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Review of Victoria: Portrait of a Queen

Victoria: Portrait of a Queen
by Catherine Reef
Middle School    Clarion    246 pp.
11/17    978-0-544-71614-8    $18.99

Fans’ obsession with Victorian England seems never-ending, yet how much do young Victorianaphiles know about the real woman who gave the period its name? Coming to the rescue is veteran biographer Reef (Ernest Hemingway, rev. 9/09; Florence Nightingale, rev. 5/16) who, beginning with Victoria’s family background and her complicated and cruel upbringing, paints a vivid portrait of the feisty monarch who assumed the British throne at age eighteen and then ruled for over sixty years. Reef dexterously shows not only Victoria’s development as a person but also her evolution as a ruler within the social and political upheavals of her time, elegantly layering in details to provide a broader view of the era (including the misery of the desperately poor throughout the British Isles, and the brutal bloodshed tied to Britain’s empire-building in places like the Crimean region, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Victoria’s “jewel in the crown,” India). On the personal side, readers will be intrigued by the well-drawn descriptions of Victoria’s relationships with a range of individuals including prime ministers, her own children, other family members, and the various men in her life. These last include her beloved husband Albert and the Scotsman John Brown, a retainer who became (scandalously) close to Victoria after the prince consort’s death. Full of primary source material and spectacular paintings in full color as well as back matter that includes a Windsor family tree, source notes, and a rich bibliography, this is a biography for Victoriana and history lovers alike.

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Monica Edinger

Monica Edinger, a fourth-grade teacher at the Dalton School in New York City, blogs at Educating Alice and the Huffington Post. She is the author of Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad (Candlewick), illustrated by Robert Byrd.

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