When Queen Victoria, monarch of the United Kingdom from 1837-1901, first took the throne at the age of nineteen, the role of the crown was uncertain, fluid. The Prime Minister and those elected to House of Commons and the House of Lords did the political heavy lifting, and no one expected the crown to serve as a spur to the economy; there were innovative capitalists enough for that.
Even the crown’s ceremonial role was in doubt, some claiming the monarchy superfluous. But the new queen impressed with her grace and assurance, and the public romanticized the accession of a young woman—a woman so young, so sheltered, that not until she was officially monarch did, she have her own bedroom. Even then, custom dictated that she couldn’t live independent of parental supervision before marriage; until the queen wed her cousin Albert, her mother resided in Buckingham Palace.
Small of stature, Victoria was big with contradictions. She hated being pregnant and was said to detest babies, her renowned quote “An ugly baby is a very nasty object and the prettiest is frightful”. This is intriguing as Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” depicted the Duchess and her baby (which became a pig). —
Evidently, the Duchess neglects the baby, and tosses it to Alice when she needs to play croquet with the Queen. The verses to the Duchess’ lullaby – “Speak roughly to your little boy, And beat him when he sneezes; He only does it to annoy, Because he knows it teases,” is as violent as the way she tosses the baby up and down.
Queen Victoria was quoted to have referred to behavior of children as that of “rabbits and guinea pigs, and Carrol; portrayed children as pigs in his book. He had a similar dislike of babies as well. “If (the baby) had grown up, ‘(Alice) said to herself, “it would have made a dreadfully ugly child; but it makes a rather handsome pig, I think.” Chapter VI Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Yet, the Queen gave birth to nine children, and the era that bears her name placed a high value on motherhood.
She had no interest in social issues (inevitably blaming flare-ups of discontent and unrest on small groups of agitators), but while she was in power, Britain underwent tremendous social reform. She did not embrace changes wrought by technology, slow to appreciate potential economic benefits, but technological innovations reshaped Europe and much of the world throughout the 19th century. Victorian England was living the imperial experience, the British Empire was expanding while new lands and cultures were discovered.
What followed was an encounter of cultures and, quite often, an aggression against the foreignness perpetrated by the British Empire. Danial Bivona in “Alice the Child-Imperialist and Games of Wonderland”, argues that Alice’s approach to Wonderland is deeply marked by an imperialistic attitude. She comes from her incapacity of understanding the other culture, assuming that, only because she cannot understand it, it must be devoid of logical rules. An assessment true for all time, and deeply rooted in the world Victoria helped shape.
And as Queen Victoria’s reign wore on, she concluded that governance was no place for a woman and accordingly subordinated herself to her husband, giving him a greater role in handling the crown’s responsibilities.
Queen Victoria: a headstrong woman with conservative principles, cautious in her friendships, prone to temper tantrums and depression. Not one to readily forgive, she ensured that woe befell anyone who wittingly or unwittingly fought against her— a trait Alice (or rather Alyss) eventually came to think of as a fractal reflection manifesting the ill intent sent from Queen Redd (Red Queen) in Wonderland at the time.
Throughout her life there were eight assassination attempts against the Queen, all of them failing miserably. Her carriage was shot at by Edward Oxford in 1840 while she was five months pregnant— an unthinkable trauma that Victoria accepted rather well. –
Then twice more the Queen was shot at in 1842 by the would-be assassin John Francis. A hunchback named John William Bean fired a pistol at the Queen just five weeks later— though it was unloaded, and the man postured his attack as a cry to be sent to a penal colony (far from the hardship of Britain).
Victoria’s carriage was shot at again in 1849 by William Hamilton. A year later, known lunatic Robert Pale attacked the Queen in Hyde Park, smacking her on the head with his cane (making him the only assassin to injure the Queen). A 17-year-old named Arthur O’Conner attempted to shoot the Queen in 1872 but was foiled by her favorite personal attendant, John Brown.
Her final would-be-assassin was a man named Roderick Maclean who attempted to shoot the Queen in 1882 but was tackled by a group of Eton college boys. Such was the earthly queen with whom Alice Liddell, née Alyss Heart of Wonderland, would contend.
By 1859, Victoria had successfully married off eight of her children. Only the youngest, Leopold, remained. He was grown into a fine man, and the discomfort she’d felt around him when he was a youngster had evaporated; she was now greedy for his company and overprotective. Much as she had done to rid herself of her mother’s “supervision,” Leopold was determined to marry to get out from under the maternal thumb.
Victoria believed that offspring of British monarchs should wed royals or nobles of other nations as a means of forming political and military alliances. How galling then, that Leopold set his heart on a former foundling named Alice Liddell, a member of the gentry, modestly famous for being Lewis Carroll’s muse (the queen loved Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but knew that it satirized her court,) what was worse: Miss Liddell had progressive ideas on social and economic reform, and she didn’t care to abide a woman’s place in society.
A bit of trivia — Queen Victoria suggested that Carroll dedicate his next book to her. And so, his next work, “An Elementary Treatise on Determinants, With Their Application to Simultaneous Linear Equations and Algebraic Equations,” was presented to the queen- no recorded reaction is known.
Queen Victoria could never let Leopold marry this upstart with the arrogance of a princess. But she couldn’t simply forbid him from marrying her either; he would detest her, and he reminded her too much of Albert (who had died prematurely and mourning whom Victoria wore only black for the rest of her reign) for her to have tolerated that. –
She would have to be subtle, nuanced in her sabotaging of Leopold and Alice’s relationship; they would seem, to themselves, to be masters of their own uncoupling, then Alice Liddell would give up her pretensions and reforms and fall back into her proper sphere.
Queen Victoria wasn’t accustomed to failing.