"The Crown" presents Princess Diana of Wales, patron saint of tradition-defying divorcées
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales attend a dinner in Vancouver, Canada on May 3, 1986. Anwar Hussein / Getty Images
This article originally appeared here on Salon.com
My mother was a dedicated tea drinker. That should have been an indication of the extent of her Anglophilia, and now I realize that her children "speak the Queen's English" when we fall into slang.
What sealed it was her reaction to Princess Diana's death in 1997, and worse, my lack of response to the news. It was evening when she attacked me as I was preparing to go out with friends and spread the news with details of a car accident.
While I don't remember how I replied, I can't forget that her reaction let me know that everything I said was inadequate. That feeling stays with me all these years later. She was shocked that I was still going out, dismayed that I didn't come home after that, and horrified that I was having brunch the next day.
Even worse - even better for me - the hosts served champagne for a memorial toast in honor of Diana. They even created a banner that said "Bye bye Di". They did this out of affection, not as a joke. Didn't matter. When I shared this detail with my mother, she was disgusted. It was the 1990s, an age full of young idiots who turned tasteless stupidity into supposed irony. It was difficult to tell solemnity from carelessness.
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Much later, after exchanging stories with other divorced children, I began to understand why my reaction was viewed by her as sacrilege. For her and other women of a certain generation who had the courage to get rid of abusive spouses despite the world insisting that they remain in their marital misery, Diana confirmed her decision to go and pursue happiness. She was a kind of north star, an example of how life could improve after a breakup.
Watching season four of "The Crown" brought back those memories, which is strange given the context. The popular image of Diana in popular culture is that of a composed fashion icon in her 20s and 30s. The current season presents Diana, played by Emma Corrin, as young and flirtatious. She meets and marries Prince Charles, a man 13 years her senior, and not long afterwards the age difference is said to have played a role in the relationship that undermines the pair's disharmony before us.
But also Diana's popularity with the masses.
Diana was a boomer, and my mother belonged to the Silent Generation, an age cohort distinguished by a general respect for authority and taught to face the challenges of life calmly, to work diligently and without discomfort, and in general to knock everything down.
My mother's marriage ended when I was born, and Diana Spencer wasn't introduced to the world until nearly a decade after I arrived. But somehow, even though we never had celebrity gossip magazines in the house or watched tabloid TV shows, she suspected that Charles and Diana's relationship was on the rocks.
Because of the time period that season four is playing, I see more of my mother in Olivia Colman's portrayal of the Queen than I do in Corrin's Diana, which makes sense. Mom would have been a teenager when Queen Elizabeth II married Prince Phillip and most likely saw the wedding or at least enjoyed photos of the ceremony.
Colman gives us mid-life Elizabeth, a sane woman in her fifties who had lived through World War II and social revolutions and found the weight of her responsibilities more important than children who complain about not being loved enough. In the same period, my mother would have been only slightly younger, and while her own kingdom was a blotch compared to the British Commonwealth, she had certainly seen some things.
This led me to joke with my husband during one scene on "Avalanche," episode ninth of this season, that it felt like watching two sides of my parents talk to each other. Diana was the part of her that tried so hard to make things work, and that makes it painful to see Corrin playing her with downcast eyes ready to take sole responsibility for a situation that is on it was designed to collapse briefly. Meanwhile, Elizabeth sits Diana and Charles down, ostensibly to advise the couple.
"Something as important as the future monarch's marriage simply cannot fail," explains Elizabeth sharply. "Your marriage, all of our marriages, reflect the integrity of the crown. And when they show cracks they cannot rely on, the permanence and stability that the monarchy is supposed to represent is also called into question."
I suspect this expresses the weight of many crumbling marriages that involve children and where the continuity of family unity is paramount.
But once Diana's apology is out and she declares that she wants to commit to repairing the marriage, Elizabeth is ready to be like a shot away from there. "Well!" she chirps. "Well, that's it then" - which is without a doubt the voice of a generation. My mother's generation.
Their divorce lasted nearly a decade, and their final decision came just a few years before Diana and Charles split up. But I suspect it must have given her some consolation to see that the world's most famous princess endured a misfortune similar to her own.
And I bet it was Diana's American solo tour that lit my mother's torch for the princess. The season finale features her famous visit to the Harlem Hospital Center, where she spontaneously hugged a boy with AIDS at a time when people were scared of touching people living with the virus. For the world, such moments made Diana accessible human. Women like my mother have added value to the universality of maternal love and sacrifice.
Before this season premiered, I wondered aloud why so many viewed "The Crown" as a comforting television. The Seasons leading up to this issue is Peter Morgan's lengthy investigation and theory of how monarchical duty turns a person, a woman, into a national symbol, a little more than usual, but perhaps less than human. This makes "The Crown" a graceful tragedy. . . to Diana.
Because of her star power, her entry into the story adds a new tension to the story, suggesting dimensions of her character and personality that the public may not have known. Morgan's impressions of all of the royals are several pieces of research and more than a few pieces of guesswork; It is a fiction guided by biography.
However, the best fairy tales contain kernels of truth, which is why I missed my mother and wondered what she would have made of Corrin's and Morgan's Diana. Because we know what kind of woman Diana grows into when she gets rid of Prince Charles: a benevolent and gentle philanthropic icon, an example of fashion and taste, an ideal for aspiring women who start from scratch.
Granted, we don't see the princess who celebrated her, who snuck young Harry and William out of the castle for fast food or to play with other kids, the kind of simple goodies mothers give their kids to give them to calm down and give them normalcy a full home life. Still, I believe it would have vindicated her decision to look to the curated model of kings to shape their children, regardless of the fact that only one of their five children took up these lessons. (In case you're wondering, I'm not talking about myself.)
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Such memories sweeten the season's experience by breaking up an understanding I haven't yet understood - about my mother, Diana and the Queen, and their importance to a world of women they have never met. And this is not a unique experience; A few years ago I told the story "Bye Bye, Di" to another friend whose mother, another woman who was divorced later in life, would have been about my age. Her eyes widened in horror and she shook her head.
She understood what I didn't do, that I had failed to honor the unofficial patron saint of emancipated ex-wives and mothers. Now I finally get it thanks to "The Crown" and I pray for my mother's spirit: God save the queen and heaven, help carefree daughters like me.
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