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British scholar Christopher Hibbert adds another engrossing volume to his long list of informative and entertaining
histories and biographies. Aptly subtitled "A Personal History," this portrait of England's longest reigning monarch
focuses on Victoria's character, as well as her relationships with her husband, children, and the politicians who
directed her government. Unlike George III, which found its subject to be a more intelligent and effective ruler than
he had been judged traditionally, this biography does not offer a radically new assessment of Victoria (1819-1901).
Instead, Hibbert adds color to the stock image of a stout, grieving widow who was dressed perennially in black as she
presided over England's imperial prime. His Queen Victoria is imperious and dignified, to be sure; she is also fun
loving, highly emotional, and passionately in love with her consort, Prince Albert. Victoria was mortified to discover
she had become pregnant within weeks of her marriage, fearing that it would spoil her intimacy with her husband; and,
although she was fond of their many children, Hibbert candidly depicts her as a difficult and overbearing mother. In
the graceful, engaging prose that is his trademark, Hibbert skillfully traces England's political evolution into a
truly constitutional monarchy through Victoria's dealings with her prime ministers. He also judiciously evaluates her
personal ties, particularly the thorny one with son and heir Bertie (later Edward VII), and the controversial one with
Scottish servant John Brown. (Hibbert concludes that a sexual link between the two was "most improbable.") His
appealing book reaffirms the pleasures of old-fashioned narrative biography. --Wendy Smith