Monday, 19 January 2009

HM's Chamber

In March 1870, Dickens met Victoria. Her husband's death had left the queen alone in the world, as she considered it, and loath to perform any but the most perfunctory rites of her sovereignty, for which she found excuse in a various and almost wholly elective ill-health. She was, in fact, stout of constitution and, out of respect for an author whose writings she had enjoyed and who had so captured the Victorian age, she remained standing for the course of their interview. He, whose decline in health was no less marked than his determination to suppress the fact in a frenzy of continued exertion, no doubt wished they might both take a seat.

But they stood: a writer, born into the shabbiest of gentilities, who attended to the minutiae of Victorian poverty, to its shawls and its smells, with the careful, expansive, eye of one for whom it was, had been at least, personal; a queen, born into the shabbbiest of sovereignties, whose horizons had narrowed to the diameter of her dead husband's chamber pot, daily scoured out in a mourning that, by now, replaced ruling. London, reeking with river and fog and misery; and a pristine pot, never to reek no more. A man, desperate to bury bad health in a fever for more of his audience; a woman, recoiling from hers in a fiction of nerves and disorders.

Dickens died 3 months later. Victoria reigned for 30 years more.

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