Despite their differences, Diana and Jackie found themselves living oddly similar lives. Their stories have been told many times, but never before compared. On a surface level, the comparisons are easy, and have a tabloid sheen — they both had husbands who cheated on them, they both were fashion icons, and they both were good mothers. On closer inspection, similarities become apparent that illuminate a distinct parallel between their two lives.
Diana and Jackie were both daughters of acrimonious divorce. They each married men twelve years their senior, resilient bachelors who needed "trophy brides" to advance their career. Both women married into tub-thumping families who tried to force them to suppress their individuality for the common family good. Each gained official roles through marriage. Both were shrewd manipulators of their public image, evoking a style and glamour that seduced the world, continuing even after their deaths.
For all the similarities, there were many ways in which they were completely different: Jackie's father adored her, and fed her a steady diet of "Vitamin P" (for Praise); Diana, as the third daughter to an heirless British peer, her birth was considered a disappointment. Jackie was superbly educated, well prepared to take her place on the world stage. Diana was the equivalent of a high school dropout, relying on instinct, not intellect. England's Diana operated with a "quivering American lower lip", opening her heart to the world, in comparison to Jackie's very British "stiff upper lip" and strict adherence to the adage "never complain, never explain."
The one basic role they shared, of course, was that of woman. Diana and Jackie were both women of their times. Adapting the archetypal three stages of women — Virgin, Mother, Crone — to Maiden, Mother and Myth offers a prism to tell their stories. This framework provides us a look at the evolving role of women in society over the past two generations. What was impossible for one becomes a standard way of behavior for the other. There's an odd symbiosis between Jackie and Diana, as if the elder paved the way for the younger's journey. When Diana's marriage began to unravel, for example, the truth about JFK's infidelities was well known. It was impossible to try and pull the wool over our eyes. Diana could express the outrage and betrayal she felt where Jackie was forced by the conventions of the time and her upbringing to mask her true feelings.
Diana entered our lives as the maiden, the nursery school teacher with a beguiling blush and virginal reputation. To reinforce the archaic notion that the role of the monarchy was to be the moral bedrock of British society, Prince Charles had to find a bride whose white wedding gown was an honest talisman of her "purity". Diana lived up to her part of that bargain. Charles, and by extension, the royal family, did not live up to theirs.
But the wedding of Diana and Charles took place; the maiden became a princess before the eyes of millions. Diana would change during her years on the public stage, but it is "shy Di" — the innocent virgin corrupted and betrayed — that is her enduring legacy.