What I’ve been reading: The Diana Chronicles, by Tina Brown

“The Diana Chronicles” (Tina Brown)

In certain circles Tina Brown is held in disdain as the person who “ruined” The New Yorker magazine, after being installed as editor by the owner of the magazine and thus kicking out the venerated long-time editor William Shawn. Nonetheless, Tina Brown’s The Diana Chronicles received mostly favorable reviews this summer when it was published. I’ve always resisted the whole Diana, Princess of Wales cult, but I was intrigued by the fact that Tina Brown was a journalist with deep roots in the very pack of writers on whom Diana was dependent for her publicity and fame. Brown has connections with the London tabloids, as well as in the social circles in which the Princess traveled. She indeed met Diana on several occasions.

The biography seems well-balanced, in that neither Diana nor the Royals come off very well. The royal family, especially Prince Charles, did not treat Diana well (although in truth, they didn’t know any better–they have no idea in their insulated cocoon of minders and servants how the outside world lives, and how difficult it would be for a 19-year-old girl to come into the royal family). The Prince of Wales never made any secret of the fact that he had not stopped his relationship with his longtime mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, and presumably eventually Queen of England.

Likewise, Diana was willful and was manipulative of the press to her own ends, and that desire for fame and “love” was what caused the car crash that killed her and her companion Dodi al-Fayed. What was strikingly new information for me was that Diana had almost no education; she failed all of her school exams. She was clearly intelligent; however, in her social circle (the so-called Sloane Rangers) education was not a necessary attribute–wardrobe and party skills were.

Tina Brown doesn’t shrink from tart words for any number of people, and her writing style is colloquial but clear. She has done her research; needless to say, some of her sources are anonymous, but she is meticulous in sourcing whatever she can, and there are voluminous notes at the end of the book. I believe that this will be the standard “objective” biography of Diana, Princess of Wales for years to come.

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