Two international icons of the 20th century are the subject of Jay Mulvaney's latest book — Diana and Jackie: Maidens, Mothers, Myths. Diana, Princess of Wales, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis — England's princess and America's queen — came to fame 20 years apart, but were alike in many ways, according to Mulvaney's book. Read the introduction from Diana and Jackie: Maidens, Mothers, Myths.
They were two of the saddest rituals of the modern age, the funerals of a President and a Princess, and at the emotional core of each event were two women.
They were two women who stilled the world's heartbeat for a moment, one walking majestically behind the caisson of her slain husband, the second's flag draped coffin rumbling over the cobblestone streets of an ancient city, bearing a floral tribute hand addressed to "Mummy."
They were two women who took center stage at these rare moments of global communion - that exhilarating experience of sharing a sense of purpose and desire with millions of faceless others.
Diana, Princess of Wales and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Two women who have been subject to intense public scrutiny for many years — in turn enchanted and reviled.
There have been women throughout history who have captured the imagination of their times and retain a vivid presence to this day — Cleopatra and Joan of Arc are two — but their lives were separated by centuries. It's rare when two such women overlap on the world stage. Diana and Jackie were two very different women, yet they led two very similar lives.
From their youth as daughters whose lives were shattered by divorce, to their marriages to complex men, then their lives as unmarried women, through to their untimely deaths, an omnipresent media made us feel we knew them as we have never known public figures before.
Jacqueline Kennedy entered the public arena just as television was coming of age as a means of communication with an instantaneous global reach. She was the first "First Lady" of TV and as much a master of the medium as that other TV first lady Lucille Ball. Jackie used the medium to draw attention to those of her interests that she deemed important and worthy of public notice, most famously the restoration of the White House. Jackie also used television to project the image of herself that she wanted the public to see her as, moving through life in the iconoclastic fashions of those times, without ever saying much, like a silent movie star.
Twenty years later, when Diana Spencer arrived on the scene, television had matured and spawned an insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip. Where once there was restraint, there was now unending revelation. What had once been kept quiet — the sexual peccadilloes of the President of the United States — was now fodder for round the clock media exploitation, from the early morning talk shows to late night comic monologues. It wasn't until the last months of her life that Diana began to use her hard won knowledge of the media for selfless promotion of a worthy cause — the anti-landmine campaign. (An example of her power: the white hot media glow she brought to the campaign focused the world's attention on the landmine issue, winning the Nobel Peace Prize for Jodie Williams.) For most of her life Diana didn't use the media to project the image of herself she wished us to see. She searched through its lenses in search of a self she could identify with.
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.
Diana came to us a maiden; Jackie came to us a mother. Indeed, her first accomplishment after the 1960 election was to give birth to a son, the presumed heir to the Kennedy political legacy. Motherhood was the leit motif of the early years of Jackie's public life — placing a kitchen and dining room in the family quarters of the White House so the family could eat together, sharply curtailing her official schedule to allow her maximum time with her two children, fiercely protecting them from fawning servants, photo snapping tourists and inquisitive reporters.
Being a mother was what made Jackie happiest, and that happiness was hard earned. She had had a miscarriage during the second year of her marriage, in 1955, and then, a year later, had carried almost to term, enduring the tragedy of a stillborn child. The birth of their daughter Caroline in 1957, and that of John F. Kennedy Jr. three years later, brought both of the Kennedys great joy. In 1963 Jackie had given birth to a son, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who died of a respiratory ailment two days after his birth. The infant's death had brought Jack and Jackie closer than they had ever been during their ten-year marriage. And then came Dallas.
Jacqueline Kennedy became a single mother at 34. Despite a second marriage and a long-term romantic relationship in her later years, she essentially remained a single mother for the rest of her life.
It would be impossible to label either Diana or Jackie a crone. Jackie had come into her own in the last years of her life. Diana was laying the foundation of a life revolving around the substantial issues she considered important. The circumstances of their lives have created a third archetypal role for them: Myth.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wore no crown. But her thousand days as First Lady created a myth out of a bookish Vassar girl. She nurtured her country's aesthetic growth, fostering an appreciation for our cultural heritage. She created an identity as First Lady completely separate from the President. For four days in November 1963 she held her country's soul in her heart.
Diana seemed too perfect to be true in those early days when she first came into our lives during the fall of 1980. We were captivated by this charming young girl, her head habitually tucked down, eyes trained firmly on the pavement walking from her car to the nursery school where she taught and was famously photographed in a diaphanous skirt.
Diana's life was a fairy tale for a very short time, with a happy Prince and Princess, and two baby princes. But then the fairy tale imploded and what was once whispered was now shouted and the shouts rocked the royal family to its very core. The Princess spoke openly about things that Princesses shouldn't even know about. Part of Diana's myth was that this archetypal princess — tall, blonde, thin, beautiful, wealthy — spoke out about subjects that are usually cloaked in shame — bulimia, betrayal, adultery, depression, divorce. In showing us that she was not immune to the pressures and destructive behaviors inherit in modern day life, she opened the door for women around the world to address these problems free of shame and condescension.
Both Diana and Jackie tapped into our subconscious desire. We responded to Jackie's innate nobility and to Diana's neediness. Jackie was a victor in the game of life. Diana was its victim. They were England's Princess and America's Queen. This is the story of their two lives, compared.
Excerpted from Diana and Jackie: Maidens, Mothers, Myths by Jay Mulvaney, St. Martin's Press © 2002.