'I have nearly finished reading Corleone to the Queen
and she has been as much thrilled by the story
as if she were a girl of 18!'
ONE EVENING AT BALMORAL when the Empress Frederick was staying there the conversation at dinner turned to the novels of Marie Corelli which the Queen, like Mr Gladstone, much admired, maintaining that their author would rank as one of the greatest writers of her time. Her daughter, however, contended that they were utter tripe and, in a loud voice, sought support for this opinion from Frederick Ponsonby who was sitting at the far end of the table and had not heard the opinions expressed so far. Ponsonby contended that, while her books undoubtedly had a large sale, the secret of her popularity was that her writings appealed to the semi-educated. Whereupon the Empress clapped her hands and the subject dropped with startling suddenness.' 1
Although she was by no means intellectual, the Queen was far from being as ill-read as was often supposed: Frederick Ponsonby averred that her taste in literature was 'said to be deplorable' and that 'she never liked the works of the great authors'. Yet her letters and journal entries contain numerous references to worthwhile books she had read, many of which she claimed to have admired or enjoyed.
She had been warned against reading novels as a girl; and in later life she confessed to feeling rather guilty when reading fiction. 'Read in [ Bulwer Lytton] Eugene Aram for some time while my hair was doing,' she had recorded in her diary in December 1838, 'and finished it; beautifully written and fearfully interesting as it is, I am glad I have finished