This picture of Queen Victoria, taken in 1900, interests me very much. This photo was taken late in her life – in fact, she would die the following year. You can see she wasn’t well at the time, but her personality is also evident: as long as Victoria lived, she would sit like that, a bulwark against the future and change. She was such a force in history that the 63 years she ruled over England are still known the world over as the Victorian era.
Victoria was known to be a difficult and determined woman, with strong opinions. She is not known for her imagination. My guess is that she never gave it a moment’s thought during her lifetime, but what would she have thought of today’s royals? Or the massively diminished position the monarchy holds today, which is about the equivalent of a cabinet curiosity?
Some people would like to return to the Victorian era, when life was slower, and there was such a thing as silence. A time when people had time to think and rest without being tied to their iPhones and laptops. Was it a better time? It’s hard to say, because we see it all through the lens of books and movies, and even the very best can’t tell us what living then was really like.
I am absolutely confident Victoria would have no wish to exchange her place in history with Queen Elizabeth II, who is her modern-day equivalent.
But what about ordinary people of 1900 who did not have the world at their feet, as the Queen did? If they could experience today’s world, would they want to trade places with someone alive today? Our world bears little resemblance to that of 1900. What would they like about our time? What would they shrink from?