Royalty buffs and historians of women’s history alike will enjoy Christina Croft’s new biography of Alice, Queen Victoria’s second daughter and also the mother of Alexandra, the last Tsarina of Russia. Alice, the Enigma — A Biography of Queen Victoria’s Daughter is informative and generally sympathetic to Alice, who was the third of Victoria’s nine children and a surprisingly independent thinker and feminist. Neither as brilliant as her eldest sister the Princess Royal nor heir to the throne like her brother the Prince of Wales (who became Edward VII), Alice nonetheless managed to carve a niche for herself and do some serous good in the world.
It was pretty difficult for a nineteenth century princess to do much more than marry well and bear children. Indeed, surviving multiple childbirths was an accomplishment in and of itself. Alice herself married at 19 and had seven (!) children before she died of diphtheria at the age of 34, so it is amazing that she was so engaged and effective in her humanitarian endeavors. She actively promoted and engaged in modern nursing services and corresponded with Florence Nightingale. She was a feminist and was particularly interested in women’s health, all of which horrified her mother. Not surprisingly, Queen Victoria also resented the fact that Alice occasionally dared to give her pointed advice.
Alice doesn’t seem to have been particularly happy as she entered middle age, and her photographs show her to be incredibly serious and melancholy. It may have been the style of the time not to smile for the camera, but Alice consistently looks glum. As a side note, her resemblance to the current Queen, as well as to Princess Margaret and Prince Charles is astounding.
This is a worthwhile book. I particularly liked the way the author incorporated some of the voluminous correspondence of Alice and her family. Princess Alice’s interest in new ideas and women’s rights were truly unusual, given her times and her royal status. She didn’t fit into the stereotype of the prudish, Victorian woman, and that’s what makes her interesting.