A red notebook in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle reveals a whimsical tale of a motherless girl exiled to boarding school, written in diligently neat script by a 10-year-old Queen Victoria.
The then-princess Alexandrina Victoria — who was 10 and 3/4 in age, as the cover of The Adventures of Alice Laselles precisely states — wrote the book in 1829 or 1830 as part of a composition lesson. The Royal Collection Trust announced earlier this year that it would be published for the first time, with etchings by Cristina Pieropan and illustrations by Felix Petruška that incorporate the Queen’s hand-colored paper dolls. Released this month, the book is a small portal to Queen Victoria’s past, before her over 63-year reign, when she had an isolated childhood at Kensington Palace.
The Adventures of Alice Laselles follows the 12-year-old title character as she’s sent off to boarding school after the death of her mother, makes friends following a difficult start (including classmate Ernestine, who has lost an eye to smallpox), and encounters a cat that sports a red ribbon mysteriously marked with her name. The princess herself experienced the early death of a parent, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, and didn’t have many friends as the heavily protected heir to the throne. Perhaps there was some escapism and reflection in writing the story, although it’s just as much a cobbling together of the wicked stepmothers and precocious, ringlet-haired protagonists of classic youthful tales. An inscription reads: “To my dear Mamma. This, my first attempt at composition, is affectionately and dutifully inscribed by her affectionate daughter, Victoria.”
Although this is her only fiction to be published, Queen Victoria wrote some 141 journals in her lifetime and was prolific in royal letter writing. The paper dolls were also not her only art; she and Prince Albert often made etchings together. In an introduction, Dame Jacqueline Wilson writes: “If Victoria hadn’t been destined to be Queen, I think she might have made a remarkable novelist.”
The Adventures of Alice Laselles by Queen Victoria was published this month by the Royal Collection Trust.