Curiously, Julie Burchill's Diana and Beatrix Campbell's Diana, Princess of Wales: How Sexual Politics Shook the Monarchy have more in common than you might expect. Both relate a Gothic narrative of modern monarchical manners. Both tell the tale of how a suitable young virgin was found and set up to be the sacrificial bride and victim of a man who could have chosen to do things differently - but didn't. Both articulate, to varying degrees, an understanding of bulimia, self-harm and postnatal depression which places Diana in a tradition and community of suffering women of all classes and from all backgrounds.
But their styles and motives couldn't be more different. Burchill's book is a paean to the Queen of Hearts: a glossy, hardback, royalist homage from the woman who, bizarrely, still describes herself without irony as "the cynic of the world. The cynic's cynic. A class warrior whose personal flame for the Unknown Soldier never fades." Diana has lots of colour pictures and the kind of self-aggrandising opinion, masquerading as journalism, that we have come to expect from La Burchill. Claiming to be "part love story, part document of our times", the blurb trumpets that "Many books will be written about Diana, but the only precedent for this book will be Norman Mailer's Marilyn".
Burchill can usually be relied upon to turn a stylish sentence and deliver an elegant polemic. There's none of that here. Diana, it seems, has only turned Burchill's head. History is invoked merely to give background colour "to a fairytale scripted by the Brothers Grimm, all locked rooms, icy- hearted queens and night starvation". Diana was a one-off, a shining solo star, "a wondering, wandering girl coming home for the last time to her people ... like the good soldier she was."
Finally, we are treated to an extraordinary, execrable epilogue: an embarrassing poem celebrating "Her in all her Herness, not her HRHness. Her; just her ... Her, loser and still champ - / And then the darkness, and nothing else." In the absence of research, interviews or political analysis, what we get here is unexpurgated, slavering sycophancy.
Campbell's cheap, unsexy paperback, by contrast, offers a serious study of a woman who, by telling her story, "did not create republican sentiment, but ... did transform the space in which the public could contemplate their feelings about royalty and republicanism, through the filter of her experiences as a woman".
Campbell's thesis is that sexual politics are at the heart of a constitutional crisis surrounding the monarchy. Charles, she argues, could have chosen to change the patriarchal principles of royal marriage. Instead, he made himself complicit in the conspiracy of kingship.
He refused to participate in his own generation, choosing instead to enlist in the cadre of his "martinet" mentors: Prince Philip, Louis Mountbatten, Laurens van der Post. He aspired to a model of masculinity which, prince or no prince, was seriously out of tune with the times. And it was Diana's treatment as a woman that made her dangerous. "For the first time this century a woman called a future king to account for his behaviour as a man."
It was Diana's public testimony, she argues, which transformed public perception of the monarchy and highlighted the contradictory and democratising role of the press in enabling her to bear witness as a survivor. Andrew
Morton's book Diana : Her True Story (now subtitled In Her Own Words and including transcripts of his conversations with the Princess) in particular was both in the tradition of "strong women" who empower themselves through revelation, and "an audacious affront to royal control of our collective conversation".
As feminist analysis of a patriarchal system, Campbell's book is as fascinating and readable as it is damning and insightful. "These people have got 'love' and 'hate' tattooed on their tiaras, "she says of the dysfunctional royal family, in a line Burchill would die for.
What is debatable, though, is her wishful interpretation of popular public feeling about Diana's life and death as a sign that the conditions for republicanism might be ripe. "How can we explain the gap between the royals' exponential loss of legitimacy and the lack of a mass movement for reform?"
The answer lies a little too conveniently in her closing paragraphs, in the Government rather than the people. Parliamentary politics "refused to connect either with Diana's dangerous testimony ... or with the republican feeling to which it contributed." It is, finally, the Labour Party's long tradition of royal bootlicking, and its refusal to acknowledge the sexual politics in both royalism and republicanism, where Campbell lays the blame.Reuse content