I have always been fascinated by Queen Victoria, probably because we share the same name (my first middle name is Victoria) and I've always thought I was named after her. This summer I have been absorbed in books and movies about the Victorian and Edwardian periods. I started back in April watching the 1976 BBC series The Duchess of Duke Street, starring Gemma Jones, about a famous female chef named Louisa Trotter and her adventures in Victorian and turn of the 20th century London. Her character is based off a real life person named Rosa Lewis and her association with famous personalities of the day including Bertie the Prince of Wales, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and many others. I read most of the biography of Rosa Lewis: the Exceptional Edwardian by Anthony Masters, and enjoyed it though it got pretty dry particularly at the end.
Next, I tried to read Lynn Vallone's Becoming Victoria, about the childhood and education of Queen Victoria, as seen through her own journals/letters/stories and literature of the day. It was a very interesting concept, however, I didn't get very far as it was rather dry, almost like a cross between someone's thesis and a regular work of nonfiction. Despite this, I would like to attempt to read it again later when I have more time and focus. I was also finally able to watch the new movie The Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt as Victoria and Rupert Friend as Albert. This version of their story is unique because it gives you a different view than what we normally see of the queen. The movie starts out before Victoria is crowned, when her mother and her mother's advisor Conroy, are still trying to control her. Victoria does not want to be married because she doesn't want to be controlled anymore, so at first she objects to Albert's pursuance of her, which is partly his own and partly prodded on by King Leopold of Belgium. Albert tells her his true feelings and they become friends, and he is allowed to write to her after he returns to Germany. Eventually Victoria's uncle William dies and she becomes the Queen and is controlled semi-willingly by the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. Eventually after a couple changes in government, she invites Albert back to England and asks him to marry her (he is not allowed to ask her because she is the wealthier party). Once they are married however, tensions come out as Victoria wants Albert to be "an obedient friend and lover and not a controlling husband (taken from http://www.theyoungvictoriamovie.com/)," however he wants to be part of the political decisions, something which Victoria refuses to allow him to do. So he starts by helping her with little things, like re-organizing the household staff to make it more efficient, and proves his worth even more so when he jumps in front of a would-be assassin to save her life. She is devastated at the thought of losing him, realizing that she was being selfish and rectifies things by putting their desks together and promising to work together forever. I thought Emily Blunt did a very good job as a young vulnerable but headstrong Victoria and Rupert Friend was excellent as a young good-looking frustrated Albert who is used to being controlled all his life as well and finally finds a good match with Victoria.
The Duchess of Duke Street led me to watch another BBC miniseries called Lillie, about the famous beauty Lillie Langtry. That particular series was starring the gorgeous and super-talented Francesca Annis and she does a fabulous job illustrating her life and most famously her association with Bertie Prince of Wales. As you can see there is a bit of a theme here with the Prince, so I decided I should read a biography of him next. I read John Pearson's biography Edward the Rake: An Unwholesome Biography of Edward VII, which I reviewed on Aug 19. Following this, I decided to get a better view of Edward and watched another BBC miniseries Edward the King, with the wonderful acting of Robert Hardy as Prince Albert (Bertie's father) and Timothy West as Edward aka Bertie. It was a very well done series and explains a lot about life with Victoria and Albert (she seems like a very hard person to get along with), their insanely idealized expectations of Bertie and the monarch he was to become despite his short reign of only about 10 years. I do find it interesting that Timothy West, his father Lockwood West and his son Samuel West have all played King Edward the Seventh at one point in their careers.
While watching Lillie and Edward the King, I discovered some very interesting personalities of the day. In Lillie, it was William Gladstone who was four times Queen Victoria's prime minister and a friend of both Lillie and the Prince of Wales. The one thing he did that I found intriguing was his habit of picking up prostitutes, which he did so he could save them from their lives and turn them onto the path of good. It was just funny how he literally went out at night by himself, while he was in office as Prime Minister, and picked up the ladies of the night and brought them home to his wife. In Edward the King, I found Princess Alexandra of Denmark (Alix to her friends and family) the later Queen Consort to Edward VII a fascinating woman because of what she put up with. I mean Victoria could not have been an easy mother-in-law to have and yet Alix got along well with her. Not only that, but with Bertie shagging everything in a skirt, it would be enough to drive any woman insane. But she seemed to really love him and stayed with him till the end. I found this article online about Alix that I wanted to share for those who want more information. Also I am fascinated by Alix's sister Dagmar (aka Minnie) who I had never heard of before. She was married to Alexander III (aka Sasha) the Tsar of Russia and had her name changed to Feodorovna. She was the mother of my favorite and the last Tsar, Nicholas II. I would love to read a biography of her sometime. Here is some more information about Dagmar. Also I became interested in the two-time prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, as he was such a fascinating character. I will also have to read a biography of this great man and/or check out the BBC miniseries.