I've always been very interested in the life of Queen Victoria. It's hard not to be when you're named after her! So it was with some delight that I discovered ITV were making a television series all about her early years, penned by the wonderful Daisy Goodwin. Despite my initial frustration to discover that the majority of the series was filmed within an hour's drive of my house and I knew nothing of it, I was glued to my screen every night for the eight week duration (Captain Poldark had to wait for iPlayer).
So when I heard that Daisy had written a novel to accompany the series, complete with extra scenes, well I headed straight online to pre-order it. The cover is beautiful and perfectly fitting, and I dived right in as soon as it arrived.
"In June 1837, the eighteen-year-old Victoria wakes up to find that she is Queen of the most powerful nation in the world. But will she be queen in her own right, or a puppet controlled by her mother and the sinister Sir John Conroy? Can this tiny girl prevail against the men who believe that women are too hysterical to rule?
Everyone wants her to get married, but Victoria has no intention of entering into a marriage of convenience with her cousin Albert, a shy bookworm who didn't know how to dance the last time she met him. She would much rather reign alone with a little help from her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. He may be old enough to be her father, but he is the only man who believes that she will be a great Queen, and he knows how to make her laugh. A husband would only get in the way..."
From the very first page it is clear that Victoria is a headstrong and stubborn character, determined to rule the country her way. Despite her incredibly sheltered upbringing and her naivety she quickly adapts to her role as Queen, with her loyal aide and advisor Lord Melbourne by her side. There are constant comparisons between herself and Elizabeth I, and it seems to me that she would have been perfectly capable of ruling without a husband, despite all that her interfering family thought of her. She has a tendency to be childish at times, but that's to be expected, and as she grows into her role as Queen, she also matures into an adult.
The revelation in both TV series and novel for me was Lord M. Having only previously encountered Paul Bettany's portrayal of him in the 2009 film The Young Victoria, I didn't think much of his character. I knew Victoria depended on him more than others deemed proper, and the film seems to suggest that he uses her to gain and retain power. Daisy Goodwin's interpretation of his character shows him in an entirely new light, as a man conflicted between emotion and duty, as a man devoted to his Queen. The moment Rufus Sewell appeared on screen I knew I was a goner. Full of wit and one liners, with a painful vulnerability below the surface, the novel portrays him in a similar fashion, and whilst the description differs from Rufus (the real Lord M was blonde), you get an even deeper sense of his and Victoria's inner turmoil and their confused feelings towards one another. Indeed, it is no surprise that some people have dismissed the novel as 'Vicbourne' fanfiction, as Albert doesn't actually appear until page 360. Like in the TV series Victoria and Albert's relationship feels rushed somehow, and whilst the insta-love trope may well be true for the real Queen Victoria, for fictional Victoria to transfer her affections from Melbourne to Albert in a matter of pages is a little unbelievable.
Although it is written as a companion piece to the TV series, there are some significant differences in the novel. The servants for example are given a lot less attention, and whilst I may be in the minority here I preferred it that way. They still have names, and all their major storylines feature, but I do feel as if their role was amplified unnecessarily in the TV series to give it that Downton/Upstairs Downstairs vibe that proves popular with audiences. Another major difference is that the novel ends -potential spoiler ahead- with Victoria's proposal to Albert. There's no wedding, and therefore, most regrettably to me, there is no goodbye scene between Victoria and Lord M - a moment in the TV series which broke my heart.
That being said, it is still a book that I would heartily recommend, to historical fiction and period
drama fans alike. Those who frown on anachronism may want to steer clear, although alongside the dramatic licence there are also some surprising truths to be found - Albert actually did slice his shirt open at the ball to wear Victoria's gardenias close to his heart!
If, like me, you're interested in how much is true, I would have a trawl through Daisy Goodwin's Twitter feed; she live-tweeted some of the TV episodes when they aired and has answered many viewer/reader questions about Victoria.
I'm very much looking forward to the second series of Victoria (even though I fear that Lord M is gone for good), and to what I hope will be the second novel to accompany it!