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Queen Victoria’s Library: The Place of Reading and Writing in Victoria’s Political Education, Self-Improvement, and Self-Curation

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Prof John Plunkett , Prof Kate Williams , Dr Joanna Marschner No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

‘Queen Victoria’s Library’ will illuminate an unexplored aspect of the Queen’s life and experience, aiming to overthrow traditional histories that cast her as a grey, disempowered pawn in the political life of Britain and its empire in the 19th century. It will research the Queen’s extensive reading and her engagement with the literary world, detailing the ways this which shaped her character and her relationships, as well as her view of dynastic, national and imperial politics. At a time when the increasing number of women readers was a key part of the expansion of the book market, the project will explore both what Victoria read and the sociability of her reading practices, such as her frequent reading with Prince Albert, Ladies in Waiting, or her children. Through the partnership with Historic Royal Palaces, this CDA will be able to disseminate its research directly through the programmes of this major heritage organisation, which manages Kensington Palace. 

General research questions will include:

• How does a study of Queen Victoria’s library and reading change our understanding of her agency and intellectual development?

• How did her reading shape her views on women’s rights, poverty, colonialism and race, dress reform, as well as dynastic and constitutional issues?

• What, when, and how did Queen Victoria read? How representative was this of women readers and what do her reading practises this tell us about 19th-century reading as a social activity?

• How can a reappraisal of Queen Victoria’s agency generate more nuanced public programmes at Kensington Palace, thereby contributing to HRP’s organisational development, including its ambition to decolonise the organisation’s curation of national heritage.

The CDA will draw heavily on the archival material described below. Letters and diaries from other writers record their meetings with Victoria and her views on their work (for example Tennyson, Dickens). The research specialisms of the supervisory team, covering royal history and biography, 19th-century reading practices, women’s writing and self-fashioning, will provide the conceptual framework.

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Funding Notes

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