Saturday, June 20, 2009

Biography: We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill

When a biography is very good and is also big and muscular, it’s common to compare the book to a novel. And what makes such a comparison valid? Certainly not -- or hopefully not -- a strong element of fabrication. Rather, how the book impacts the reader draws compare. A very good biography -- well researched, written with passion and competence, on a subject worthy of close examination -- will sweep the reader away. Take him or her to the special place in the imagination that good books inhabit. The characters -- or in the case of biography, the subject -- seem emotionally to leap off the page. They become real.

If, in fact, this is what is necessary for a biography to be crooned over as novel-like, then We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals (Ballantine Books) will be. Author Gillian Gill is that rarest of combinations: an academic (she’s taught at Northeastern, Wellesley, Yale and Harvard) who knows just how to spin a tale. She demonstrated same with earlier biographies of Florence Nightingale, Agatha Christie and Mary Baker Eddy. In We Too she tells the complicated story of one history’s most important and complicated royal couples: Queen Victoria and her Prince Consort, Albert.

Gill reveals a relationship much more complex than has popularly been thought. A passionate marriage, but one fraught with power struggles as well as a family trying to find its way through the confounding corridors of a life lived on center stage.

“At a distance,” Gill writes, “Queen Victoria and Prince Albert can look like charming tapestry figures, unicorns among flowering meadows, irrelevant to our modern world. But if we listen to their voices up close, we find to our surprise a forerunner of today’s power couple -- a husband and wife, each with a different personal agenda, but lovers as well as partners in a great enterprise, both leading meticulously scheduled, constantly monitored, minutely recorded, and carefully screened lives.”

Gill brings us their voices. It’s impossible to imagine a better biography of this deeply interesting and historically important pair or a more vivid picture of the times in which they lived.



Blogger Clea Simon said...

Thanks! This review makes me want to look up her Christie bio. Is it as good? I confess, I want my bios "novel-like," or else I get bogged down. Am reading an ARC of "Dancing to the Precipice," about Lucie de la Tour du Pain, who survived the French Revolution and went on to Napoleon's court, and am loving it. But that's rare for me.

Friday, June 26, 2009 at 9:34:00 AM PDT  

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