By Heather Howard / Japan News Staff WriterThe Adventures of Alice Laselles: A Children’s Story Written and Illustrated by Queen Victoria
By Alexandrina Victoria
Royal Collection Trust, 63pp
The children’s story titled “The Adventures of Alice Laselles by Alexandrina Victoria, aged 10 3/4” would be an interesting historical artifact even if its only claim to attention was the fact that Alexandrina Victoria eventually became Britain’s Queen Victoria and “10 3/4” is the age at which she wrote the tale.
Alice Laselles is a motherless 12-year-old girl whose father has remarried, this time to a selfish, unloving woman who insists that Alice be sent to boarding school. Inevitably he gives in, and Alice goes to the establishment run by a Mrs. Duncombe.
The book could have used a bit more story; it’s much heavier on character description. The afterword tells us there was more to the tale but in the preparation of the modern edition it was deemed sufficient to end with the resolution of a cat-related incident soon after Alice’s arrival at the school. I can’t agree — it would have been better to balance out the roll call of students that stretches over many pages.
However, the character descriptions indicate a precocious talent for writing in young Victoria, and are often shocking in terms of what was common or acceptable at the time. “Woman” might not be an appropriate term for Alice’s stepmother, for example, at least not when the father married her at the age of 17.
The boarding school’s pupils range from a French orphan who has lost an eye to smallpox to the proud daughter of a London banker, but most striking of all is Diana O’Reilly, whose father was so distraught by the death of her mother, he left her with a nurse and decamped for India. He comes back 10 years later to find a near feral child dressed in rags and is inspired by his paternal horror to … dump her at Mrs. Duncombe’s for another eight years.
Paper dolls created by Victoria and her governess have also been incorporated into the book’s illustrations, with some digital alterations.
All this would make “The Adventures of Alice Laselles” worth a view, but the book takes on a deeper aspect when considered against the backdrop of Victoria’s own childhood.
As the years went on, according to a biography titled “We Two” by Gillian Gill, her life was increasingly subject to the oppressive control of her mother and her mother’s comptroller: Little Alice at one point goes crying to her room; Victoria had no room. She slept on a small bed next to her mother’s until the day she became queen just after her 18th birthday in 1837. Her letters and diary were monitored, as was her every human interaction.
This campaign to dominate the future queen was known as the Kensington System, and it is said to have come into full force from 1830 to 1837. “The Adventures of Alice Laselles” is said to have been written soon before Victoria’s 11th birthday, which would place it early in 1830. If the thought of being sent to boarding school didn’t seem like heaven to Victoria when she wrote the tale, it surely must have before long.
Where to read
In a bookshop cafe, where you’ll have quick access to biographies of Queen Victoria