Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Queen Victoria & Tea
Do you like long books? I don't. And so it's rather out of character for me that the last two books I've read were both 500-plus pagers. The first was the novel "New England White" by Stephen Carter (a bit of a political thriller, it was OK but not as good as his "Emperor of Ocean Park"), and the second, which could hardly be more different, was the 1987 book "Victoria: An Intimate Biography" by Stanley Weintraub (643 pages, thank you very much). Although I certainly learned a great deal of new information about the good queen, the parts I most enjoyed seemed to concern the many other famous faces with whom she came in contact. Felix Mendelssohn, whose "Wedding March" we know so well, was treated to tea with Victoria and Albert at Buckingham Palace during a visit in 1842. History comes alive in a great way when you read it unfolding as if it's a novel.
Naturally, I enjoyed the book's numerous references to tea. I tried to remember to mark the "tea" passages as I read, so here are a few tidbits:
* At Osborne House, Victoria and Albert's children had a two-story cottage-style playhouse where they sometimes treated their parents to "tea." (But the author suggests that it was located a half-mile from the house perhaps to get the kids out of their parents' hair for a while.)
* Victoria's trusted servant after her husband's death, John Brown, made the best cup of tea she had ever drunk, she told him. "Well, it should be, Ma'am. I put a grand nip o' whisky in it," Brown said.
* When the Shah of Persia visited in 1873, Victoria gave a luncheon in his honor and pretended not to notice that he was drinking water out of the spout of a teapot.
* At a Buckingham Palace garden party for 5,000 guests in 1893, Victoria had her own private "tea tent" where guests were received.
My interest in the book was greater at beginning and end -- it was a longggg book -- but now I have a fuller picture of Victoria's life and gleaned a lot of wonderful British history in the process. If you like history and thick reads, you might want to look for a copy at your favorite library or used book source.