Saturday, July 7, 2007

By Tina Brown

With “The Diana Chronicles,” Tina Brown breathes new life into the saga of this royal “icon of blondness” by astutely revealing just how powerful, and how marketable, her story became in the age of modern celebrity journalism....Tina Brown offers an insightful, absorbing account of the pas de deux into which, to her eventual peril, Diana joined with the paparazzi. As the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, Brown certainly has the authority to examine the Princess of Wales as a creation and a casualty of the media glare.

This book is a deep, well researched biography. Tina Brown relied not only on published sources but also on interviews with many of Diana's friends, servants, and relations. This, along with her own experience as a journalist and editor covering Diana, makes The Diana Chronicles an excellent read.

Diana seemed destined for either obscurity or greatness from the moment of her birth. She disappointed her parents, who desperately wanted a son and heir, and spent her early childhood being more or less ignored in favor of her two older and brighter sisters and her younger brother. Her parents divorced when she was five or six, increasing Diana's isolation and insecurities. During these years she began to develop the maternal instincts for which she became famous and the vindictiveness and cunning for which she was also well known.Tina Brown does an excellent job of describing Diana's antecedents.

The Spencer family had been servants and supporters of the Crown for centuries, but as Brown makes clear, it was a Crown and Royal Family which they and other Whig aristocrats controlled and helped create beginning in the eighteenth century. Diana's family home was Althorp House, a magnificent mansion filled with portraits and memories of years of power and influence. Diana was very aware of her heritage and saw herself as a reinforcer and reviver of her family's fortunes.

Diana seems to have hoped and planned for a great marriage from an early age. Brown emphasizes Diana's determination to "keep herself tidy" during her teenage years, when most of her contemporaries were partaking of the benefits/problems of "the pre-AIDS sexual revolution". Diana's self-control paid off when Prince Charles decided that he needed to get married and needed to marry a girl without a history. Diana was in the right place at the right time, seemed innocent and malleable enough, and most importantly had the blessings of Charles' real love, Camilla Parker-Bowles.

After Diana's marriage reality quickly infringed on the fairy tale. Tina Brown does an equable job of detailing the numerous sins and errors of both Diana and Charles. Like most people she finally comes down on Diana's side, pointing out that had Charles been willing or able to give up Camilla forever Diana would happily have had 10 children by him and been content to become a willing and cooperative member of the House of Windsor. Brown also takes care to critically examine and in many cases debunk many of the stories Diana told about the miserable treatment meted out to her, so that Charles and the rest of the Royal Family come out far better than Diana intended.

The best parts of the book deal with Diana's final years and the tragedy of August 31, 1997. It was heartbreaking to read about and re-experience those sad days, but gratifying to see Brown's justification of and sympathy with the actions of the Royal Family during that time. I also appreciated Brown's sympathetic treatment of Diana's numerous physical and emotional problems, including bulimia. These chapters heightened my sympathy and concern for Diana's sons, who must still have psychic scars.

A main character in these "chronicles" is the media itself, an institution which Brown dissects with the shrewd, experienced eye of an insider, explaining "who's who" in the British newspaper and TV culture, the pecking order among various media players and organizations, and the priorities, jealousies and politics that drive the pursuit of celebrities such as Diana.
Another reason to read The Diana Chronicles is that it is a chronicle of our own recent history. Diana so dominated the popular press in Europe and America for so many years that everybody, even those who otherwise paid little attention to royalty, saw her as a familiar figure and acquaintance.

1 comment:

Geoffrey said...

"Tender, celebratory, joyous, painful, heart-breaking at times-- I found myself thinking about ways of communication." -Sara