Review: A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy by Helen Rappaport

The romance between Prince Albert and Queen Victoria is legendary–a love that bordered on obsession. Helen Rappaport’s latest non-fiction book, A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy explores how a fairy tale romance turned into a dark melancholy that altered the course of the British monarchy.

I won an ARC of this book through Goodreads. Non-fiction is normally not my review genre….non-fiction is more The Lib Bitch’s area than mine :). But I love Queen Victoria and was thrilled when I won the giveaway.

I haven’t read a lot of books on Queen Victoria but I know the love story like I know any classic fairy tale. I love all things Victorian era and went to the Albert and Victoria exhibit in London a couple of summers ago….and I love the movie The Young Victoria also! So needless to say I was really excited to read this book.

Rappaport knows her history that is for sure! She has written a host of other non-fiction works, though most of them are on Russian history which is fitting since she has a degree in Russian history. Her most notable work is The Last Days of the Romanovs which looks good.

A Magnificent Obsession is a little out of her primary speciality but no less interesting and well researched. I learned a lot about Victoria from this book…somethings I knew but other things I didn’t or perhaps didn’t realize to what extent her obsession with mooring went.

I knew the Queen wore black for the rest of her after Albert died and I know she had his clothes set out for him daily….but I didn’t know that extent she went to our her mother or how much she refused to accept that Albert was dying.

It was clear that the Queen was ill prepared for rule in many ways. I forget that Albert virtually the King. During his 20 years as Victoria’s husband, Albert was official known as the Prince Consort…but everyone knew him as the King in all but name. Albert made important contributions to the English government and other foreign affairs.

He also brought culture to the English court….an elegance that helped shape the future of English tradition. He was a skilled musician/composer,  interested in science/technology, was extremely well read, and made manners an art form.

But Albert was also ‘sickly’….the stress of the job got to him often and he struggled with bouts of depression and melancholy for most of his life. I thought it was interesting to see the Queen’s reaction to his health issues.

Victoria focused on him to an unhealthy extent but would then dismissed his illness as hypochondria. I suppose it was hard for to understand why Albert was always sick….she was hardly ever ill so being with someone like Albert who was ill most of his life must have been a challenge for her…..and then to have a child who was a hemophiliac (Prince Leopold)–which I totally forgot about by the way–must have been overwhelming and hard to comprehend.

I came away from this book with an entirely different perspective of Victoria. I generally think of her as a strong, stoic, fearless queen who lead the people of England into the 20th century…..but now I wonder if I was mistaken in that assumption.

After reading this book, I felt like she was a strong woman who dealt with a lot of personal tragedy but at the same time, she was deeply disturbed by Albert’s death….she just seemed to shut down and fade away. She was completely in love with Albert and he was her reason for being….then her entire focus shifted  to mourning and self-pity…..fascinating.

Rappaport has a lot of great information and supporting evidence in her book and the readability was ok but I still had the feeling that I was reading a dissertation.

I am always hesitant to read non-fiction or historic biographies because they often read like a lecture or dissertation. I enjoy reading non fiction books that read more like a story (ie: The Real Downton Abbey) which  I know are rare in the academic world.

Unfortunately I didn’t think this book read as well as it could have in that aspect. That said, the book was good, well researched, informative, and presented an interesting topic. But at times I felt like I was reading a long history paper.

I also think the average reader might struggle with this book a bit. As an academic whose focus is in that time period, I could draw on my knowledge of the time period and related the info I was reading in this book to other historic events of the time. This is a must read for historians and Victorian scholars, but that average reader….??? it’s hard to say which was why I didn’t rate it as high.

I think my academic background helped me appreciate this book more than if I were reading it as a casual reader. I think if this book was a little less academic it would have broad appeal,  I did however enjoyed this book but not as much as I think I would have if it was written as more of a story.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy by Helen Rappaport

  • Hardcover, 352 pages
  • Published March 13th 2012 by St. Martin’s Press
  • ISBN 0312621051 (ISBN13: 9780312621056)

This book counts toward: NA

Recommendation: 3 out of 5 (Interesting historic read about the monarchy)

Genre: Non-Fiction, biography, history

Memorable lines/quotes: NA

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