Queen Victoria’s journals now online

This week, the festivities begin for Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee marking her sixtieth year on the throne.  To an American, this seems a somewhat dubious achievement that principally stands as an indictment of her first-born son, but some good has come of it: it has inspired the worthies at the Bodleian Libraries and the Royal Archives to make available online all 141 volumes — that is 43,765 pages! — of journals by the previous Diamondess, Queen Victoria, who began writing them in 1832 (at age thirteen) five years before she became queen and continued until ten days before her death in 1901.

As an inveterate journal-writer myself, this seems a kind of paradise.  But there are caveats, besides the mere fact that it is an ongoing project so many of the pages have not been transcribed yet.  A minority of the pages that appear in scanned form are written in the Queen’s hand: the website has the details but, basically, in most cases Princess Beatrice produced a redacted version and the originals were destroyed — one imagines the most interesting bits were in the redactions.  Also, navigation through the site is by date rather than subject so it helps to be intimately familiar with the details of 19th-century British history.  Last, and inexplicably, this generous act of opening up access to the journals is revocable: from July 2012, only users based in the UK will be able to access them without charge.  This, in addition to being intellectually stingy, is senseless: beyond a small set of foreign scholars, surely no one outside the UK will be induced to pay to look at these journals so, in effect, the rest of us will never have the chance to see them again.

Enjoy them while you can.

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