Victoria and Albert: A Royal Love Affair by Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan (St. Martin's Press, 2017)
Several months ago I reviewed the magnificent compendium Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin Manuel Miranda. This charming edition is a must for anyone who is planning to see the Hamilton in order to become familiarized with the libretto and prepare him/herself for an extra-ordinary theatrical experience. The same advice can be made of the positively gorgeous Victoria and Albert: A Royal Love Affair by Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan, which enhances the television watcher's experience with the extraordinary PBS series Victoria and Albert, which aired several months ago.
Let's begin with the question of why do a compendium on a Broadway show, a film, or a grand epic television series at all? The purpose of such literature is to enhance our interaction in regards to the creative process of how a production is put together. In Miranda's case, he details specific lines of the libretto and explains their provenance in his creative process. The material that he imparts to the viewer deepens one's understanding of the lines, the duality in meaning, the tone, and most importantly the character development. In a play such as Hamilton, in which the lyric is delivered rapid fire and can, therefore, be a bit confusing, having the opportunity to study the verses before the show is enormously helpful.
St. Martin's Press has given us a stunning opportunity to see many aspects of the PBS series that avid fans would want to reflect on and discuss with other V. and A. fans. The first place one has to start in talking about this book is the quality of the colorful, emotional, and detailed photographs to tell the story of the complexities of the production. The photographs are generous in size and would lure any devotee of the series to return to them often to relish the intricate detail of costumes, facial expressions, and background detail. Also, the two stars of the production, Jenna Coleman as Victoria and Tom Hughes as Prince Albert, in their period costumes, are captivating subject matter for the photos. Thus, the pictures tell the story in the way that an important series needs to be memorialized for its fans.
Victoria and Albert: A Royal Love Affair delves into the story of the great passion that existed between two first cousins who married in 1840. It was the young queen who had to do the proposing in this match due to her station in life, and once her darling Albert had agreed, the true complication and quandary of the marriage arose. Victoria, though she had asked that Albert be given the title of King, was denied that request, and Albert was forever known as the Prince Consort. This made his place in the government as well as his household a tad murky, especially because for the first ten years of their twenty year marriage Victoria was pregnant or recovering from pregnancies. In an age when having children was a great risk for women to face, it was obvious that the queen and her husband could not refrain from their enjoyment of the marital bed, even soon after the birth of a child. For an age that was supposedly rather prudish, the lovely queen wrote in her diaries that she had gotten blissfully little sleep on her wedding night. But all of those lovely babies put a definite strain on Victoria's abilities to perform her royal duties, and she did resent the imposition, although she adored her children.
Despite the blazing physical attraction that raged between the couple, they were famous for their personal rows as well. These largely were over Victoria's frustrations at being away from court during confinement and having to allow Albert to take the reins of government. But according to Sheridan and Goodwin's descriptions of the arguments between the royals, they were open and healthy arguments that eventually led them to peaceful conclusions that made their union so successful. While their was skepticism in the British realm at the beginning of the marriage (Albert was a German, after all), the couple's openness with their people, their willingness to share the details of their daily lives, including hundreds of photographs, drew the British closer to the monarchy than had been experienced before.
Aside from the fascinating love story that is deeply entrenched in the book, there are historical references included that add to the reader's understanding of the Victorian period with its scientific advances as well as artistic triumphs. For example, page 180 recounts a timeline of Victorian Inventions that covers 1840-1899. These include everything from postage stamps, traffic lights, rotary washing machines, and the fountain pen, to safety matches, Pasteurisation, and the first public flushing toilet.
Victoria and Albert enjoyed evenings of entertainment, and one of the most gala events that they ever held, “The Plantagenet Ball,” was both a triumph and a source of criticism from angry citizens. Many of the British were suffering during a depression. Factory wages had dropped dramatically and many people were having great difficulty making ends meet.
By employing 18,000 people to ready the palace and guests for the ball, Victoria assuaged her trepidations by saying that the event was putting her subjects to work and they would benefit from the occasion. Although the Plantagenet ball was a glittery and special event, the lavish spending put into its occurrence in no way fixed the problems of the poor. It remained a cherished event for high society, but a controversial moment in Victoria's reign.
Ironically, and on a personal note, last summer my husband and I stayed at a hotel directly across the road from Kensington Palace, once the home of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. A breath taking display of Diana's clothing is on view at Kensington, and it is well worth the moments that the guest spends musing over the beloved and tragic princess's gowns, familiar to us from scads of pictures from places like People magazine.
At the opposite end of the palace are the rooms that belonged to Victoria and Albert during their life time in London. We stood in the very room where Victoria, and subsequently her children were born, and marveled at the number of personal items that were on display. We took our time in the playroom where Albert spent hours amusing his brood of nine, and then stood before the Queen's diminutive wedding gown (which was really, really tiny) and imagined how she had looked on that special day. Just before the guests leave the exhibit, there is a tribute to Prince Albert who died in his 40s, leaving Victoria a young and grieving bride. The room, with its statue of the prince seems to be the last thing Victoria would have wanted us to see in the story of her life; her beloved prince, a fairy tale to the end.
So, Christmas is only a few weeks away. If you have friends who are Anglophiles, as do I, or know people who loved the television series Downton Abbey, here is a beautiful book to tickle their British fancy. Interesting, gorgeous to look at, Victoria and Albert: A Royal Love Affair will serve as a gift that will be treasured for many hours. And, if your friends have missed the PBS series, Victoria and Albert: A Royal Love Affair will send them in search of the show.