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Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death That Changed the Monarchy [Paperback]

Helen Rappaport
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Product Description


"A fascinating exposition of the art of mourning which Victoria made peculiarly her own . . . Magnificent Obsession is that rare creature; a scholarly book that wears its learning lightly and is written with clarity and insight. It is a fascinating subject and an even better read: a model of its kind." (Sunday Express)

"In this intriguing study, Helen Rappaport sets out to tell the story of the royal anguish that followed Albert's death in December 1861 . . . she excels in her portrayal of a cult of mourning over which the queen presided with all the imperious intensity of a high priestess. Fair-minded, thoughtful and rich in social detail." (Sunday Times)

"Rappaport uses new sources to give a vivid account of Albert's death . . . a valuable and insightful book which will change our view of Queen Victoria." (Spectator)

"Brilliant . . . Helen Rappaport is especially good on the incompetence of the gang of medics who presided over Albert's illness." (Daily Mail)

"To mark the 150th anniversary of Albert's death, Helen Rappaport looks at the circumstances leading up to it, the ritual of his funeral and obsequies, and offers new theories on what killed him." (Majesty magazine)

Book Description

A poignant and fascinating account of a queen and country in mourning

From the Inside Flap

When Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, succumbed to typhoid fever in December 1861 the nation was paralysed with grief. He was only forty-two and official bulletins had, until the day before, given no cause for alarm.

Albert had in fact been in a decline for years - worn out by overwork, stress and the exacting standards he set himself. His death was a catastrophe for Victoria, who not only adored her husband but had, through twenty-one years of marriage, utterly relied on him: as companion, father of their children, friend, confidant, wise counsellor and unofficial private secretary. There was not a single aspect of public business on which she had not deferred to his advice and greater wisdom. She would even consult him on what bonnet to wear.

For the 150th anniversary of Albert's death, Helen Rappaport's fascinating history examines the profound impact his loss had on Britain. Cast adrift and alone, the Queen donned the widow's weeds that she would wear for 40 years. Without Albert to guide and support her, with a feckless heir who had caused her nothing but anxiety, and a family of nine children to parent alone, she retreated into a state of pathological grief which nobody could penetrate and few understood. Her stubborn refusal to return to public life rapidly began to alienate even her closest family and friends and to bring a resurgence of republicanism. There was even talk of abdication.

Marshalling brilliant social detail about a court, a Parliament and a nation initially as bereft as their queen, but rapidly tiring of her cult of grief, Rappaport tracks Victoria's single-handed mission to commemorate her husband in perpetuity, setting in train plans for the monuments - in stone, on canvas and on paper - that would properly memorialise him and set their visual stamp on the art and culture not just of her reign but of Britain today. Drawing widely on contemporary letters, diaries and memoirs, she brings new and compelling light to bear on the causes of Albert's death.

Most grippingly of all, Rappaport focuses on the enduring relationship between Victoria and Albert - the magnificent obsession that not even death could sever

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Back Cover

A royal death that plunged the nation into grief . . . and nearly cost the queen her throne.

Praise for Helen Rappaport:

'That perfect but rare blend of history, sense of place, human tragedy, drama and atmosphere'

Susan Hill

'Helen Rappaport has brought her subjects back to life with a sombre intensity . . . deeply touching'

Independent on Sunday

'Brilliantly shows how history is never simple but always enthralling when written with this style'


--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Helen Rappaport is an historian and Russianist with a specialism in the Victorians and revolutionary Russia. She has contributed to a three part BBC Two documentary on Queen Victoria, Queen Victoria's Children, to be screened in January 2013. Her books include Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs and No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War. She lives in Oxford. For more information, you can visit her website at
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