(My only criticism is the use of quotes in French and German which really don't add anything to the narration but can be a bit tiring)

1 person found this helpful

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Victoria and her times in history

Well written and well read fascinating account of the life and times of Queen Victoria.

1 person found this helpful

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Story of an Icon

The story of Queen Victoria is the story of an age. Everyone has heard of the Victorians, the name interchangeable with the last two thirds of the nineteenth century and with many of my friend from around the world they too often describe their histories in the sense of ‘The Victorian Age’.

This book encapsulates this perfectly, showing how a woman sat atop of a ‘man’s world’. Growing from an ‘ignorant silly girl’ as Sir John Conway would say to that matriarch of the royal dynasties of Europe to who all were in awe of. It is also great to read alongside other great histories of the nineteenth century such as Sir Richard J Evans ‘Pursuit of Power’ or Sir David Cannadine’s ‘Victorious Century’. Both are great and all tell the same story.

A N Wilson is a famous biographer and it is easy to see why here. The book is beautifully written and not difficult to follow. Victoria stays central to the plot. He does a great job in showing how Victoria starts as a naive young girl dominated by the men around her, to the icon we know today who formed the modern monarchy in connection with the public, and allowed it to become the constitutionalise institution revered today. She started the reign in the aftermath of her ‘dreadful uncles’ when the crown was under scrutiny for its farcical reputation as a house of drunken spendthrift. It ended with huge respect.

Personally I like more heavy biographies that really deep dive the character and the events they played a part in. Here this book is fast flowing which may suit a lot of people. However, I found at times events came and went in the blink of an eye. Having said that, there is a lot to learn from this book and really got a sense of her personality, involvement in politics and current events, what she thought about her subjects (she was loving of all citizens of the empire) and her interactions with the people around here. Her relationship with Prince Albert, John Brown, Gladstone, Disraeli, Edward VII, her daughter Victoria and grandson Wilhelm II are discussed in detail to name a few. It is a great book about a great woman and I thoroughly recommend it.

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  • Robyn
  • 12-05-15

Wonderful A N Wilson

I have nothing but the highest praise for this biography. Victoria and her reign are interesting, of course, but Wilson's scholarship and writing are exemplary and bring the Queen and her family and household right into your life. Whether you know the story of Victoria or are new to her or to English history, this book is essential. Just read it!