The term historical fiction covers a wide range from what the mystery writer Josephine Tey once dubbed "history with conversation" to outright invention shading into fantasy. But behind every story set in the past lies the past itself, as re-created by scholars from the available evidence. This interview features Helen Rappaport
, whose latest work reveals the historical background behind the Masterpiece Theater miniseries Victoria
, due to air in the United States this month. Rappaport served as historical consultant to the show.
The Queen Victoria who gave her name to an age famous for a prudishness so extreme that even tables had limbs, not legs, is nowhere evident in Rappaport's book, the television series, or the novel by Daisy Goodwin, also titled Victoria
, that gave rise to the series. Victoria: The Heart and Mind of a Young Queen
, 2017) explores in vivid, compelling prose the letters, diaries, and other documents associated with the reign of a strong-minded, passionate, eager, inexperienced girl who took the throne just after her eighteenth birthday. This Victoria loved to ride, resisted marriage, fought to separate herself from her mother, detested her mother's close adviser, and became infatuated with her prime minister before transferring her affections to Prince Albert, who initially did not impress her. Wildly devoted to her husband, she bore nine children but hated being pregnant and regarded newborn infants as ugly. Even her name caused controversy: christened Alexandrina, she switched to Victoria on taking the throne, overriding critics who insisted that Elizabeth or Charlotte were more suitable appellations for a British monarch. By the time she died sixty-three years later, entire generations understood the word "queen"as synonymous with "Victoria."
Although the most powerful woman in the world, Victoria here makes some serious mistakes, as any eighteen-year-old thrust into the center of politics would. If she had no social media to record every misstep, she also had no publicity managers or image brokers to spin her rash remarks or misjudgments. As Daisy Goodwin notes in the foreword to this book, Victoria had to grow up in public, and she left a precious record of that journey in her own exquisite handwriting. But since this is the official companion volume to a television show, it also includes details about casting and costuming, as well as numerous photographs of the actors and background information about the times. It makes a perfect starting point for a discussion of history and historical fiction, their differences and similarities, and how to observe the requirements of one without violating the precepts of the other.
C. P. Lesley is the author of six novels, including
Legends of the Five Directions (The Golden Lynx, The Winged Horse, and The Swan Princess), a historical fiction series set in 1530s Russia, during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible. Find out more about her at http://www.cplesley.com.