I don't remember what sparked my interest, but last autumn my friend Alison and I both watched the film, Victoria & Albert, a biographical movie about the life and love of the United Kingdom's Queen Victoria. The movie was very well made and the story very interesting. Alison, curious to learn more about Queen Victoria asked a used book seller she knows for a recommendation on a biography.... the result was Queen Victoria by Noel Streatfeild published in 1958.
While there may be other superior biographical works on the Queen's life, Ms. Streatfeild's work remains a worthwhile read. It is interesting, factual (sources were primary, including the Queen's personal diaries), and reads like a novel, which in my opinion is a good thing. It's also a fairly quick read at 180 pages.
The book opens with the birth of Alexandrina Victoria, Princess Royal and the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. Born into a family who had no expectations of her ever becoming Queen, Victoria ended up ascending the throne at the young age of 18 and spent over 63 years ruling the United Kingdom. Queen Victoria ends with the death of Victoria. The text in between her birth and death contains much about her life, love, family and the life and times of England during the mid to late 19th century. I found the latter especially intriguing as the timeline of her life and ruling coincides with many classical authors, including Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Anthony Trollope just to name a few.
Because it is out of print Queen Victoria may be a difficult book to locate (I bought mine through Alibris.com), but if you have access to a copy I encourage you to read it. Victoria is a fascinating person and impacted so much of our world history. But the story of Victoria is more than history -- it is a fairy tale; it is a romance; it is the story of a passionate young girl who grew up to be a devoutly religious woman and a good Queen. At times she was misunderstood and at times she made mistakes, but ultimately she was loved and respected. I thoroughly enjoyed Queen Victoria and am interested in learning more of the era when she ruled.
As a side note, the author, Noel Streatfield is the same author of the "Shoes books": Ballet Shoes, Theatre Shoes, Skating Shoes, etc. Ms. Streatfeild wrote most of her books between the 1930s and 1950s. Her "Shoes books" are mentioned by Meg Ryan's character in the film, You've Got Mail, which I admit, was the first time I had heard of the books and their author. On further research I find that four of her "Shoes books" are currently available in paperback at almost any book store and it appears more of the series will be reprinted in the upcoming years. I'm glad of this because I like Ms. Streatfeild's writing and am hoping to read some of her fictinal works in the near future.
On a further side note, I recently learned that in addition to her biography of Queen Victoria, Noel Streatfeild also wrote a biography and critical analysis of E. Nesbit titled, Magic and the Magician. As you may recall, E. Nesbit is the author of The Enchanted Castle, which I reviewed here.