Ms. Worsley tells the story of Queen Victoria via 24 days in her life that had a life altering effect. From a 2019 perspective, the Queen might have been viewed as an everyday woman: she was balancing a demanding career, raising children and maintaining her marriage.
What I liked about this book is that Ms. Worsley does not write the predictable womb to tomb biography. In choosing the specific moments in time, Ms. Worsley brings out her subject’s humanity and ordinary-ness, making her seem like just another woman instead of one of the greatest Queens in human history.
The womb to tomb narrative is the standard format for a biography. While it’s fine for a standard format, it can, depending on the person writing the biography, be as dull as a college text-book or as alive as if the reader was watching a film of the biography’s subject.
Earlier this year, historian Lucy Worsley released Jane Austen at Home: A Biography. While Ms. Worsley goes over the basic facts of Austen’s life that any Janeite would be familiar with, she focuses on the places that the Ms. Austen lived throughout her 41 years and the possessions in those houses colored her world.
I’ve been fan of the author for a short time, and I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed it because there is life, color and vibrancy to what could be a very dull narrative. There are also Easter eggs, connections between Austen’s life and her novels that a newbie Janeite might miss, but a Janeite who is well steeped in Austen lore would understand.
In the new PBS miniseries, Secrets Of The Six Wives, historian Lucy Worsley takes the audience through the reign of Henry VIII through the eyes of his wives. Telling the story both in character (and in the background of Henry’s court) and in modern dress, Ms. Worsley allows the audience to see that world through the point of view of the six different women who were referred to as the Queen of England in the first half of the 16th century.
As a feminist and a history buff, this series is absolutely fascinating. To see this man’s world through a woman’s eyes, is still a concept that while it should not be radical in 2017, feels radical. Despite the fact that these women were Queens, their status was no different from any other woman in England at this time. Their job (especially at the higher levels of society) was to bring legitimate male heirs into the world. That was their only responsibility. Five of these women failed at this task. Jane Seymour (wife #3) was the only one who bore her husband a male heir. Unfortunately, the boy who would briefly reign as Edward VI died young. I’d like to think that history has a sense of humor. While Henry VIII married six women in an effort to bring a male heir in the world, his daughter Elizabeth I (by wife #2 Anne Boleyn) is remembered as one of the greatest rulers, male or female in the history of the human race.
I recommend it.
The Secret Of The Six Wives airs on PBS on Sunday night at 10PM.