A Magnificent Obsession

Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy

The title of this book is about an “obsession” but, actually, there are two obsessions. One is to Prince Albert, both when he was alive and when he was dead, and the second is with mourning. Both obsessions come from Queen Victoria, a fiercely independent woman who became enraptured by and madly in love with the man she was told to marry, a German man named Albert. And despite Victoria being so set in her ways before marriage, Albert transforms her into a woman who not only obliged his needs but changed her life so drastically to fit his desire to achieve the role so closely to a “King” that he would never himself have. This is her undoing, for it turns Victoria into a woman so dependent upon Albert and so caught up with him that, without him at her side, she is lost, confused, scared and alone. She forgets what it means to be the Queen and how exactly to fulfill that role. For sadly, Albert does indeed eventually leave her side; he dies at a young age, at only 43 years old, as the result of a chronic, undiagnosed disease.

A Magnificent Obsession by Helen Rappaport is a chapter in British history when Queen Victoria marries then mourns the loss of Prince Albert, also known as “Albert the Good” because of how he lives a strict life of religious observance and disciplined ways. I am glad this book introduced me to who Albert was and what he was like, because this helped me to understand the man behind the legend. While Albert was to be admired for striving to live a good and just life, I had concerns about how he was so set on changing Victoria. She preferred to stay up late; Albert was the kind to retire early, and of course he wanted his wife to do the same. Victoria was quick to lose her temper and sharp in how she dealt with others, while Albert was more peaceful and calm with others. And, of course, he encouraged his wife to be the same. As someone married to her opposite, I could not help but wonder why the two of them could not meet each other halfway. Why did one spouse’s way have to be the only way in the marriage? Albert seemed to have a controlling nature in his marriage to Victoria and I could only catch the “mourning bug” with this book in how I mourned the transition of Victoria into a woman that suited her husband’s needs. She became so lost in her love and devotion to him that, after he died, she could only continue to “love” him by erecting memorials of him everywhere and publishing his private works into books.

Of course, a wife’s devotion to her husband even after death, a devotion to a man that was so “perfect” and who gave her nine beautiful children, is to be admired, but it seemed like Victoria lost herself in this posthumous devotion that she forgot she was Queen and had responsibilities. Indeed, the press and even many in her royal court started to disapprove of her and demand she abdicate from the throne. She forgot to live life again, to love again, and the burden of her grief and sadness so consumed her that it started to affect her health. At one point, she complains that she needs to get away from reminders of her dear Albert, but how can she when she had placed so many reminders of him everywhere? She continued to wear her mourning clothes even after it was acceptable, as well as keep a tiny effigy of her late husband in a broach she constantly wore. Indeed, this threw England into chaos, as workers suffered and Victoria refused to reopen Parliament, and while many sympathized with her loss, that sympathy started to wane as the years continued to pass by.

At the heart of this book is the question of a broken-hearted widow and her ability to cope with the loss of her beloved. The true nature of Albert’s death is a big mystery in this book, and of course we must ask ourselves about how one must be able to cope when there is so much death taking place (as, unfortunately, happens for Victoria). But the real issue here is Victoria’s inability to move on past her grief over the loss of her beloved husband. She does so much to honor his memory but even still she cannot move forward and stop grieving. And, sadly, such a person is one sitting on the royal throne in England.

The life and death of Prince Albert is captured in A Magnificent Obsession, a new book by Helen Rappaport that draws on extensive research of historical records and information gleaned that would overturn the myth and legend of how he died, and how it changed the British monarchy forever.

Book Blurb for A Magnificent Obsession

As she did in her critically acclaimed The Last Days of the Romanovs, Helen Rappaport brings a compelling documentary feel to the story of this royal marriage and of the queen’s obsessive love for her husband – a story that began as fairy tale and ended in tragedy.

After the untimely death of Prince Albert, the queen and her nation were plunged into a state of grief so profound that this one event would dramatically alter the shape of the British monarchy. For Britain had not just lost a prince: during his twenty year marriage to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert had increasingly performed the function of King in all but name. The outpouring of grief after Albert’s death was so extreme, that its like would not be seen again until the death of Princess Diana 136 years later.

Drawing on many letters, diaries and memoirs from the Royal Archives and other neglected sources, as well as the newspapers of the day, Rappaport offers a new perspective on this compelling historical psychodrama--the crucial final months of the prince’s life and the first long, dark ten years of the Queen’s retreat from public view. She draws a portrait of a queen obsessed with her living husband and –  after his death – with his enduring place in history. Magnificent Obsession will also throw new light on the true nature of the prince’s chronic physical condition, overturning for good the 150-year old myth that he died of typhoid fever.

Night Owl Reviews Aug, 2013 5.00