Review: “Victoria of England” by Edith Sitwell

Dame Edith Sitwell was an interesting character. Due to an extremely unhappy relationship with her parents, she lived with her governess for a long time, until that lady’s death of cancer in the late 1930s. She fell in love with a gay artist and never married. As a tall woman who liked to dress in unusual garb, she certainly stood out. Like her younger brothers, Dame Edith had literary leanings and began publishing poetry before the first World War. She also wrote books on poetry, as well as biographies. “Victoria of England” was first published in 1936.

This fact presents one of the major problems with this work: its wording is often somewhat archaic, which younger readers may find tedious. It is also somewhat repetitive: after all, we do not need reminding that Victoria disliked a certain politician or presented herself as a grieving widow after the early death of husband Albert in every single chapter following the event. If you can look beyond those faults, you’ll be delighted to discover a sprightly, slightly gossipy narrative about Victoria’s early life, her ascension to the English throne, and her adult years, occasionally peppered with personal notes from Dame Edith. Most chapters are augmented with quotes from letters to or from the Queen, excerpts from her diaries, and quotations from contemporary biographers. Unfortunately, we find the sovereign such a private person that her daily routine remains largely unexplained; we do, however, learn that she loved her family, never got over her beloved husband’s death, apparently managed to remain quite diplomatic when dealing with foreign powers, and strongly disapproved of women’s suffrage, somewhat ironic considering that she herself was a woman in charge of a nation and a Commonwealth.

Two chapters seem odd among the rest: Edith Sitwell spends a very thorough bit of time enlightening the reader on the plight of the British laborer of the Victorian age, which is certainly interesting, but entirely out of character from the rest of the biography in tone. The same goes for the odd, rambling listing of fashions of the time, inserted after the French Queen’s visit to London.

As an extra, the new edition of “Victoria of England” also includes 1933’s “The English Eccentrics,” which must have been a very short book indeed, considering it barely seems to take up room at the end of the biography.

“Victoria of England” is published by Agora Books. I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are, as always, my own.

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