Christmas at Windsor 1860

Victoria: A Life

I’ve been reading Victoria: a Life by A N Wilson and just before Christmas I read the section on Victoria and Albert’s Christmas in 1860:

The last Christmas before tragedy broke up the family was that of 1860, and it was a happy one. Even Albert and Victoria, everlastingly on the lookout for faults in the Prince of Wales, were pleased with their eldest son. He had just fulfilled his first major public engagement on his own – a four-month tour of Canada and the United States. (page 242)

In the United States Bertie had been an instant social success and Victoria acknowledged that he had qualities she would never possess. So Bertie was welcomed to Windsor that Christmas,

… where bright winter sunshine lit up castle windows thick with crystalline hexagons of frost, where the lakes were frozen so thickly that the young could play ice hockey, and where the Prince Consort, always at his happiest during these days of the year, supervised the hanging of giant Christmas trees from the ceiling, festooned with candles and decorations. (page 245)

(Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had popularised the German custom of decorating fir trees at Christmas time, which had originally been introduced into England by Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III.)

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Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle’, from Supplement to the Illustrated London News December 1848.

… the great German Christmas was celebrated, as it happened for the last time. The presents were arranged, each on a separate table for every recipient … the dinner was eaten … cold baron of beef, brawn, game pies, stuffed turkey, wild boar’s head, always the prince’s favourite, with a particular German sauce, which Öhm, the chef at Coburg, had invented – mince pies, bonbons of all kinds. (page 243-4)

In years to come Victoria, ‘in her bleak widowhood’, remembered that last happy Christmas with Albert. It was the last time they enjoyed thick snow together.

She tenderly listed the dates when he had taken her for a ride in a sledge – ‘in Brighton in ’45, in Jan and Feb 47, in 55 … and then for the last time December 27, 1860 at Windsor when Louis was still there. ‘My angel always drove me from a seat behind, sitting astride with his feet in large boots – he wore a fur coat with fur gloves – and he enjoyed it so much’. (page 244)

Victoria: a Life by A N Wilson

I’m reading Victoria: a Life by A N Wilson very slowly – not because it’s a difficult read or because it’s boring, because it isn’t, but simply because it’s a hardback book and very heavy and cumbersome to hold.

Victoria P1020318

As it’s taking me so long I’ve decided I need to jot down a few quotations that strike me as I’m reading rather than waiting until I’ve read the whole book.

Where I’m up to – Victoria has become Queen, set free from the constraints of her childhood and it is Lord Melbourne (Victoria’s Lord M) who prepared her for the ceremonial initiation of the Coronation and groomed her for her role as Head of State. Wilson reflects on her relationship with Melbourne and other male figures in her life thus:

The defining fact in Victoria’s personal mythology would seem to have been her marriage to Prince Albert; but there is no finished truth about a human being, and to see her as the besotted wife and grief-stricken widow of the German prince is only one truth about the Queen. She lived for eighty years, and was married for a mere quarter of that time. In many ways, we can say that we see her most clearly being herself in those platonic male friendships which were based on shared humour: with Lord Melbourne, with Disraeli and to a lesser extent with Dean Davidson and Lord Salisbury. The elements of humour and independence are present in her more mysterious relationship with John Brown. One sees her at her vigorous, independent and humorously selfish best in these friendships. The first, and in some ways the sweetest, was that with Lord M. (page 85)

When the crown was placed on Victoria’s head, all the peers and peeresses donned their coronets and after the Coronation Victoria wrote in her journal:

‘My excellent Lord Melbourne who stood very close to me throughout the ceremony was completely overcome at this moment and very much affected. He gave me such a kind (and I may say fatherly) look.’

and when the moment came to do homage,

‘he knelt down down and kissed my hand, he pressed my hand, and I grasped his with all my heart, at which he looked up with his eyes filled with tears and seemed much affected.’ (page 87)

I love these extracts from Victoria’s journal.

My Week in Books: 8 November 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

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A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: I’m currently reading two books from my TBR shelves:

Victoria: a Life by A N Wilson. I’ve been meaning to read this book for a couple of years and watching the BBC’s version of Daisy Goodwin’s Victoria made me get this down from the shelves and start reading. My copy is a hardback book, long (over 650 pages) and rather awkward and heavy to hold so I’m taking my time reading it in short sections.

Victoria: A Life

 

I’m also reading  The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson, a novel of jealously, rivalry and the dangerous power of obsession. Looking through my TBR shelves this one caught my eye. I’ve only read a few chapters and it’s looking good.

The Other Side of the BridgeBlurb:

Two brothers, Arthur and Jake Dunn, are the sons of a farmer in the mid-1930s, when life is tough and another world war is looming. Arthur is reticent, solid, dutiful and set to inherit the farm and his father’s character; Jake is younger, attractive, mercurial and dangerous to know – the family misfit. When a beautiful young woman comes into the community, the fragile balance of sibling rivalry tips over the edge.

Then: I’ve recently finished reading Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore, her final novel. My review will follow soon.

Birdcage WalkBlurb:

 

It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence.

Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war.

Diner believes that Lizzie’s independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants.

But as Diner’s passion for Lizzie darkens, she soon finds herself dangerously alone.

Weaving a deeply personal and moving story with a historical moment of critical and complex importance, Birdcage Walk is an unsettling and brilliantly tense drama of public and private violence, resistance and terror from one of our greatest storytellers.

Next:  The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid, the third Karen Pirie novel. See the blurb and opening paragraph in my post yesterday.

The Skeleton Road

 

 

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? And what have you been reading this week?

The Potter's Hand by A N Wilson

Now that the TBR Triple Dog Dare has finished I am free to read anything I want. I have bought/borrowed a few books since the beginning of the year and I immediately turned to The Potter’s Hand by A N Wilson, a library book I borrowed in March and fortunately I’ve been able to renew it. I had actually read the first couple of chapters, because I just couldn’t stop myself once I’d glanced at the dramatic opening paragraph, which I wrote about in a Book Beginnings post in March, but I resisted reading any more until April!

The novel begins in 1768 and roughly follows the fortunes of the Wedgwood family until 1805, 10 years after the death of Josiah Wedgwood, an English potter and the founder of the Wedgwood company. I say roughly because the narrative moves back and forth in time and place. It is a most remarkable book, which kept me wanting to read it each time I had to stop reading – it’s a long book which took me several days to read.

As Wilson explains in an Afterword the broad outlines of the story and most of the details are true, but he has altered dates and rearranged historical events and nearly all the letters are invented. It is €˜meant to be read as fiction, even thought it is intended in part, as an act of homage to one of the great men of our history.’

For me it really did convey what it must have been like to live in that period – whilst the the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, were taking place. It was a time of great change (what time isn’t?) both social and political change as the industrial revolution got under way in England. It’s full of ideas about colonialism, the abolition of slavery, working conditions, and women’s rights. It brought about small changes as well as big ones – for example, before Josiah’s time many families ate off pewter plates or wooden platters, but with his production of creamware ‘there was hardly a respectable household in the kingdom which did not eat its dinner off well-glazed delicate plates.’

Wedgwood’s fame was international and resulted in an order to supply Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia with an enormous dinner service – the Frog Service, decorated with illustrations of grand houses, scenes of country estates, parks and gardens and numerous other British landscapes. And his great creation towards the end of his life was the Portland Vase, a copy of the original cameo glass Roman vase. But Wedgwood was not only a master craftsman, he was also involved with his friends – philosophers, scientist and inventors – in the development of the canals and roads improving transportation as his factory grew and prospered .

It’s big on character (lots of them), the main ones being Josiah Wedgwood himself, ‘Owd Wooden Leg‘, his daughter Sukey, his nephew Tom Byerley, his childhood friend Caleb Bowers and Blue Squirrel, an American Cherokee Tom fell in love with in America. But there are plenty more who come in and out of the narrative along the way, both fictional and historical, including Voltaire, George Stubbs (who painted the Wedgwood family portrait) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I was particularly interested in Dr Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather, with his stammer and familiar way with his lady patients (if Wilson’s depiction is true to life) and his ideas on creation and evolution.

Overall it is the story of a remarkable family, their lives, loves, work, illnesses, depressions, addictions and deaths. I found it fascinating throughout, whether it was set in America during the fight for independence, or in England in Wedgwood’s factories, or his grand new house Etruria Hall, or travelling through England on the new canals.

Book Beginnings: The Potter's Hand by A N Wilson

Whilst I’ve been reading from my own book shelves this year so far, I’ve accumulated a pile of library books that are tempting me away from them. One of these books is The Potter’s Hand by A N Wilson.

It begins:

The unoiled hinge joined its melancholy whine to the opium-dosed whimper of the patient who st gagged in his chair, and to the swift rasping of the saw. The door creaked ajar in the very moment that the doctor sawed off the leg of Sukey’s pa.

Such a dramatic opening that immediately grabbed my attention, conjuring up such a vivid picture complete with sound effects! The year is 1768. Sukey (Susannah), who later became the mother of Charles Darwin, was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood,  an English potter and founder of the Wedgwood company.

The Potter’s Hand is a novel about Josiah Wedgwood and his family. Wilson explains in an Afterword that the broad outlines of the story and most of the details are true, but he has altered dates and rearranged historical events and nearly all the letters are invented. It is ‘meant to be read as fiction, even thought it is intended in part, as an act of homage to one of the great men of our history.’

I’ve read the first two chapters and think I’ll have to read on soon, after I’ve finished Death Under Sail by C P Snow, a crime fiction novel, if not sooner.

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday, where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.