My Name is Victoria
With My Name Is Victoria, delightful British historian Lucy Worsley (you may have seen her in multiple BBC and PBS productions) brings her second piece of historical fiction to the market. Featuring the story of Victoria “Miss V” Conroy, daughter of Sir John Conroy – creator of the infamous Kensington System, by which the young Princess Victoria was controlled and cared for in her youth – it’s a well-told and impassioned story that will surely captivate young readers.
For as long as ten-year-old Victoria Conroy can remember, her nickname has been Miss V. Well-mannered and polite, if unaccustomed to the royal lifestyle, she is the epitome of the kind of girl her father wants the Princess to emulate. Introverted, quiet, prim and proper from birth, she adores writing and her small dog, Dash, and has no idea how she’ll relate to the young princess with whom she will be expected to live as a lady in waiting and bosom friend. In her father’s opinion, she will make an ideal companion for the young queen-to-be sitting in Kensington Palace – docile and obedient, she will impress upon the princess the only lesson her mother and their advisors wish to teach the girl: to be subservient to her elders. Conroy’s livelihood depends upon his daughter’s success – John, private secretary to the princess’ mother and comptroller of the household – needs proof that his vaunted new educational system is working. When Miss V is told Dash is to be her introductory gift to the young princess, she is horrified, but her father, a social climber determined to keep his post in the royal household, impresses upon her the import of first meetings.
The two Victorias get off on the wrong foot, naturally. Utterly alone except for her rarely-seen mother and her household staff, Princess Victoria has no experience with other children and instantly mistrusts Miss V’s intentions, presuming her to be yet another household spy – saying that she wanted a “Real little girl”, not a relation of the comptroller’s; she is haughty, imperious and formal at first blush, trusting no one, declaring she only agreed to the meeting so that she’d get the puppy.
But that puppy proves a bonding point for royal and commoner; and while she remains haughty and pushy, soon the princess trusts Miss V enough to explain about the isolating System that keeps her bitterly stuck between the four walls of the palace. Miss V’s father explains that it is for the princess’ protection, and that if they continue to obey the royal edict, the family will be well-rewarded with riches. But he soon makes his intentions clear by all but employing his daughter to spy on the little princess and report to him if she misbehaves or mentions any of the adults in her life in an unflattering way. As time passes, Victoria and V become true friends; as the girls approach their sixteenth and seventeenth years and marriage looms on the horizon, Miss V is caught between her father’s desire that she divulge the Victoria’s every secret and her loyalty to the bold, tempestuous, but fun-loving princess. When she discovers a heartbreaking secret about her father’s two-faced collusion with (and work against) the princess’ mother, soon followed by her father’s plot to keep Victoria from marrying Albert of Saxe-Cobourg – whom both of the girls have become fond of – Miss V must choose between rebelling against the system, a forbidden romance with Albert, or being loyal to the father she loves in spite of the growing certainty that he’s an embezzling charlatan, a philanderer… and the possible true biological father of the princess.
Make no bones about it – the novel is a delightful retelling of the childhood of a little-known character in Queen Victoria’s life. For young readers, the positively Frances-Hodgson-Burnett-ian tone of the novel will require little else but enjoyment – but adults with curious, intelligent children might want to consider adding a little bit of historical background to their consumption.
The characters feel very true to the period and to themselves. Victoria, naturally, only wants to be a normal girl, and at eleven to fifteen is bold and fighting the world, yearning for excitement and fashion and glamour. Miss V is loyal, bright and nervy; she develops an observational eye that grounds the reader into the story. Her imperious father – who runs through servants at lightning speed – has no patience for his family and even less for any mistakes; it’s easy to see him as the con-man whom Victoria’s mother later insisted swindled her out of large amounts of money (and who, in fact, swindled Victoria’s aunt out of even more money). Other characters manage to make a good impression, including Mrs. Spath, the only member of the royal entourage that the future queen likes.
This is not a perfectly flawless read, however. There are moments where the dialogue comes off as a bit too info-dumpy, and Miss V and Victoria seem a tad bit too mature for the eleven and ten year olds they are for half the novel but it’s a fact that unfortunately, children in their positions were forced to grow up far too quickly in those days. And while this book is excellent historical fiction, it is DEFINITELY fiction, with a plot twist that will leave parents of more well-informed readers scrambling to explain why things deviate so wildly from the record at a certain point. On the other hand it’s a lot of fun to read. If the child consuming the book is able to separate fact from fiction properly, then this book shall be a wonderful, soapy delight on par with their first YA series.
Consider My Name Is Victoria a fun, romantic, melodramatic diversion for your child. If they have a yen for historical fiction, this might be their first step toward enjoying Carolly Erickson or Allison Weir someday.