Revenge of the sacrificial virgin

JUDITH TIMSON December 4 1995

Revenge of the sacrificial virgin

JUDITH TIMSON December 4 1995

Revenge of the sacrificial virgin


First, the bad ending: After her tell-all interview, the Princess is declared Unfit to Be a Princess and is taken to the Tower of London, where she remains locked up-the Royal Bulimic, the Mad Woman of Versace. (That stunning white Versace

Or possibly: After her interview, the Princess is shunned everywhere, even at the Chelsea Harbour Club, where she still works out until one day, tragically, she exercises herself to death.

cocktail sheath she wore towards the end is on display in the Dianabilia room at the Victoria and Albert Museum.)

Or even: After her interview, the Princess, drawing strength

from Bette Midler’s maxim “If they can’t take a joke, f---‘em,”

flees to America, where she now appears regularly on David Letterman’s show doing Stupid Princess Tricks.

As you can see, the possibilities for a very bad ending to this royal soap opera are endless, which is the main reason, of course, that we all keep watching. But as the news filtered out last week of Diana’s revelations, there was ample reason for even die-hard observers to be fed up with the whole mess: this is embarrassing, can’t they do this in private, she went too far this time, the entire Royal Family is filled with, as Jim Carrey would say, loo-oo-sers!

But let’s go back to the beginning. I confess, that along with millions of others, I avidly followed the courtship of Diana and Charles. I did not buy totally into the fairy tale, but I do remember thrilling to the sounds of the trumpet voluntary as I watched the royal wedding, televised live in the early morning hours. I remember Diana—was anyone ever that young?—in her golden coach, I remember her carefully walking with her unsteady father up the aisle, endearingly stumbling over Charles’s four names during the vows. And I remember, afterward, receiving phone calls from other relatively serious women who took time out from running the country to say:

“What was with those bangs? They were practically over her eyes!” And, more impor-

tant: “Do you think she’ll be happy?”

But there was something amiss. How could there not be when the main qualification to become the wife of the Prince of Wales, other than noble lineage, was simply to be a virgin? Forget compatibility, forget sophistication, forget even a sense of duty. What you needed was a negative—no previous sexual history—rather than a positive. And Diana fit the bill.

So a minor aristocrat who otherwise would have lived an obscure existence married to someone equally innocuous, ended up— albeit with her passionate consent—the wife of an aloof, older man whose interest in her was, shall we say, nuanced? She gave him domestic legitimacy and those all-important heirs. He was supposed to give her the keys to the kingdom, and some version of happily ever after.

Even during fairy-tale time, something was amiss

And we all know the story from there—his mistress, her suicide attempts, his neglect, her lover, his ambivalence about

it looks as though Diana’s gamble has paid off. Call it the Revenge of the Sacrificial Virgin. Has there ever been a clearer-cut case of an arrogant institution getting what it so richly deserves? Can we not be a little angry at the sheer cynicism of Charles’s courtship of Diana, the chilly grooming of her to become public property, when he had his own romantic agenda, and he and others in the palace were too dense—or worse, did not even care—to notice that Diana was a pretty shaky candidate for the job?

Any psychology major could have recognized the warning signs: fresh from a difficult childhood (her mother had run off with another man), isolated in boarding schools, intellectually undernourished. Insecure. Unrealistic. More suitable to be Queen for a Day than Queen of England.

children, being king, who her must desire endure to hang their in parents’ there, and bad of behavior, course their private and public.

However, with polls showing British opinion clearly on her side,

And so she became a valuable asset to her prominent husband at the expense of any emotional fulfilment. She became at once a glamorous star and a neglected wife. (In Canada, we have seen this script before. Does the name Margaret Trudeau ring a bell? And from the look on Audrey Best-Bouchard’s face last week, as her husband announced plans for his own coronation, well, let’s hope The Rolling Stones don’t tour Quebec City. She’ll be off like a shot.)

Diana is no easily labelled victim, and any attempt to deconstruct her along feminist lines has to acknowledge her uncanny manipulation of the media. It is equally obvious, however, that Diana has endured neglect, public humiliation, breakdowns and loneliness that would be excruciating if she were a private citizen, but in the glare of the spotlight must have been enough to drive her crazy. Or make her painfully human, able to connect with ordinary people in a way that no other member of the Royal Family can.

daysetoplme, for good, or to find a way out of this

mess that salvages some dignity—his, hers, and most precariously that of the monarchy. Which brings us to another ending:

After her interview, the Princess agrees to a divorce in which she gets ample money, unlimited access to her sons and a job as a roving ambassador/princess that she performs shockingly well. Charles carries on as prince with Camilla discreetly at his side. Years later, after the Queen has enjoyed an unusually long and healthy reign, Prince William finally succeeds his grandmother on the throne. At his coronation, King William delivers a special tribute to Diana (who is wearing a stunning Versace sheath, and looks fabulous): “I think we all know how much my mother went through in those early years, and I just want to say how much I admire and love her, and how pleased I am that she and her husband, who adores her, could be with us today. Mom, you’re the greatest.”

Now, that’s what I call Happily Ever After.