Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Catherine Reef's "Victoria: Portrait of a Queen"

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including Noah Webster: Man of Many Words, Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life, Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, and other highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Reef applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest young adult biography, Victoria: Portrait of a Queen, and reported the following:
In 1843, Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, were the busy parents of three young children born in quick succession. The British people were delighted. Weary of the infidelities and corruption of preceding monarchs, they adored the notion of the current royals indulging in happy domesticity. They bought up prints like the illustration that fills page 99 of Victoria: Portrait of a Queen, which shows the queen and prince consort absorbed in play with little Vicky, Bertie, and Alice [below left; click to enlarge].

The image was popular, but did it depict palace life as it really was? Maybe not. At least for Victoria, fertility and parenthood were burdens. She was dismayed when she became pregnant immediately after her marriage and when she was delivered of a second child less than a year after the first. There would be nine young princesses and princes in all. Victoria said that giving birth so often made her feel “more like a rabbit or guinea-pig than anything else.” After each birth she endured postpartum depression, which left her feeling short-tempered and sad. As her children grew she was inclined to scold and correct, and she worried about them to excess. Yet a show of domestic felicity was necessary if Victoria was to set an example for the nation. Albert was more likely to get down on his hands and knees and play with his offspring, but he was strict in his own way. He had no problem administering corporal punishment to children as young as four.

The picture we see on page 99 is proof that images the public saw could be different from the scenes that took place behind Britain’s palace walls. This discrepancy continued under later monarchs and into the twentieth century. I recall, for example, hearing several television commentators insist in 1981 that the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer was a love match. A fairytale romance was what the common people wanted and what Buckingham Palace was prepared to offer. And I can’t help wondering today, as I watch Diana’s sons marry and father children, if their lives are truly as blissful as they are made to appear.
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Catherine Reef & Nandi.

My Book, The Movie: Victoria: Portrait of a Queen.

--Marshal Zeringue