Charles, Prince of Wales, might well be wondering if Mary Shelley were scripting his life. Before 1981, Lady Diana Spencer was yet another Sloane Ranger, flighty and frivolous, only just getting around to the question of what to do with her life. And Charles, driven by forces he could not control — specifically, the Queen and company — plucked this English rose with an eye to making her a suitable consort for a King. But Diana would not so easily be molded into Charles' design. And just as Dr Frankenstein's creation sought a life outside the laboratory, Diana found a voice and a life of her own as a mother and a crusader — in precisely that order.

The panjandrums of protocol, of course, were properly horrified. Noble folk, they assert, are supposed to behave with a certain amount of aloofness and reserve, and are definitely not supposed to show any emotion around commoners. For Diana, who was working in a London kindergarten before her marriage, this was utterly absurd; being Her Royal Highness, a title eventually stripped away by the divorce decree, wasn't about to isolate her. Diana's brother, the current Earl Spencer, explained it best, describing her as "someone with a natural nobility who was classless."

And here in the USA, where egalitarianism is part of the national mythology, the story of Diana plays very well indeed. We identify with the fairy-tale princess, and when her life goes asunder, we observe that so have our own, and the identification grows stronger. And when finally Diana seems to find true romance after all these years...well, this is the stuff of legend.

Most of our pomp and circumstance is filtered through the mass media, so few of us would ever have a chance to see Diana at her best, raising Wills and Harry to be properly noble yet never without the touch of humanity, or raising consciousness about the victims of AIDS or land mines. The press these days doesn't handle such things well, preferring to concentrate its once-considerable skills on the profitable selling of scandal and the maintenance of a pretense of public accountability. The same papers that bid for the services of paparazzi, to boost their circulations, will now happily excoriate paparazzi, to boost their circulations. Truth, however, always finds its own way.

In death, Diana is triumphant. By her life, she radically redefined what the British, and by extension the rest of the world, expect of their leaders; the wall between monarchs and masses will never be the same. A towering legacy, worthy of a princess, or of a queen — or of the goddess who shares her name.

The Vent

#68
8 September 1997

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 Copyright © 1997 by Charles G. Hill