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Book Reviews Victoria as Media Monarch JohnPlunkett. Queen Victoria: First Media Monarch. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. χ + 256pp. 43 illus. $29.95 £19.95 SHE WAS KNOWN as the "Queen of Hearts," a royal whose every move was followed by the press and whose ubiquitous presence inaugurated a new style of monarchy that prided itself on its closeness to the people. It might come as some surprise that this description is of Queen Victoria rather than the late Princess of Wales, but the parallels are cleverly exploited in John Plunkett's book, which sets out to analyse how the Queen was represented in the press of her day. Plunkett concentrates on the firsthalf of Victoria's reign, a clearly defined period from 1837 to 1870, which saw the emergence of the type of press that we are familiar with today, as well as the birth and subsequent domination of photography. The author's decision to examine these particular years (the analysis does, however, occasionally slip into the last decades of the century) results in a book that is sharp in its focus and makes some illuminating observations about the way that Victoria was constructed in textual and visual forms. It is this willingness to analyse different modes of representation that makes this book an important contribution to the recent scholarly interest in Victoria evinced in monographs like Adrienne Munich's Queen Victoria's Secrets (1996) and Margaret Homans's Royal Representations: Queen Victoria and British Culture 1837-1867 (1998). The book is divided into five chapters, each analysing aspects of what Plunkett calls Victoria's "media making," a term which suggests both the monarch's construction by the press and the part the Queen herself had to play in the constitution of the media. Although the subject matter is varied, ranging from examinations of the reportage surrounding Victoria 's civic visits to the significance of royal portraiture and photography , the chapters are bound together by the notion that the Queen was constructed as a bourgeois figure whose apparent intimacy and familiarity with her subjects secured the role of the monarchy at a time when its political influence was waning. 446 ELT 47 : 4 2004 The argument is a convincing one, Plunkett referring to an impressive range of publications with diverse political leanings and readerships . This comes to the fore in the first chapter which analyses the ways in which Victoria's coronation and marriage were represented in the press and how these events set the tone for royal visits in the 1840s and 50s. Victoria made more official visits than any previous British sovereign and the result was that she came to be seen as a "populist" monarch who cared for her subjects. However, Plunkett does not present one side of the story. He is particularly attentive to the contradictory ways in which these events were reported, the scaled-down coronation receiving criticism from the Tory press because there was not enough ceremony, and from Chartist sympathisers because there was too much. Indeed, the backdrop of political upheaval and protests makes all the more extraordinary the popularity of Victoria, a popularity that Plunkett explains in terms of her "publicness." If the first chapter tends to conflate textual and pictorial genres under the umbrella of "the media," this is compensated for in the second chapter, which discusses how the Queen was depicted in visual forms, from official portraits to the Penny Black stamp. This chapter, in many ways the book's strongest, is of interest as much for its history of visual modes of representation as for its discussion of depictions of Victoria. The analysis of the technological changes that led to the huge expansion of the picture industry in the nineteenth century is thorough and lucid, with allusions to Walter Benjamin especially pertinent in the context of a period in which images were reproduced in their thousands. Plunkett charts this shift, arguing that the decline of official court portraiture and the growth of techniques like wood engraving literally brought the monarchy into people's homes and made it seem more inclusive. According to Plunkett, the simultaneous existence of Victoria in prints, paintings , panoramas, and even Books of Beauty led...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 446-449
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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