June 25, 2012

{End of the Myth} Book Excerpt Part One

[This is the introduction to the End of the Myth section of my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride. Other parts of this chapter will follow.]

Dreams of being rescued by a prince were not only part of Diana Frances Spencer’s girlhood fantasies, but queens, princes and princesses were real people in her world. The descendant of Earls and Lords, she was born at home at Park House, part of the grand 20,000-acre Sandringham estate owned by the royal family. The Spencer family is one of the oldest in the British aristocracy—a dynasty, much older that the Windsors, that stretched back to the sixteenth century—and the Fermoys, Diana’s mother’s family, was one of the wealthiest. Diana had an aristocratic title from the age of fourteen, becoming “Lady Diana” at the time her father inherited his earldom.

Growing up with the royal family as neighbors and with Prince Charles’ younger brothers as occasional playmates, Diana, as a fantasy addicted sixteen-year-old, got to meet the heir to the throne himself while he was briefly dating her oldest sister Sarah. Diana and Charles met in the middle of a field at Althrop, the Spencer family ancestral home, when he was invited up for a shoot; reports from the time suggest that she was thrilled, but no sparks for him—yet.

“‘[Diana] made no secret of the fact that she wanted to become a member of the Royal Family,’” Lady Colin Campbell wrote in Diana in Private. She had even been “earmarked” by her family to marry Prince Andrew, the second son. But once she met Charles and once he stopped dating her sister, then Diana—patient, practical and ambitious in these matters—set her sights on the top prize.

 “Looming large in her romantic haze,” Tina Brown wrote in The Diana Chronicles, “was the face she had framed in her school dormitory, a real Prince Charming…the most eligible bachelor in the whole United Kingdom, the twenty-first Prince of Wales.” Charles was known for his “daring exploits on the polo field and ski slopes…parachuting out of combat planes,” making him a heart-throb for the country’s young girls. Did Diana fall in love with the dashing image when she thought she was in love with the man?

In her 1992 biography of Diana, Lady Campbell speaks of friends who knew the prince well and commented how it was understandable why girls would fall in love with him. In person “he crackles with a wonderful physicality, is warm and charming, with a seductive quality that owes much to his earnestness and intensity.” Quoting a friend of Diana’s, Campbell continued: “‘There isn’t any doubt that she was exceedingly ambitious, far more so than her abilities warranted, and while I have no doubt that she did fall in love with him—she’s very romantic and wouldn’t allow herself not to be madly in love with whomever she set her cap at—I am also sure that she would never have given him two moments’ pause if he hadn’t been who he was.’” Campbell also cited a former member of the Royal Household who was around at the time and had a similar account about Diana’s attraction to the prince for the sake of being a prince: “‘Is that love, or love of position?’”

Biographer Sally Bedell Smith wrote that “during the courtship, [Diana] seemed enchanted mainly by the idea of becoming a princess.” Then added these insights: “Diana idealized marriage as a fantasy that contrasted sharply with Charles’ elaborately considered view. In contemplating marriage to Charles, Diana supposedly told friends that she felt secure for the first time in her life.” 

But it would have been hard for Diana to imagine—even if she had been mature and clear in her thinking—how  difficult life would be with the man raised to be, according to Anthony Holden’s description, “heir to the loftiest position on earth still determined by heredity” all the while attempting to find his own way out of such a “claustrophobic, if comfortable life of inherited imprisonment.” Or, in feminist writer Beatrix Campbell’s words, how would the young Diana know that she would be “done down by the bad behaviour of a man behaving like a king”? From birth, Charles was raised in rigid “royal protocol, and the display of power that it prescribed,” with little family affection (as a young man “he said he could not remember one incident of maternal love from childhood”). And his inherited Prince of Wales mantle—a bequeath from a long line of princes-behaving-badly as kings-in-wait—included marrying for duty (position, property, procreation) with love, sex and other comforts and pleasures of life coming through sanctioned affairs (preferably with a married lady of society). Charles was trained well in King George III’s legacy to the Windsors: “‘ritual splendor, an appearance of domesticity, and ubiquity,’” as Campbell cites Linda Colley from Britons. Did Diana think she was “the cure” for the Windsor pomposity?

After their wedding, with different expectations of love, partnership, royal duties and marriage, the couple’s relationship began breaking down early. “But this was the marriage of the heir to the throne, and Diana and Charles were locked into position,” Smith explained. “They would both keep pretending, without fully understanding the consequences of their charade.”

But would it have been any different if they had been more aware of their differences, had been willing to be more patient during their courtship, had even been encouraged to “get to know each other”—or was the relationship, in some form or another, simply destined to be? “The family drama bears all the marks of a Greek tragedy,” remarked Michael Anderton in the anthology When a Princess Dies. “It is almost as if from birth and the events of childhood, there could not have been a very different fate.” Diana wanted to be rescued and become a princess; pressured to marry, Charles, although not intending to come to anybody’s rescue but his own, needed a princess bride. ~

[This is the introduction to the End of the Myth section of my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride. Other parts of this chapter will follow.]

No comments:

Post a Comment