I debated with myself about reading this book, since I had already watched the first 2 seasons of Victoria on Masterpiece/PBS. I am not going to lie, I did not enjoy this novel as much as I did Goodwin’s earlier works–The Heiress and The Fortune Hunter. Part of it may have been because I had already seen the series and really, the book doesn’t even get through the whole first season. I also think that this one just wasn’t as good as the first two, but if I am completely honest, I will have to also say that I don’t find Victoria a compelling character. In Goodwin’s novel she comes off as spoilt, headstrong, and whiny, not to mention more than a little self-absorbed. I was disappointed to learn from reading the endnotes that Ms. Goodwin spent many years reading Queen Victoria’s journals and letters; I was so hoping her portrayal was highly inaccurate. There are so few strong female leaders to look at from history that I hate to find that I don’t really like Victoria, or what is more important, respect her. I have a much higher regard for Albert when all is said and done, at least for now. This is the same reaction I have had to the series. I love the costumes and the subplot involving Skerritt and Francatelli. In fact, I wasn’t planning on watching Season 3 until I saw that Laurence Fox is in it. I liked him in Inspector Morse, so I will be persuaded to tune in and at least give it a chance. I see some future nonfiction reading will be necessary to improve my factual knowledge in this area and I am hoping that my impression from the novel is fiction, just like the book. We’ll see…
The front cover of the copy I bought has an emblem which says “Reading Group Gold” from Macmillan. Whilst I am not sure I completely agree with the “gold” assessment, I can see where this would be a fun, easy read for a book group. Toward that end, here are some discussion questions:
- Most of the novel is from Victoria’s point of view and she doesn’t extend her mother much compassion until her own “impossible” love interest in Lord Melbourn comes to a close. Do you think she should have realized sooner that her mother was in a difficult position? Why was she so oblivious to the way her mother had to negotiate a very narrow path?
- Do you think someone like Melbourn would have been interested in Victoria as she was at eighteen and nineteen? What about her makes him love her?
- How is Lord Melbourn a tragic figure? Does he act as if he thinks he is tragic, how or how not?
- Albert is characterized as very serious. The other characters describe him as such and he has a sincere interest in reform and progress and modernity. How does this contrast with Victoria’s character?
- What do you think of Uncle Leopold? Why do so many of the royal characters and others make such a big deal about Belgium being a “made up” country? How do you explain the fact that Victoria in the novel is so set against Uncle Leopold’s plan to marry her to Albert, but then she marries him? This seems to be a plot hole. Do you think it is adequately explained in the novel, why or why not?
- The television series offers a more in depth look below stairs. If you have both seen the show and read the novel, do you think the novel suffers from this absence? Why or why not?
- Can you see a great monarch in the young Victoria as portrayed by Goodwin, why or why not? How do you see Victoria of the novel maturing over time–what does her future self look like?
- Are you convinced of Albert’s love for Victoria in the novel? If yes, what convinces you? If no, given Albert’s seriousness and honesty, how do you explain his decision to marry her?