Book Review-“Queen Victoria’s Secrets” by Adrienne Munich

If you are interested in the history of royal fashion and how prominent royal women used their clothes and jewelry to help craft and project their image to the public I would recommend the work of Adrienne Munich. Munich is a specialist on Victorian gender and authority. As a scholar of Victoriana, she is also served as the director of the Women’s Studies Program at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. The scholarly monograph that I would like to focus on in particular is her work entitled “Queen Victoria’s Secrets” published by Columbia University Press, New York, in 1996.

It is a concise 200 page work that should not take too long to read as long as you love history. Since it focuses on cultural and intellectual history, with an emphasis on Victorian high brow AND low brow culture with many illustrations and examples I think any person who is interested in this period and topic would like this book.

This book is a biographical work; however, it is not organized as a typical biography. If you are looking for a classic biography of Queen Victoria in chronological order from her birth until death this is not the book you are looking for. I would also suggest that you approach this book with prior knowledge on the subject of Victoria and her reign since the biography is one that focuses on the topic and themes that most closely pertain to Munich’s research. It is NOT a general overview of Victoria’s life. Munich uses popular literature as her primary sources such as writings from Dickens and Tennyson as well as ballads, portraits, and photographs of the queen to show how her reign had significant impact on English culture and society. In other words, this book looks at the mythology of Victoria, or the cult of Queen Victoria.

The reason why I am writing a review of this book on my blog is because of one chapter in this book specifically titled “Dressing the Body Politic.” This chapter is dedicated to Victoria’s clothes and how Victoria’s choices in her style of dress influenced women’s fashion in general. Furthermore, there is significant evidence to suggest that Victoria used her clothing as a way of building her image as sovereign and sending certain messages through her clothing in what the author terms “symbolical language.” Essentially, the longer the queen reigned as queen, the more ‘dowdy’ or unfashionable her clothing became. I believe that Victoria was an attractive young queen who dressed modestly but well in the early days of her reign and when she was married since this period coincides with the time when she was happiest. But it is true that after Prince Albert died the queen spent the rest of her life in mourning and her clothing were more and more homely and simple. She hardly made use of most of the crown jewels at the end of her reign and would only wear a few pieces of jewelry.

In contrast, when Victoria was first married to Albert she was very sentimental about her jewelry and Albert often gave her special pieces that he designed himself. After he died she wore “mourning jewelry” and would not wear anything with color if she could help it. (I will discuss this more in a post I will write soon dedicated to Queen Victoria’s jewelry.)

To put it simply, if you have a deep interest in Queen Victoria, the history of royal fashion, or women’s representation in popular culture this is a good book to have  in your library. I found it very informative and compelling and I am glad that I have it in my collection.

Cheers,

Angela

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