Without a time machine, historical inaccuracies about personal lives are hard to prove, and the practice of selecting only the best for posterity sometimes shades perception. Jane Austen’s sister conveniently burned the famous author’s diaries; Jacqueline Kennedy famously engineered the Camelot legacy through Theodore White; biographer Julia Baird notes “Victoria’s daughter Beatrice transcribed her mother’s journals and edited out everything that seemed to reflect poorly on her, then burned the originals.”
Until Julian Fellowes created the movie “Young Victoria” in 2009, most readers thought of Queen Victoria as the short, heavy, frumpy monarch in black who made infrequent appearances. Although history notes Victoria had nine children, her romantic inclinations and Albert’s courting of the young queen were usually overwhelmed by her later years. Berated by the royal family for inserting inaccurate scenes to increase the drama – Prince Albert never really took a bullet for Victoria – Fellowes never blinked as he introduced a new look for Victoria and went on to create Downton Abbey the following year.
A new Masterpiece Theater series on the Public Broadcasting System promises more of the younger queen, and author Daisy Goodwin – creator and writer of the series – offers a glimpse with her new novel Victoria. Goodwin begins the book with the sixteen year old hoping her uncle, the king, will live to her eighteenth birthday, so she can rule without a regent, most probably her estranged mother. She gets her wish, becoming queen soon after she comes of age.
Goodwin elaborates on a few vague historical tidbits to provide drama and interest – embellishing the young queen’s infatuation with her prime minister and capitalizing on her accusation of Lady Flora Hastings as a catalyst in her waning popularity.
Though fictional, Goodwin manages to tear away the historical image of a prudish moralistic matron to reveal Victoria as human after all. Descriptions of her early insecurities about her appearance, her fiercely independent determination, along with happy moments with her little dog and carefree rides on her horse – all transform an icon into flesh and blood. Amazingly, knowing Victoria and Albert will eventually marry does not detract from the breathless anticipation as Goodwin concludes the novel with Victoria’s proposal.
Goodwin’s Victoria is an easy digestible history lesson, with added spice. Like her novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter, Goodwin’s Victoria immerses the reader in the world of the heroine, and, if all the facts are not exactly correct – as Julian Fellowes says, “What does it matter?”