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A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy Hardcover – Mar 13 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; Reprint edition (March 13 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312621051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312621056
  • Product Dimensions: 3.1 x 17.1 x 24.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 544 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #269,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on May 19 2012
Format: Hardcover
Helen Rappaport's "Magnificent Obsession" is a look at a particular period in the life of Queen Victoria - the years after 1861 - the death of Prince Albert. She ends the book about 25 years later, when the Queen is making grudging moves out of her abject mourning to return to public life. The first part of the book is a brief bio of both Victoria and Albert and their 21 years of marriage. The ups and downs of married life, children born and raised, their official duties, and, through it all, Victoria's obsessive love and connection to Albert.

Most of us have seen marriages where the spouses' devotion to each other is often greater than their connection with their children. Sometimes when a beloved husband or wife dies, the life is often drained out of the surviving spouse, and can result in endless lamentation. Psychiatrists can ask, I suppose, if this is because of the love between the two or is it a sense of dependency of one on the other? Whatever the reason, years of mourning occur, to the extent of turning away from the outside society. This seems to have happened to Victoria when Albert died at the age of 42, after 21 years of marriage and nine children. She mourned until the end of her life - another 40 years. After Albert's death in 1861, Victoria was joined in her grief by the country, but as society at large moved on, Victoria wore her widow's weeds and retreated to her country homes, rarely showing herself in public. She was thought to be letting her duties lag as the years went on.

The act of mourning was well established in Victoria's court by the time Albert died. She had lost her mother a few years before, as well as other relatives and courtiers. "Full mourning" was often observed, with full black dress.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I haven't finished this book but I found Ms Rappaport's interpretations very interesting. My GG Grandfather, Mr John Turnbull is mentioned in the book. He lived and worked at Windsor Castle. The family interacted withe the Queen, Albert and the Princes and Princesses. I had heard many stories that left many questions. Ms Rappaport has some believable incites into Albert's death and the Queen's obsession.
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Amazon.com: 40 reviews
72 of 74 people found the following review helpful
Impeccable Scholarship And High Drama Combined March 15 2012
By John D. Cofield - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
To most people today Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Prince Consort of England, is a shadowy figure remembered, if at all, as Queen Victoria's husband. Helen Rappaport's meticulously researched account of his final days, death, funeral, and their impact on Victoria and her country and Empire, is an excellent reminder of both Albert's role in the monarchy and the changes that came about after his death.

Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was an intelligent and high minded man who had been destined from birth to marry his slightly older cousin Victoria. Despite the arranged nature of their marriage, Victoria and Albert were deeply in love and utterly devoted to each other. Victoria was a highly emotional woman accustomed to having her ever whim accomodated. She was determined to rule as well as reign and within two years of succeeding to the throne had already caused one major political crisis by refusing to accept a change in Government because it meant giving up her own attending ladies. After marrying her in 1840 Albert gradually gained influence over his wife, limiting the effect her frequent emotional storms had on the day to day running of the government and on their growing family. Successive ministers and other politicians came to appreciate and trust his hard work and common sense, and even though he was never really popular in his adopted home due to being thought excessively earnest and rather dull, by 1861 Albert had become an essential cog in national affairs and indeed king in all but name. Rappaport's prologue describing the 1860 Christmas festivities at Windsor and her first chapter ably depict the many ways in which Albert had become indispensable.

Unfortunately Albert was not a healthy man. He suffered from a series of mysterious digestive upsets and incapacitating pain. His tendency to moroseness and depression was amplified by the constant need to keep his wife's jittery emotions soothed, and his workload was increasing and never ending. By late 1861 he was convinced he hadn't long to live, and several deaths in his family and his overreaction to his eldest son Bertie's first illicit love affair just intensified his depression. Even so, Albert was able to do one final bit of good by helping to defuse an international crisis between Britain and the United States, literally rising from his death bed to work on the details. Rappaport's almost minute by minute description of Albert's final decline and illness reveal the hazards of being royal and unhealthy in the nineteenth century. The doctors chosen to attend him had good social connections but apparently little real medical skill, and no one, not even the feisty Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, was able to convince the Queen that other specialists needed to be called in. Victoria at first refused to believe anything was seriously wrong with her husband, and as the seriousness of the situation sank in she became more and more difficult to deal with. It fell to a few servants and his second daughter Princess Alice to nurse Albert through his final days, and when the end came on December 14 Victoria was devastated. Rappaport's account of the announcement of Albert's death, its reception by the country, and the subsequent funeral ceremonies is fascinating. Few had realized how ill the Prince Consort really was, and the nation was shocked when church bells began to toll across the land. Rappaport used newspaper descriptions of the funeral as well as more official sources, helping us better realize the way the British people were shocked and saddened by his death.

The period after Albert's death was a turning point for Britain and its monarchy. Victoria withdrew into a decade long seclusion, and the nation, at first sympathetic, began to resent her absence from public life. As republicanism began to gain favor some of Victoria's advisors and servants attempted to rouse her without success. As Rappaport againly vividly describes, it was not until the Prince of Wales fell seriously ill with typhoid fever in December 1871 that the Queen began to be seen more in public. When her visibility grew so did her popularity, and while she did not fully regain all the influence on government that she had had while her husband was alive, she nevertheless gained in prestige and visible grandeur, being proclaimed Empress of India in 1876 and becoming "Grandmamma of Europe" through the marriages of her nine children and numerous grandchildren. One of her prime obsessions during her widowhood was the setting up of memorials to her beloved husband, and Rappaport provides an excellent chapter called "Albertopolis" to describe their construction. The book ends with a sad little Epilogue describing the Christmas of 1878, which was blighted by the death of Princess Alice from diptheria on the 17th anniversary of her father's passing, and a fascinating final Appendix "What Killed Prince Albert" which reanalyzes his symptoms in the light of modern medical knowledge and presents a convincing diagnosis of what was really wrong with him.

Helen Rappaport made use of the Royal Archives at Windsor and family archives in Germany. She consulted many British national and regional newspapers for contemporary accounts of the Prince's illness, death, and funeral and used a multitude of primary and secondary sources to illuminate not just the effect of Albert's death but also Victorian views on death and mourning, including some fascinating material on mourning jewellery. The extensive footnotes add additional information as well. Rappaport has produced a formidable work of scholarship that is also, despite its somber subject, a delight to read.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
What a WONDERFUL read March 14 2012
By andrew - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The author has certainly done her research...

A Magnificent Obsession is truly is a must-read for anyone interested in Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The reader is taken on a journey into how Victoria and the nation/world reacted to the death of Albert, and how Victoria became obsessed with the memory of her late husband.

Even the most knowledgeable historian will find that this title covers new and interesting material, especially into the cause of Albert's death.

Often-accepted theories are challenged, and done so in such an amazing way, that the reader feels as if they are alongside the writer uncovering the truth. This is all done with great respect, and with the advice and opinions of many experts (including physicians).

A must read...and great addition to any royal library!
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
excellent refreshing biography March 13 2012
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This fascinating biography focuses on a pivotal event "that changed the monarchy"; the death of Prince Consort Albert and its subsequent impact on his grieving widow, which in turn affected the Empire. Helen Rappaport makes the case that Queen Victoria not only loved her spouse, she needed him as a mentor and friend. Detested by her subjects, the country mourned alongside their queen his death. The Queen had replacement advisors but none came close to Prince Albert as her partner over the last four decades of her reign. Whereas Victoria concluded that Albert's trepidation over their son "poor Bertie" led to his death; Ms. Rappaport offers alternative possibilities. Queen Victoria never came out of mourning nor did she allow the country to move through the phases of grief as the nation lingered along with their monarch in a forty years mass depression.

This is an excellent refreshing biography with the focus on the impact of the death of Prince Albert in 1861 on his wife and their Empire. Ms. Rapport makes a strong case that Prince Albert's death is one of the key moments in British history. The tone reminds me of The Taylor File: The Mysterious Death of a President by Clara Rising, who makes a case that the one person who may have prevented the Civil War died mysteriously; though her theory arsenic poisoning proved false. Readers will appreciate this profound look at why the Queen needed her mate and a strong argument that his death was the first major step for the sun beginning to set on the British Empire.

Harriet Klausner
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Thoughtful, but sometimes tedious look at Queen Victoria's grief period June 24 2012
By David Roy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
One may never see devotion more true than that which can occur between husband and wife. Some take that devotion to excess, however, living in mourning for decades after their spouses die. Queen Victoria, Great Britain's monarch from 1837-1901, is one such woman. She went so far as to go into virtual seclusion for ten years when her beloved Prince Albert died in 1861. Helen Rappaport studies this period of grief and tragedy for a nation in her book A Magnificent Obsession. Sadly, while the content is interesting, Rappaport's writing isn't that engaging, and the book can become tedious at times.

Rappaport begins with a brief history of Albert and Victoria's marriage in happier times. They married in 1840, begetting twenty years over which Albert assumed more and more responsibility for the royal affairs. This was partially due to Victoria's sense that he could handle things better than she, but also the fact that she had nine children in the first seventeen years of their marriage. Rappaport documents the hostility that some government ministers felt over this invader from Germany having such influence on British affairs.

This is all covered in the first chapter. The book goes on to follow the slow decline of Albert's health until his eventual death on December 14, 1861. Victoria's penchant for intense grief and refusal to do her queenly duties due to such grief first reared its ugly head when her mother had died a few months before. Rappaport talks about Albert's decline, during which he had to support Victoria, even more than he already had been, through the long months following her mother's death. All of this while he was ailing himself.

The ten years after Albert's death were harsh for Victoria; she refused to appear in public at all and only rarely was convinced of the necessity of it. She hid up in a royal box for her son's wedding, for example. The nation grieved with her for a while but eventually wanted to get on with the business of living--something Victoria didn't seem to appreciate. Businesses in London were hurting because there were no royal balls, no state visits from other countries, no official functions put on by the Palace--the bread and butter of some of these industries.

Victoria was convinced that the rest of the nation shared her intense mourning despite all evidence to the contrary. It actually became a royal crisis. Many advocated her giving up her throne to her son, something she would never do because she thought him a layabout unfit to be king.

Rappaport delivers events in chronological order as the years of the 1860s go by: the political crises; Victoria's insistence on hiding herself away; the emotional relationship with the only man she really trusted after Albert's death, the Scottish Highlander John Brown. Her portrait of Victoria is of a woman completely lost in her grief, one who doesn't believe that she can function without the man she loved in her life. Rappaport posits that had Albert lived, Victoria would most likely have gladly abdicated her throne to him (something I'm not sure the British people would have gone for). Once he died, though, she held onto it ruthlessly.

It's not a pretty picture.

Unfortunately, it's also not the most interesting one. Rappaport's fairly straightforward style doesn't engage the reader much if the reader isn't already very interested in the subject. I hadn't read very much on Victoria and only knew what has bled into the popular perception of her. While informative, A Magnificent Obsession doesn't make you want to follow up on the subject.

That's not to say that the book is incomplete. Rappaport covers both Victoria's seclusion and the popular reaction to it. She devotes a chapter at the end to theorizing on what probably killed Albert. He was diagnosed with typhoid fever, but that is widely considered to have been a misdiagnosis.

A Magnificent Obsession is not a bad book, and it definitely serves the purpose of discussing the ten-year period of extreme mourning indulged in by Victoria. You will learn everything you need to know. You just might not enjoy the journey as much as you might have liked.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book © Dave Roy, 2012
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Showing honor for or trampling the example of Prince Albert? Dec 5 2012
By Dog Lover - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In an odd way, this book caused me to mimic what Rappaport attributes to the British people during Victoria's loooonnnnnnggggg period of mourning. As her people did, I found myself saying, "Come on already. Get on with it!"

That may be the beauty of this book - by showing in such extreme detail everything about Victoria's "feelings" (making no comment on the validity of those feelings), Rappaport caused me to feel as fatigued by the situation as did the Empire, no doubt. Could wax philosophical or make armchair diagnoses of Victoria's mental health, I choose to look to what this book did and did not do.

I kept looking for the purpose of the title "... the Death that Changed the British Monarchy." Rappaport didn't really inform me of that until the last chapter. The fact that she had to tell me demonstrates, to this untutored reader, that the book didn't reveal that message more clearly on its own.

I was so frustrated by Victoria's self-delusional claim that she was honoring Albert by her behavior when, in fact, she was sorta spitting all over on what he had taught her - especially and directly about this mourning excess after her mother's death - by not facin' up to the job and gettin' that job done.

However, it is true that Victoria came into her own because Albert died in a way she probably would never have been able to do had he lived. Here's the thing about that part of the story, though. In the last chapter where Rappaport makes that claim, she wraps up the, what, 30 years? or so after Albert's death by saying that Victoria took control and exercised leadership in a variety of areas. This leadership is NEVER shown in this book in any way. Victoria's reign was saved by the happenstance of near tragedy combined with the seemingly inexhaustible love and desire of the British people to support the monarchy - no matter how badly one of those monarchs may behave.

As another reviewer has said, it is better to have known a lot about this period and the people involved in it to truly appreciate this book. I do not have that prior knowledge so I was left with "But, but but...who succeeded Victoria? Did Bertie ever shape up? What did Victoria actually DO besides dedicating innumerable statues, monuments, and other memorials to her beloved Albert? However, I do know enough to fully agree with the fact that Victoria changed the way that the British Royals are expected to behave. Albert's almost Puritan aspect and Victoria's wholesale adoption of those ethics and morals did, at least, put the salacious and irresponsible behaviors of Victoria's forebears into the "hide it at all costs" camp. We'll see how long that lasts.

I enjoyed the read. Well-written in direct contrast to several of the other histories, memoirs, and biographies I've completed in the last year. Just wish, frankly, that Rappaport had provided a bit more detail about the issues and consequences to both the Empire and the rest of the world by Victoria's decisions in those first several years after Albert's death to isolate herself and ignore the calls of her office.

3.5 stars - great writing, less filling than it could have been.

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