Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Royal romance in real life and genre fiction. AMERICAN PRINCESS meets ITS HARD OUT THERE FOR A DUKE & THE DUKE'S DAUGHTERS





I am  not exactly a royal watcher, though I grew up with Elizabeth Captive Princess: Two sisters one throne. I was 14 and so was she as the book opened. Ialso had a difficult older sister.  But Elizabeth I's angst wasn't just about wanting freedom. She wanted to stay alive. Her half-sister, Mary Tudor, who had ascended the throne, was jealous. Though Liz's mother was beheaded by Henry VIII, branded a whore and witch, the young princess's beauty and lively personality, meant she was a threat to the ailing "Bloody Mary." Young Liz was shut up in the tower, lost her first boyfriend to the ax, and had to deal with treacherous advisors--far worse than interfering parents.

I remain interested in how being a royal can make your life better or worse. How does a royal have a personal life, when all actions are scrutinized by Buckingham Palace (the firm as Harry calls it) and the media? What happens when one's actions create official mayhem? Is there any slack in a system, where you can't truly quit or be fired, though there is severance.  Edward VIII and Fergie still show up in media and he's long gone.

American Princess: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harrry (William Morrow) by Leslie Carroll, author of Royal Romances, is both a wedding prequel and a biography of a royal romance. Because the British monarchy is a family business, the book shows what each partner brings to the table. It's love as a very critical business transaction. It also investigates why this particular marriage is making history. The obvious facts are that Markle's a biracial American divorcee, who's a successful actress. With all that going against tradition, why has she been embraced by the Queen?  Could it be the monarchy has learned from past mistakes?

Harry's father, Prince Charles, was unable to marry his lady love, Camilla Parker Bowles, because she was divorced and not a virgin. But for decades they carried on an officially ignored adultrous affair. Charles' Aunt Margaret was unable to marry her beloved Townsend, a divorced officer who had served the Royal family. His great Uncle Edward had to abdicate the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. There is also the actress factor. Once considered equivalent to prostitutes and inappropriate for mistresses, let alone a Royal wife, yet one of Harry's forebears had an actress mistress who bore him ten children before she was discarded. Clearly, love outside the royal system has been costly for "the firm," mostly in prestige and credibility as the example of impeccable British character.

Queen Elizabth II, now in her nineties, simply liked Markle when they met and wanted her grandson to be happy, according to Leslie Carroll.  The Queen broke protocul and, though Markle was not yet married, invited her to partake in palace Christmas festivities. Whatever reason for the shift, it's a welcome diversion after the publicly dysfunctional marriage of Diana and Charles, before her tragic death. This past weighed heavily on Diana's sons, who were not allowed to publicly show grief. Harry the youngest, seemed the most affected; barely passing school, carrying on with girls and liquor ( falling down drunk) until he discovered his purpose in the military. He has also found satisfaction in continuing Diana's charities.

The general rule is the more removed a royal is from succession, the more freedom is allowed. With Elizabeth II's succession and children, Princess Margaret was allowed to wed a racy photographer and become a pop culture icon. As the heir, William's life was laid out for him and though, he did marry a commoner, she has provided an heir and been well-liked. Harry can now be the "interesting" royal. Yet it was rare in his circles to find a woman comfortable in the public eye.

Meghan has the poise of a professional actress, better yet, she's giving up acting to dedicate herself to causes they can further together. She brings Hollywood glamor, American pragmatism and 21st century multiculturalism- a perfect royal ambassador. And she wants the platform. An educated self possessed personality, Meghan understands the opportunity and is willing to do the trade-offs. This is  Carroll's bright assessment, along with her praise for Meghan's clothes and details of the racy wedding dress she'll probably select.

The royal event should be fun.  I may watch selectively and hope Harry will stay a "wild card" after his marriage. In American Princess earnestness and idealism is trumpeted in this union. But Harry's  public narrative was one of sin and repentence,before he matured to become a brave soldier set on Afghanistan, curious about people and places. He's said to have Diana's "common touch." He has a special interest in Africa. Apparently he and Meghan courted in a tent in Africa--a chance to get to know each other without other people. Now that is real-life romance.

Romance novels, "bodice-rippers" are a genre I'm ambivalent about. It's kind of soft core porn for women, who are conditioned to well worn narratives of romance. I am a sucker for romance but like it without the formula--great looking heroine and hero, difficulty that keeps them apart. They love thwarted and work mightily to overcome the obstacle and enjoy a well earned erotic fulfillment-- with a lifetime of marital bliss.  Juxtapose thisgeneric female wish fulfillment with that of male porn fantasies and you can understand the cultural disconnect about what's romantic, between men and women.

Then think of Meghan and Harry in that tent, newly acquainted with each other. Meghan was thinking of exit strategies, in case it was awful. Both had  the courage to go to an isolated place and see if they liked each other. Loved that. Real life.




Maya Rodale's It's Hard Out Here for a Duke is real within the genre. I read her Lady Claire is All That and thought it might be good on PBS' masterpiece, if they would do the steamy parts. These are Regency romances, great costume and dialogue that manages to sound authentic and be humorous for our time. In this series Keeping up with the Cavendishes there are stories about three sisters and a brother who leave America and their horse farm for England, after they suddenly learn their father was a Duke.  James, the brother, is expected to become the new Duke, subject to the rules of the Haute Ton of British society.

In Lady Claire, the focus is on the oldest sister, a gifted mathematician, uninterested in marriage, clothes, and the norms of high society her aunt is pushing. Yet her genius leads her to colleagues, an intellectual world unavailable in America at that time, and naturally a romance not of equals but opposites. It is also  formula but not as predictable in the reversal of beauty and brawn to opposite genders. It is fun as is the prequel It's Hard Out There for a Duke, the story of the brother journeying with his sisters. He finds love incognito and then, ironically, must fight for it with his new title. This book is more predictable in plot, but fun and the steamy parts are engaging.



The Duke's Daughters by Megan Frampton trods much the same territory, the attraction, the slow burn, as it cannot be fulfilled (here because the gorgeous young man is a "bastard"), then the abandonment to love. The erotic nuances are on time and earned, for those who identify with the  well-born young lady with altruism and "heart." I found Olivia not so appealing, because she's a bit like Regency Barbie. The author believes she has advanced beyond the concerns for clothes and dances, that occupy other young women because she realizes there are a world of people who are poor and can use her help. Olivia, who often  assumes her reactions and goals are shared by others, seemed less adorable than self-absorbed (shall we hint at narcissistic?).

The author mocks her gently when others find her tedious or wrong-headed but somehow she's forgiven "for being like her mother" and triumphs because she's passionate, "beautiful and kind."
I finished and got the erotic pay-off but had to ignore the heroine's boring idiocy. The "bastard' was less predictable and seemed emotionally more real. I thought he could have done better.

I recommend American Princess, if you want to know more than the headlines about Meghan and Harry. But there are no juicy reveals, like "The Crown" series. And Maya Rodale's Cavendish series seems fun (I only read two), if you like wit with the romance genre. If you are reading for erotic release, both fictional romances deliver. The real-life one is private, not for public consumption. But there is enough factual information a true royal watcher can imagine.

S.W.