It’s a wonderful time for a monarchist, darlings, and I can’t say enough for the programming these days exploring the challenges a queen like me faces, like Victoria and The Crown. A royal’s life has special challenges and it’s about time I had some shows that I could relate to.
I came across a piece I found interesting and thought I’d share with you, dear readers, in Quartz by the historian Carolyn Harris. She has a compelling point about how our telling of the story of an historical figure (Vickie, Liz, I mean ‘historical’ in the best possible way) changes based on the generation.
In these cases, Harris says that these women are portrayed as “filled with self-doubt, and be forced to spend much of her time winning over skeptical men.” She argues that this says more about our times than these queens, that these ladies were strong-willed and confident.
In other words, dear reader, their lives were less this:
and more this:
It’s important, I think, to consider how history evolves with the teller.
Think about my very own story. My birth coincided with a terrible earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal. At the time, as with any disaster, the survivors struggled to make sense of it and — as usually happens — theologians decided the city had somehow courted this tragedy. The signs seemed to be all there. It was a religious feast day and every important church was now destroyed. Some saw this as a sign that the quake was a punishment.
But this did not make sense. The churches were destroyed, but the brothels stayed standing. And slowly, a different idea took hold. Many had argued over time that perhaps such disasters weren’t wreaked in punishment, that they perhaps had natural explanations. This logic had swirled for decades with varying levels of success about any manner of things. But this time — it took hold. Maybe there was air circulating in the Earth’s crust? Perhaps gases had exploded underground? And slowly this new idea took hold – that the earthquake was indeed a natural phenomenon.
But then the years passed, and I become a girl and a wife and a mother and finally the enemy of the people and — after my death and some time passing — a martyr. It’s this time passing and this new outlook that drove Madame Campan to describe this quake to be a sort of omen, something that foreshadowed the tragedies in my life yet to come. (My lady in waiting had a bit of a dramatic streak, I won’t lie.) And suddenly, the deaths of thousands in Lisbon are seen as a sort of foreshadowing to the saddest moments in my life.
Of course, the Lisbon earthquake occurred the day before my birth, not the actual day, sidestepping the timeliness we expect of great omens, but never mind. The story changes as we do.
In these modern days, I don’t have to bring your attention to Sofia Coppola’s version of my life. At first glance, it’s a sort of music video, a celebration of excess (remember this was released in that fun time, before the last recession). But the film is not truly a comment on excess — it’s more than that. It’s a modern Cinderella story gone awry. I’m a girl who we all know today — a girl who is kind and tries to do her best and loves her family and who makes mistakes. I’m a girl we can sympathize with. In this movie, I’m every girl.
In other words, less this:
and more this:
It’s in this way, that stories about myself or Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth aren’t really famous figures at all. They’re about making sense of events from the only perspective that exists — the current one. These events informed by history but reveal always something just as interesting about the present.
What do you think? Do I have it right? Do you have something to add? Tell me in the comments. I’ll write back.