By Helen Rappaport
St. Martin’s Press, $26.99, 336 pages
Both the country of England and Queen Victoria (1819-1901) suffered a terrible blow when Albert, the Prince Consort, died of typhoid fever in 1861. In A Magnificent Obsession, historian Helen Rappaport takes the unique approach of looking at Queen Victoria’s reign during the last year of Albert’s illness and subsequent death, reflecting on the loss of Albert’s leadership and the ramifications of Victoria’s deep mourning. In Obsession, Queen Victoria is often an unsympathetic, obsessive character. As a reader, it’s hard to feel compassion for a woman who exhibits irrational and manipulative behavior toward those she purports to love. Victoria’s insensitivity towards Albert’s failing health and her behavior towards her children is harsh—and this is reflected in her adult relationships with her children and their subsequent interactions with their own offspring.
The image of Queen Victoria perpetually mourning her beloved Albert helped shape a mythology that gave birth to an era. Rappaport uses primary resources of contemporary accounts to better understand how Albert’s death affected Victoria as wife, mother and Queen. The book is well researched, entertainingly written, and fascinating to read. Anyone interested in Queen Victoria, the monarchy, or the social aspects of mourning will enjoy the book.
Reviewed by Cheri Woods-Edwin
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