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Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a…

Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess

by Sally Bedell Smith

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Forget the other 10,000 books on Diana. This is the real story -- of a poorly educated, shallow-minded ninny who took on more than she could handle and paid the ultimate price. ( )
  BrokenSpines | Dec 10, 2008 |
This is the only biography of Diana that I've read. I read it because a reviewer said that unlike most biographers, Smith actually knew both Charles and Diana. It turns out that she had met each of them. Once. Charles paid more attention to her, so he's the good guy. It is most successful at pointing up the futility of trying to make judgments based on contradictory "secret" sources.

I thought that the author frequently showed poor reasoning. The author argues that Diana lied frequently. As an example, she gave Diana's "contradictory" accounts of her wedding day. Noticing that many of them came from the same book, I read the original. Frankly, they struck me as a reasonable representation of the roller-coaster of emotions that one experiences at such a time.

Smith, like too many historian/biographers, has a crippling literal-mindedness for conversations. Most people, relating an anecdote, mercifully stick to the parts relevant to the conversation in which they are recounting them. These are not affidavits, just social chat. And this doesn't even take into consideration unavoidable changes of memory. After splitting, people who were once close friends may be unable to remember what they originally liked about one another. Therefore, I don't consider non-contradictory differences to be lies: usually they relate to context. So Smith once again offers as proof of lying that two of Diana's descriptions of her mother's leaving the family differ. This ignores the fact that her mother left twice, and she might not be talking about the same event. Further, the differences are not contradictory: both could be true and for some reason Diana emphasized different things in the two accounts.

Smith eventually diagnoses Diana as suffering from borderline personality disorder. The reader who has encountered posthumous diagnoses, especially contradictory ones, may make of this what they want. Smith says that her findings show that Diana wasn't the awful person she has portrayed her as being throughout the book; she couldn't help herself. If she seriously meant to convey that, she should have mentioned it at the beginning of the book. At the end, it just looks like a play for publicity and a weasel factor. ( )
  juglicerr | Jul 8, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812930304, Hardcover)

The Diana who was in search of herself was, according to this relatively beefy addition to the writings on the late princess, engaged in a futile exercise. Born after her parents tried three unsuccessful times to produce a male heir--two older sisters and a brother who died within hours of birth preceded Diana Spencer's arrival--she felt unwanted from the start. Her mother's abandonment of the family six years later compounded Diana's feelings of self-worthlessness. At a tender age, the girl who would grow up to be the beloved Princess of Wales had already irrevocably lost her sense of self. The book, which relies heavily on the accounts of anonymous intimates of the late princess, describes her as a deeply conflicted character. A friend is quoted as saying, "Her dark side was that of a wounded trapped animal ... and her bright side was that of a luminous being." The strikingly tall, blond princess who cradled young cancer victims and graciously accepted flowers from admirers, who frolicked on camera with her young sons and flashed her sparkling smile as she exited limousines, was often sulky, depressed, and vengeful in private. "Why?" one might wonder--if volumes hadn't already been written about the awful truth of her life.

Author Sally Bedell Smith revisits the well-trod ground of Charles's continuing love affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, Diana's intimidation by her royal in-laws, and her push-me, pull-me relationship with the voracious paparazzi. In addition, she details Diana's numerous love affairs and her acts of self-mutilation and bizarre behavior, such as the incident in which she tap-danced alone in her room until she wore down the wood parquet. Prince Charles comes off as a sympathetic if somewhat wimpy character, while, as the book progresses, Diana grows into a woman navigating the fine line between neurosis and full-blown psychosis. At the time of her marriage, the princess is quoted as saying she was "so in love with my husband that I couldn't take my eyes off him. I just absolutely thought I was the luckiest girl in the world." Years later, she would recall this same day thus: "The day I walked down the aisle at St. Paul's Cathedral, I felt that my personality was taken away from me, and I was taken over by the royal machine." Her bulimia (even while pregnant with Prince William), paranoia, lying, and flightiness are all confirmed in Smith's tome but they are commingled with testimonials to the late princess's generosity, intuition, genuine warmth, and ability to put anyone at ease. Diana was fine--to wit sane--as long as she was in a safe environment. The bosom of the royal family was not one of those havens. But she wasn't a passive victim--her famous comment about her marriage being overcrowded, involving three people, presumably herself, the prince, and Parker Bowles--wasn't quite true, as she was also having an affair at the time, bringing the number up to four.

All of these excruciating details--including Smith's analysis of how long the Dodi and Diana match would have lasted, had they not been killed that night in Paris--seem to be carefully researched and attributed when the source allows it, and build to the grand crescendo of the book, in which Smith proffers her diagnosis of the princess's mental health. The punchline here is that the tabloid assertions that hounded Diana throughout her lifetime, asserting that she was "loony," "potty," a "basket case," or "barking mad," may have held more than a kernel of truth. But if the princess was as expert a manipulator as the book suggests, no one, it seems, could ever hope to know the whole truth. --Jordana Moskowitz

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:35 -0400)

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Offers a portrait of the late Princess of Wales that examines the varied events and relationships that shaped Diana's life, her emotional complexity, and her search for a better sense of self.

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