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Bär den som en krona Sanna Tahvanainen, Bär den som en krona (Wear It Like a Crown)

Schildts & Söderströms,  2013.

Reviewed by Eric Dickens in SBR 2014:1

Review Section: Fiction, Light-Hearted and More Serious

This is a delightful novel. It examines the  life of Queen Victoria from girlhood to  dotage. With one difference: it avoids  affairs of state almost entirely, instead  devoting a section each to Victoria the  girl, the wife and the widow.

The tone is just right. It is a firstperson narrative; Victoria tells the story.  Girlish naïveté is very much present in  the opening section, as is the confusion  of old age at the end. In between, we read  about the family, Victoria’s many children,  her life with her Consort, Prince Albert.

Victoria’s childhood is lonely. She  mixes with several adults, one of whom  is her old uncle, Prinny (King George  IV), whose passions focus on creating  Brighton Pavilion. She does not get on  particularly well with her mother, who, in  true Victorian fashion, binds her wrists to  the sides of the bed at night to prevent  things awful. We read about Victoria’s  childhood fantasies, which gives the  first section a magic realist overtone.  One recurring morbid musing is about  Charlotte, heir to the throne before  Victoria, who died in childbirth, having  given birth to a stillborn child.

The middle, more realistic section is  about life with the German Prince Albert  (they often converse in his native tongue)  and how he encourages her to shape  up as Queen. Victoria is madly in love  with him. They live, for part of the year,  at Balmoral, which they built, and in the  spacious Osborne House on the Isle of  Wight. Victoria’s relationship with Albert  is not unclouded; he has a propensity for  Germanic thoroughness, for order and  reason. His way of talking to her is that  of parent to child, while she looks up to  him as an authority and mentor. Victoria  is much more of a sensuous person than  Albert and seems to love him more than  he loves her. She enjoys lying in bed in  the morning, eating more than she  should. She becomes Queen about one  third of the way through the novel. The  couple open the Great Exhibition, one of  Albert’s pet projects, where the Crystal  Palace is centrepiece. 

There is much illness in the novel:  Victoria’s, her son Bertie’s and Albert’s  among others. Victoria, who lived in  an era when many children were an  insurance against child mortality, has  nine children. Her beloved Albert dies  young. In later years, now widowed, she  leans, mentally and physically, on her valet  John Brown, a manly, open-air Highland  type, unlike Albert who preferred shut  windows and an organised life.

The novel is well-researched by  its Finland-Swedish author. The eleven  books referred to are listed at the end,  five of them written in English.

The title refers to a comment made  by Victoria’s mother: she suggests that  her daughter should treat everything,  including disappointment, as if it were  her crown or the book balanced on her  head, in true finishing-school fashion.

Other reviews by Eric Dickens

Other reviews in SBR 2014:1

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