REVIEW: A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death that Changed the British Monarchy

Book by Helen Rappaport

REVIEW: A magnificent obsessionQueen Victoria’s world stopped on Dec. 14, 1861, when her husband, Albert, died. She mourned her beloved until her own death in 1901. Yet paradoxically, in this new analysis of Victoria, she stands revealed as an emotionally needy woman whose obstinate character pushed her overworked spouse into exhaustion. He died, Rappaport persuasively argues, not from typhoid, the official cause of death, but from an attack of Crohn’s disease brought on by unrelenting stress.

Victoria had always been fascinated by death. She grieved intently and revelled in the arcane rules of mourning, which could continue for up to a year, depending on a person’s relationship to the deceased. In 1855, during the slaughter of the Crimean War, she even ordered mourning for the Russian czar, whose army was fighting hers. In the year of Albert’s death, she invoked it seven times.

Beyond just an intimate look at Albert’s death, Rappaport’s book is also a devastating critique of how Victoria’s already unhealthy interest in death escalated into an obsession so all-consuming that it threatened the monarchy itself. Everything else was an afterthought, including her nine fatherless children. She hid away from the public, pleading ill health as an excuse to avoid her constitutional duties. As Britons realized this mourning period would never end, criticism spread. “It is impossible for a recluse to occupy the British throne,” the Times thundered in 1864. The Queen had to return to public life and could not “postpone [her duties] longer to the indulgence of an unavailing grief.”

By 1871, anti-monarchical grumbling about paying for a sovereign subjects never saw had grown uglier. Remarkably, it was a real case of typhoid fever—this time her son and heir, Bertie, nearly died—that turned a nation’s anger into a wave of patriotism. Bertie survived. And so did the Crown, in spite of Victoria’s selfishness.




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