While not destined to become queen, let alone empress, Victoria nonetheless embodies the British century alone, the 19th century which saw Britain victorious over Napoleon dominate the world, both militarily and economically and ideologically. Such a fate lent itself easily to the romantic, especially with a queen of such a personality, who had become "the grandmother of Europe" and the living symbol of the British Empire. The style of the literary biography, chosen by Joanny Moulin for his Victoria, Queen of a Century, therefore seems entirely appropriate.
"Victoria, fabulously old-fashioned?" "
In his foreword, Joanny Moulin returns to the image of Victoria and the era that bears her name, a 19th century British which, while he built the world today, is caricatured and simplified, full of clichés. Yet it is a time, like Victoria herself, complex and paradoxical.
The author's ambition is therefore to show this Victorian complexity by approaching all aspects of the character. The public domain first, how Victoria approached her role as queen, when she was not supposed to become one, as well as her relations with the great politicians of the time, such as Prime Ministers Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone. Then the private domain, often linked to the previous one, with the influence of her uncle Leopold, King of the Belgians, and especially of her husband, Prince Albert.
Joanny Moulin insists on the fact that, despite the choice of "forms of fiction", all the reported facts have been scientifically verified, including the dialogues. This probably explains the chronological choice (which is the most common for a biography anyway). The romantic style is for its part greatly enriched by a profusion of details on the life of the time, also transcribed in a rigorous way, and which helps us to immerse ourselves even more easily in the Victorian era, even in the places the most intimate of power.
Throughout the almost six hundred pages of his book, Joanny Moulin tells us about Victoria's life, from her birth in 1819 to her death in 1901, and especially the circumstances of her coming to power, queen at eighteen, then Empress of India at fifty-seven, for a record reign of sixty-three years.
Thanks to the mix and interweaving between public and private, power and family life, Joanny Moulin manages to show a more nuanced image of Victoria, who moves away from the clichés and explains some of them who have still hard skin. We do not discover a cold and haughty queen, authoritarian only, but rather a woman whom the author rightly describes as “exalted”, yet aware of her enormous responsibilities as a politician in an imperial England which is undergoing great social changes. , economic and political. The first paradoxes then appear: Victoria is concerned about the suffering of the people, but does nothing concrete to change things; Likewise, she despises the nobility but ardently defends the monarchy in the face of the growing influence of liberalism. Paradoxes that can be found in her private life, in her complicated but almost passionate relationship with her husband Prince Albert, or in the way she approaches motherhood, she is the mother of nine children but having ambivalent relationships with them.
As we read, this is how a multi-faceted Victoria is presented to us, and ultimately a Victoria far more exciting than the austere and haughty image one might have had of her so far.
Our opinion on Victoria, Queen of a Century
Biography is a complicated and often criticized historiographical genre. Literary biography, for a historian, leads to even more mistrust. However, we can say that with Victoria, Queen of a Century, Joanny Moulin manages to find the right compromise between the romantic - the character ideally suited to it - and the rigorous historical work (often with first-hand sources), painting us at the same time as the portrait of the queen-empress that of his empire and his century.
The style is remarkable, and the phrase "reads like a novel" fits the bill perfectly. We are immersed in the Victorian era and the mysteries of power, arguably the most interesting passages. We welcome the family tree and especially the very complete bibliography (sources included) provided at the end of the book. We regret all the same the choice of numbered chapters and not "titled", which prevents easy navigation through the book, forcing to follow the chronological framework scrupulously.
Finally, Victoria, Queen of a Century is therefore much more than a literary bibliography to devour on the beach, and has little to envy to many of the previously published biographies of the Empress of India.
The author: Joanny Moulin, professor at the University of Provence (Aix-Marseille I) is a specialist in English literature. Among other things, she has published a biography of Darwin (Autrement, 2009).
- Victoria, Queen of a Century, Flammarion, 2011, 572 p.