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.