The Diana Chronicles received mixed reviews. On the one hand, Tina Brown presented Diana in a fair, balanced light, rarely resorting to gimmicky, gossipy information. Her effort to present Diana as a humanitarian was considered valiant and correct. After ten years, we are ready to put aside our view of Diana as silly and desperate for attention. On the other hand, critics argue that Brown presents Diana as just that. Plus, she provides no new information about Diana’s life According to Sarah Bradford, a Diana biographer and Royal insider, Brown did not gain access to Diana’s inner circle, so speculations about Diana’s behavior is immediately suspect.
As usual, I fall softly onto the middle ground. I think Brown’s book is a detailed and well-researched account of Diana’s life. Few other books spend as much time analyzing Diana’s childhood as this one does. Clearly, Diana was deeply traumatized by her mother’s abandonment. She fell in love with Charles far before he was ever a possible suitor because, according to her, “he is the only one that will never leave me.” Interestingly, Diana was slated for Charles younger brother, Andrew. Her 19-year old self saw security and matrimonial bliss in the heir to the throne. A more experienced woman would have left him when he famously said, after being asked if he loved her, “whatever that [love] means,” but Diana was smitten and the route to tragedy was paved.
Brown does a nice job of creating a clear picture of Diana as a modern woman caught in the ancient practices of monarchy. Charles, like nearly every other Prince of Wales before him, had a mistress. From the perspective of history this is not surprising or out of the ordinary, but Diana was a modern woman; she saw what happened in her family when love was not present and she was desperate to correct her parents’ wrongs. The true tragedy is that she was never told at the beginning what the situation was between Charles and Camilla, that no one ever pulled her aside and enlightened her about marriage practices in the British royal world. Some say that she should have known, but she was too in love with Charles to believe that she could not woo him. Brown believes that she was in love with Charles her entire life, which, if true, is sad.
Diana, however, was not completely innocent. She knew how to play dirty, and she did so to get back at Charles. Though every launch of ugliness (Andrew Morton, BBC interview) was ultimately designed to get Charles’ attention, one cannot forget how mean these attacks were. She was justified in her anger and pain, but she made the situation worse by choosing the tactics that she did. Diana understood her public, knew they loved her more than Charles, and used them to play hardball with her husband. By the time they are divorced, Charles is with Camilla, and safe behind royal protection, and Diana is alone. Her boys are at school, her HRH is gone, she has declined the royal security detail, because she believes they are spying on her, and she is a fox for the foxhunting photogs, a true Diana the Hunted from Greek myth. She turns to Dodi Fayed, not for marriage or love, but for protection.
It is unjust that Diana is treated so poorly at the end. After all, she was the honest one in the relationship. She was immature and chose to fight, though harshly, for love and recognition in a situation where most women historically go about their business, but I don’t think any woman in this day and age can fault her. The real villain of the story is Camilla. Many, both for and against Diana, both in and out of Charles camp, believe that Charles and Diana would have had a fighting shot at a happy marriage if Camilla had left well enough alone. From her perspective, I suppose, she’s glad she played ingénue. She’s the one that is HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, destined to be Consort to the King. Diana, for all her efforts, will not get the privilege.
Brown could have included more information about Diana’s relationship with her boys. This part of her life is conspicuously absent. Also, there are no insert pictures. All of the pictures of Diana and company are printed on the inside of the hard cover. The biggest and blondest picture in the book is of Tina Brown herself, which prompts the question of who Brown thinks is the real looker of the story.