Princess Diana: 10 Years of the Grief-Cult


Isn’t this all a bit much?

 She was very pretty. People say she was nice. Her sons remember her as a kind and loving mother. She used some of her celebrity to highlight poverty and worthy causes. She died much too young.

I don’t want to seem callous, but does that  justify  the worldwide orgy of grief we’re seeing this weekend? Candles, vigils, wreath-layings, prayers?

What’s happened to Diana is related to what  happened to Elvis, John F. Kennedy,  the Beatles, Michael Jackson, and so many other famous people, but goes beyond that,  I think.  Her millions of fans and mourners have enlarged her into something embarrassing. Her modest talents, chief among them looking pretty in photos, simply won’t bear the weight of all this collective anguish.

Being pretty and nice and not getting along with some stuffy old Royals shouldn’t mean a ticket to immortality. Immortality should require more sacrifice, struggle, substance, achievement, genius. What great crises or world problems did she help to solve? What did she do better than anyone has done it? What did she say or write that will give us courage or guide our way?

To ask those questions is to realize that the grief of her still-wounded public is far out of proportion to what the world lost the day she died. I say “the world” as opposed to her family, whose proper grief may well be endless. But then, they knew her as a mother and daughter and sister and wife, not a tear-stained photo from People magazine.

The Diana grief-cult has proved  W. H. Auden was wrong when he wrote that Time “is indifferent in a week/To a beautiful physique.”  Her worshippers have done for her what Shakespeare hoped to do for his lover in “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day.”

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

 So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

 So long as commemorative editions of People appear, this gives life to thee.


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