Book, movie introduce us to life of Queen Victoria

March 7, 1999
Elisabeth Sherwin --

If you are tired of the events of the late 20th century, you might like to visit an earlier historical period. I recommend both a movie and a book on the Victorian era, specifically the life of Queen Victoria.

The movie is "Mrs. Brown" and the book "Her Little Majesty."

Set in 1864, "Mrs. Brown" portrays a period late in Queen Victoria's life, after the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert. A loyal servant, John Brown, comes to replace Albert in Victoria's heart. (She even asked to be buried holding a lock of John Brown's hair.)

Starring Judi Dench and Billy Connolly, the 1996 movie takes a look at the lonely queen and her faithful employee. Victoria remained grief-stricken for years following the death of Prince Albert and refused to carry out many public duties. Her popularity with the British people was waning. Brown was summoned from Balmoral to take the Queen riding, an exercise that she once enjoyed. It was hoped that physical exercise might help the Queen become herself again. Brown, a Scotsman and a favorite of the late Prince, had little respect for the English or Court protocol.

The Queen responded to his brusque manner. In a short time, he became the Queen's most trusted companion and as she once depended on her husband she began to depend on Brown. His death as portrayed in the movie, came about due to neglect, pneumonia and drink.

Having enjoyed the movie so much, I wanted to know more about this strange woman and that period of history.

So I was delighted to see that former Davis resident Carolly Erickson, who now lives in Hawaii, recently wrote about this subject in "Her Little Majesty: The Life of Queen Victoria" ( Simon and Schuster, 1997).

Erickson has written 11 books, including "To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie Antoinette," "Great Catherine," "Bonnie Prince Charlie," and "The First Elizabeth."

Her biographies are excellent. Snobs may refer to them has "history lite" because they are relatively short and wonderfully easy to read (as if that's a bad thing). But she has a journalist's eye for the telling details that stick in your memory and make the subjects come alive. She doesn't try to explain every event of the day and therefore has been faulted, for instance, with wrapping up the Victorian Era in 200-plus pages. But, hey, you can always read "Her Little Majesty" with an eye toward more serious study later on.

Kirkus Reviews commented: "Although a useful introduction to the details of everyday life among the upper classes, this is an unreliable guide to the broader issues of 19th-century British and imperial history."

Kirkus says Queen Victoria's narrow view of the world had important political consequences that Erickson ignored, notably in the case of Ireland. By her stubborn opposition to political rights for the Irish, Queen Victoria helped to block the far-sighted attempt by her prime minister, William Gladstone, to grant the Irish greater autonomy with the obvious and tragic consequences we live with today.

Victoria became queen of England at age 18 in 1837 after an stiflingly unhappy childhood. She reigned for an amazing 64 years, until 1901. Victoria and Albert shared a passionate and shall we say very un-Victorian sex life: They had nine children. Her youngest child was born when Victoria was 38.

Victoria frequently complained about the pressures of being both a monarch and a mother. She believed that women had little place outside the home, and let Albert run many affairs of state.

"I am every day more convinced that we women, if we are to be good women, feminine and amiable and domestic, are not fitted to reign," she wrote in a letter. Yet when she wanted to she played an active role in public life, especially in foreign affairs.

Albert died in 1861 when Victoria was 42. She dressed in mourning for the rest of her life, although she did not give up wearing jewelry including rings on every finger.

Three years later, John Brown was brought to Windsor to wait on her, at the suggestion of her personal doctor. Victoria was in a "constant nervous state" and needed someone to soothe her.

"Brown led her horse when she went out riding. He sat on the box of her carriage when she went out. He stood near her while she worked, preventing others from interrupting her. Her carried her messages, pinned on her shawl, chided her when she was overworked and in general became maid, groom and all but mother to her," Erickson wrote.

"God knows how much I want to be taken care of," the Queen told her daughter. Hence the nickname, Mrs. Brown.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books [ Click Here ]

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