Queen Victoria: A Life of Contradictions

Written by Matthew Dennison
Review by Kathryn Johnson

Although mountains of paper have been consumed in writing about Queen Victoria—biographies, family histories, and even novels in which she’s featured as a character—finding a brief yet satisfyingly readable, and reliable, history of her life has never been easy. Until now. Matthew Dennison, the critically acclaimed author of The Last Princess, about Victoria’s youngest daughter Beatrice, has managed to pack the controversial “little” queen’s lengthy life into a tidy book of just over 150 pages of text. Dennison dives quickly into the adult years of Victoria’s life. We see her as a sheltered young woman who learns of her accession to the throne while still in her night clothes. Suddenly she has become the ruler of a powerful nation and, though inexperienced in the ways of politics, she wastes no time taking up the reins and firmly freeing herself from her mother’s obsessive control.

Throughout the stages of her life, we learn of the contradictions whereof Dennison speaks: Victoria is naïve, yet sensual when it comes to her dear Albert. As much as she enjoys a man’s company and the marital bed, she attempts to deny those same joys to her younger daughters, demanding of them constant mourning in the decades following Albert’s death. She had to struggle to free herself of an overbearing mother, yet she aims to micromanage the lives of her own children. This highly readable, well-researched and nicely balanced biography will serve as a fine addition to both personal and public libraries.