Monday, June 30, 2014

Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard (2012)

This one was kind of all over the place.  I enjoyed it - I can't remember the last time I didn't enjoy a book about Queen Victoria and her family - but I don't think the book quite achieved what it set out to do.  Nearly, but not quite.  "Life in the royal household" was described, but often detours through politics or the machinations of government and history were taken. I suppose to provide context, but often it seemed to skate away from the domestic and took some time to skate back.

Hubbard, in reference to Mary Ponsonby, writes of the Queen's "capacity to determine and define the lives of others."  That's an interesting concept.  These people exist in history as prism reflections of Queen Victoria; without her light, these people wouldn't have existed in quite the same way.

Hubbard was sharper towards the Queen's children than I've read in anything recently. There are more barbs towards their ungratefulness, snobbery, and general likability.  The children of royalty seem to have no choice but to be difficult and peevish, throughout history (and Shakespeare).  The princesses all get some knocking about, perhaps because they - unlike the royal rake the Prince of Wales - were around their mother on a more or less permanent basis, so had more interactions with the royal household.  I'm not accusing Hubbard of being purposely mean girlish to the princesses however - she's obviously quoting from the letters and diaries of people who knew them.

Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal HouseholdServing Victoria: Life in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't remember the last time I read a book about Queen Victoria and her brood that I didn't enjoy, and this one was no different.  That said, Serving Victoria was kind of all over the place.  Nominally about life in the royal household, the book occasionally skated into biography and politics before skating back.  This is a sharper, more pointed book than some others I've read, particularly towards the queen's children, who don't come out of this looking particularly nice.  I suppose Hubbard's access to unpublished diaries and letters provided some new glimpses into the foibles of the Victorian royal family; Hubbard is particularly mean girlish about the numerous daughters of the queen, who sound like they are all modeled on the Queen of Hearts from Alice (or at very least the Duchess).  If you've never read anything at all about Queen Victoria, this is probably not the place to start.


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