I’ve been hooked on the “Victoria” television series starting with season 1, episode 1 (showing on PBS Masterpiece Theater in the United States). We’re now three seasons done, and a fourth is coming. And it’s no mystery as to why the series has been successful – a fascinating story, top-notch actors, excellent production values, and a good script.
The series begin the U.K. in 2016, and Daisy Goodwin is the screenwriter and developer of the fictionalized series. With an eye to possible tie-ins, Goodwin wrote the novel Victoriaat the same time she was writing the television script. It’s no surprise that the novel often reads like a script. It’s also no surprise that you know exactly what the characters look like, because the television series has permanently planted them in your brain.
The novel tracks the series closely, and especially the first season, covering the time of Victoria’s ascension to the throne to her engagement to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. And the book focuses on the key royal and government players – Victoria, her mother, the prime minister Lord Melbourne, various ladies in waiting, King Leopold of Belgium, the Duke of Wellington, and the two Saxe-Coburg brothers, Ernst and Albert. What the novel doesn’t emphasize is the “downstairs” staff, who are mentioned almost in passing but treated more fully in the TV program.
The theme, beyond the historical facts, is the development of a young woman, still a teenager when she becomes queen, from an insecure girl to a more confident young woman, determined to resist the influence of her mother’s advisor. She makes mistakes; she interferes with the government when she prefers to hold on to “Lord M” as prime minister; she’s often ridiculed by so-called friends and family, behind her back, of course. Guided and advised mostly by Melbourne, who sees her perceptiveness and rather fine mind, she grows in maturity,
What the novel provides that is often barely acknowledged in the television program (TV does have its limits) is the historical detail, including how she came to be the heir to the throne. Her father, the Duke of Kent, was the sixth son of George III, and his older brothers died without children. The next in line was the Duke of Cumberland, who apparently bitterly resented this mere slip of a girl standing in his way to the throne.
And the novel provides considerably more detail on King Leopold, who had been married to Charlotte, Princess of Wales and the only legitimate child of George IV. Charlotte died in childbirth, and so the scramble began among George IV’s brothers. Leopold, a Saxe-Coburg, was invited to become king of Belgium; his sister was Victoria’s mother. He may have been the Belgian king, but Leopold was determined to promote the interests of his Saxe-Coburg family, and it was he who pushed his nephew Albert for Victoria’s husband.
Goodwin, an accomplished author and screenwriter, has published a number of books, including the historical novels My Last Duchess, The Fortune Hunter, The American Heiress, and The Duchess’s Tattoo. She’s also written the novel Silver River and published two poetry anthologies. Her sequel novel to Victoria, Victoria and Albert: A Royal Love Affair, was published in 2017. She lives in London.
If you’re a fan of the television series, then Victoria the novel is well worth reading, as an interesting story in and of itself and to fill in the gaps necessarily left by the program.
Top photograph: Tom Hughes as Prince Albert and Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria in the television program "Victoria."