My second read of 2017 is already under my belt, and we’re not even halfway through January. That’s 2 out of my Goodreads goal of 18 for the year down – go me! Right on schedule.
I’ve just finished reading Daisy Goodwin’s historical fiction novel Victoria. Now, it’s a well-known fact that I am a huge fan of both Victorian literature and the monarch who gave her name to this era, and I did in fact watch the entire ITV series Victoria when it was released. So, for that reason, this was a bit of a strange reading experience for me. I normally make it a point to never read a book after seeing the film or TV adaptation. The only time I ever did that (until now) was in high school, when I had to read Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s for a Writer’s Craft assignment. Obviously I was already very familiar with the classic movie starring Audrey Hepburn, and I found it extremely difficult to fall in love with Capote’s tale because I was constantly comparing it to the film version. I also read that Capote really did not like Audrey in the role of Holly Golightly, but I could not stop myself from picturing her as I read, so I feel like I never had a natural, authentic reading experience. I just wasn’t able to fully appreciate Capote’s text and prose, and it has been one of my least favourite literary texts ever since.
I desperately did not want the same thing to happen with Goodwin’s Victoria. I absolutely ADORED the ITV series of the same name, so I was equally eager and wary to read the literary equivalent. I was at once afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell out of my head when reading about Queen Victoria and her Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, as well as desperate to have a chance to continue experiencing the story that I fell so in love with while watching the TV show. I have to say that, now that I have finished reading the novel, I am still very conflicted about whether or not I am happy that I had watched the TV series prior to reading the story. Part of me wishes that I hadn’t because the plot was much less surprising given the fact that much of the dialogue was taken directly from the show and many of the scenes paralleled each other. On the other hand, the novel did go into greater depth during the most significant scenes, and if anything, I felt that it added subtle details and intricacies to the moments from the series that I was most fond of. It’s really hard to rate Victoria for all these reasons – I feel like I can’t quite judge it on its own, as a novel in its own right, and I think that is unfortunate. But, I did still thoroughly enjoy it and I finished it rather quickly because I was so connected to the characters and so eager to revisit them.
The novel was also different from the series in one important respect: (SPOILER ALERT) it ends with the scene in which Victoria proposes to her beloved future husband, Prince Albert. If you’ve seen the ITV series, you’ll know that it goes on after this particular moment, to investigate the early days of Victoria and Albert’s marriage, until they have their first child. I really do love Albert and I think his relationship with Victoria was very significant historically, so I preferred the second half of the TV series because Albert was featured in it. Having said that, the first half explores Victoria’s relationship with Lord Melbourne (Lord M as she likes to playfully call him), and that was lovely to watch unfold as well. There was undeniable chemistry between the two characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them engage in a quasi-romance that was at once forbidden and intoxicating. The novel Victoria delves into this relationship between Queen V and Lord M much further, and we are given a lot more insight into the internal feelings and emotions of each character. While I was disappointed that Albert wasn’t introduced until around 315 pages into the novel (it is only 400 pages in total, so Albert is barely in it), I also found it interesting to get a closer look at a relationship that was sort of overshadowed towards the end of the TV series. I do like Lord M very much, and although I know the romantic aspects of his relationship with Queen Victoria are highly fictionalized and not really grounded in historical fact at all, I still did enjoy getting a closer glimpse into what Lord M might have felt for his much younger monarch and friend.
My experience reading Victoria was undoubtedly pleasurable, despite all the qualms I mentioned above, and probably what I liked most about it was witnessing the young Victoria begin her reign. This moment in her history is treated rather quickly in the series – although Victoria’s struggles in being a young, female monarch are constantly treated, we do tend to focus more on the romances she engages in (or at least, I did while watching). The novel was different in that it thoroughly investigated several scenes in which Victoria is forced to stand up for herself, assert her authority as a monarch and develop her own voice. These moments are wonderful to behold, and they gave me such inspiration as a young woman in the working world, developing her professional career. I latched on to several quotes from these points of the novel because they reminded me that Queen Victoria was a remarkable and revolutionary monarch and still serves as an important role model for young women in a world still very much dominated by men. I loved witnessing Victoria stand up to Sir John Conroy and her uncle the Duke of Cumberland, and I cheered for her whenever she was grounded and strong. She was admittedly somewhat childish and immature at times, but it was also fascinating to see her develop from a petulant adolescent into a more self-assured and self-aware leader. I think this aspect of the novel was more exciting and engaging for me than any of the romantic bits, and for that reason, I would highly recommend Victoria to teenage girls, particularly those in high school, who may be in the market for a powerful role model.
“she would start as she meant to go on.”
“‘It is time that people stopped seeing me as a little girl.’”
“‘I am tired of being treated as a young lady without a thought in her head.’”
To conclude my review, I have to be perfectly honest and say that I preferred the TV series to the novel Victoria. That may be due in large part to the fact that the TV series is visually astonishing – the costumes, the sets, the actors are so remarkable and it is a series that I don’t think I will ever forget. Goodwin writes with a very cinematographic style, and you can clearly tell that she is imagining and picturing each of the scenes she writes, so I think they come across as already being made for the screen. I do believe that the two mediums go hand in hand, though, so I would certainly say that if you view this novel as a companion to the TV show and engage in enjoying the two together, the experience will be very pleasurable.
❥ ❥ ❥ (out of 5) for the book alone
❥ ❥ ❥ ❥ ❥ (out of 5) for the book as a complement to the TV series (admittedly my favourite TV series of all time)
Girl with a Green Heart