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Queen 'Victoria' on Twitter?
January 13, 2018  | By David Hinckley

If Queen Victoria were alive today, Donald Trump might not be the only world leader venting on social media.

“I think she would have quite taken to Twitter,” muses Daisy Goodwin, the novelist and historian currently writing Victoria, the popular series Masterpiece on PBS that returns for its second season Sunday at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings).

“She was a realist and she knew she didn’t make the political decisions,” says Goodwin. “But she had strong views about everything and was not hesitant to express them.

“She would listen to [her husband Prince] Albert. But she never hesitated to tell [Prime Minister William] Gladstone what she thought of his policies. She was not a shrinking violet and she never deferred to a man, which was unusual for her time.”

As played by Jenna Coleman, Victoria is not the stern, humorless, and somewhat remote figure of popular lore.  

In the early years of her reign, which the PBS series is now covering, she comes across as lively and impulsive. She also has an intense, passionate and sometimes fiery relationship with Albert (Tom Hughes).

While she was devastated by Albert’s early death, she never stopped being the involved queen she felt Britain needed and deserved.

“She was a reader and she was interested in everything,” says Goodwin. “We have letters she wrote to Scotland Yard suggesting ways they could go about apprehending Jack the Ripper.”

Those tips may not have come to fruition, but Victoria established herself as a technology pioneer of her era.

“She was an early adopter of things like photography,” says Goodwin. “She was the first British royal to be photographed, and it made a huge difference.”

Before that, the only way to see a queen or king was to be present at the same occasion and be close enough for a look. That was not feasible for the majority of the British population, never mind residents of the globe-spanning British Empire.

“But now suddenly,” says Goodwin, “there are pictures of her everywhere. People could see what she looked like, which was an ordinary woman. The queen was someone that people could identify with.”

The impact of this newfound familiarity was strikingly underscored in 1848 when an engraving was circulated of Victoria, Albert, and their children around a Christmas tree at the palace, indoors and decorated with lights.

In Albert’s native Germany, trees were a tradition. Not so in Britain, until the Royals put one up.

“Remember, the 19th century was the beginning of the middle class in Britain,” says Goodwin. “The next year, everyone wanted a Christmas tree.”

The second season of Victoria returns repeatedly to Victoria’s hands-on style with royal business.

“Becoming queen was a liberation from her childhood,” says Goodwin, noting Victoria previously had slept every night of her life in the same room with her protective mother. “Then as a teenager she got the biggest job in the world. She took it very seriously.”

During those early years of marriage she also became a queen mother, repeatedly. She and Albert had nine children, including six in one seven-year span.

That created challenges for the PBS script. “We ended up skipping over a few of the kids,” says Goodwin. “To cover every birth would have been too repetitive. We’re not Call the Midwife.”

In the real-life 19th century, having all those children could have left her little time to be queen. But British royalty often left much of the child-rearing to the staff, and Victoria did not let family responsibilities derail her royal duties.

“People said she was a bad mother,” says Goodwin. “But she knew everything about her children. I think it’s more that she wasn’t sentimental about them.

“If she were a man, she wouldn’t have been called a bad father. In a sense, she was the first working mother.”

She was a prolific writer, turning out everything from letters to journals and travelogues. She was the first royal to pen a best-selling book, Goodwin notes, with an account of time she and Albert spent at the royal castle Balmoral in Scotland.

After several years reading those writings, Goodwin jokes that “sometimes I’m not sure where I leave off and Victoria begins.”

One thing she has concluded, though, is that Victoria often wrote, even in her journals, for an audience.

“You sense she was aware that someone was going to be reading this someday,” says Goodwin. “She had a very clear sense of PR.”

After writing the first television series of Victoria, Goodwin expanded the material into an historical novel covering those first royal years in more detail. Already a successful novelist from multiple previous books, Goodwin says she’s open to writing more Victoria novels as well.  

“I’m quite tied up with television scripts at the moment,” she says. “But it’s certainly possible. There’s plenty of material there. And after years of reading her words, she still at times surprises me.”

Just imagine her Twitter archive.

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