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Book Nook: My Name is Victoria. Author Lucy Worsley

Reviewed by Matthew Kresal

My Name is Victoria, by Lucy Worsley.

Not a waste of time.

Alternate history and professional historians have not always gone hand in hand. Richard J Evans, for example, wrote in the Guardian in 2014 that such counter-factual explorations of history were “a waste of time.” Others have not taken such a dim view, particularly when it has allowed them to explore a topic in a way factual accounts can’t. Lucy Worsley, the joint Cheif Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, author, and host of numerous TV and radio programmes on historical topics, offered one such example in 2017 with her young adult novel My Name is Victoria.

On the surface, Worsley’s novel might seem to be an example of historical fiction written for a younger audience. As the opening pages reveal, the Victoria of the title isn’t the future 19th Century British monarch. Instead, Worsley chooses for his protagonist Miss Victoria Conroy, daughter of Sir John Conroy, the royal comptroller and architect of the Kensington System designed to lull Princess Victoria into allowing a regency. The two young Victorias were playmates, a rarity under Sir John, and that becomes the basis for Worsley’s tale, following Miss V (as Victoria Conroy becomes known) and her time with the Princess from ages 11 to 18.

Princess Victoria, aged 17.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Partway through, Worsley shifts the nature of the narrative. The friendship between the Princess and Miss V appears to have been frosty in real life (indeed, Victoria’s biographer Lynne Vallone noted that Miss V was “frequently noted but never analysed” in the future monarch’s journals). Worsley’s novel supposes a warmer friendship hidden behind journals Victoria at least suspected others would read. Events between the two young women and on the road to the crown take on a new aspect, particularly with Miss V increasingly sensing her father’s role in the life of Victoria and the Duchess of Kent.

There’s also Albert, of course. With his introduction into the narrative, the shape of how far Worsley’s counter-factual will extend becomes apparent as romantic feelings and letters begin to pass between Miss V and him. Those expecting a tragic turn of events (as this reviewer was) will be in for a surprise as Worsley presents a rather audacious twist as the novel heads for its final chapters, something she’s neatly set up in her presentation of Victoria and Miss V as characters as they’ve gotten older. Worsley is having fun exploring Victoria’s life at Kensington Palace (of which she is joint Chief Curator, after all) through Miss V’s eyes, yet her knowledge also brings details to the narrative and descriptions that make the twist work. Indeed, what happens with Sir John Conroy after Victoria reaches the throne becomes all the more intriguing.

My Name is Victoria is, of course, a young adult novel. As such, Worsley’s depictions and details aren’t as thorough as I was used to from more typical (alternate) history fiction reading. There are certainly times where the expositional portions of the dialogue feel like a history lesson for younger readers who are likely to be unfamiliar with the period. Even so, Worsley is as compelling on the page writing fiction as in her non-fiction writing for adults or as a media presenter, with her narrative moving along at a solid pace while capturing the personality and history well for readers.

While Worsley doesn’t perhaps go as far as she could have done, that someone like her would dabble in alternate history’s game is a welcome surprise. And, in this reviewer’s mind, it is a welcome addition to the canon. Though written as a young adult novel, there was plenty to enjoy in My Name is Victoria, even as an adult.

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Matthew Kresal is the author of the SLP book Our Man On The Hill.


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