The Books and the Duchesses of the House of Windsor

Books for sale! Books for sale! Or the Royal case of assorted goods.

By Elena Vassilieva

Image: The Honeymooning Couple: “What are you in the mood to do next, honey?” “I just feel like whining again.” “Me, too.” © Elena Vassilieva

All those, who are interested in Royal affairs, have been offered so much food for thought lately by some of the duchesses of the House of Windsor that I don’t know where to begin. The hard-working women had to transform themselves, even if temporarily, into true Cinderellas, probably sacrificing their beauty sleep, matcha cocktails, tea with homemade cookies, and God knows what else, in order to add a check on the list of their deeds and to dazzle millions of their loyal social media followers and fans with… the books. Yes, the duchesses nowadays seem to be quite preoccupied with the books, no, not reading, but writing them. I wish they did read first, at least the books, written by their Royal predecessors and relatives, say, HRH Prince of Wales, before taking a daring journey into little-known waters. Had they read, some of them would have known better as for the quality standards set up by their family members.

Of course, some are weathered in the business already, Sarah Ferguson, for instance, as she has so many books of various genres in her collection. The Duchess of York is conquering a new genre now. She is busying herself with royal historical romances. “Her Heart for a Compass” will see the light in a couple of months. But I wonder whether her “The Enchanted Oak Tree” (2020) had inspired the Duchess of Sussex to produce her aspirational, but ill-fitting “The Bench?” There will be more on her book later.

Firstly, a few words about “Hold Still,” a book, curated by the Duchess of Cambridge, who, being the most conservative out of the three duchesses, chose the safest road, taking on a role more of an organiser and curator rather than a creator in a joint venture project with the National Portrait Gallery. Also, “Hold Still” is not a work of fiction or art, but a photo documentary, “[a] Portrait of Our Nation in 2020,” filled with the moments wonderfully captured by the people of diverse background during the pandemic. Conceptually, the book is a reflection of the ordinary people’s emotions and circumstances at that or this instant during the challenging year. To her credit, the Duchess had also interviewed them, showcasing organisational skills of a businesswoman. No wonder that the book turned out to be a solid and soul-stirring photo album. Another notable and laudable fact is that the proceeds from the sales will go to charities. The only disappointing and very puzzling thing is the title. Why would anyone think of the title that had already been taken? The same title belongs to Sally Mann’s memoir book with photographs (2015). I know that musicians steal titles from each other occasionally, often from their commercially more successful fellows, presumably, to draw attention, and although I cringe every time I see it, I can understand them. But the Duchess of Cambridge’s project isn’t seeking commercial success. Instead, the book’s social message, to document how people cope and support each other in hard times, is the main purpose of this endeavour. So it’s hard to follow the logic and logistics behind such a rushed and inexplicable decision, especially when one considers the seriousness of the project’s theme. Of course, there is no copyright for titles, but, nevertheless, there shall be nearly a natural desire to avoid the sameness at any cost. After all, the prospect of earning a reputation of copycats, God forbid, is quite daunting.

Now, back to the duchess who, unlike her sister-in-law, is as unpredictable as a loose cannon, and exhibits the most erratic and contradictory behaviour to the degree that at times it seems that ‘that woman’ is driven entirely by her impulses. Her drive to compete and overshadow the other duchess, to daze the public and to make profit is so strong and overwhelming that I wouldn’t be surprised if she hasn’t been able to sleep well at all lately. There is also much ado about her noble title, which she doesn’t want to lose, after all, it’s her ‘Pushmi-Pullyi’ that opens the doors for her to all kind of lucrative enterprises, but also a sacred cow (thanks so much for reminding me of this, YRH Prince Philip!) that shelters her, at least, on her home soil from dire straits of criticism. In a frenzy, during her many PR actions, Ms Markle often forgets that shamelessly using her Royal title and displaying it like the ‘Pushmi-Pullyi’ in a circus for self-advertising purposes requires certain social obligations as for her behavioural style in public, even when under American sky. It’s about time that she gets reprimanded by the Firm’s “grey men in suits” whom she mistrusts and despises so much as she had admitted herself in the interview with her friend Oprah Winfrey. Perhaps, it isn’t a bad idea either to ask her for the royalties for exploiting the Royal title, which adorns her opus and which is, in my view, the only extraordinary and remarkable thing in the whole book.  

The Bench” is written for children of age 3-7, according to Ms Markel, but its social messages are so aggressively promulgated here that the book doesn’t come across as a children’s book at all. She says one of the main ideas of the book is “inclusivity,” and that is, no doubt, an honourable idea, but this is exactly where the book as a children’s book becomes fatally flawed. The author proclaims equality and the feministic stance of the father, but she fails so miserably to include the main reader, a child, that is, for whom the book was made for. The book doesn’t seem to excite the child’s imagination at all, nor does it awaken his curiosity. And since it lacks humour, imaginativeness, and playfulness, the key features that define a good children’s book, I doubt it will circulate for a long time, if at all. Although the illustrator made efforts to revive it, the lack of the literary input from the author leaves the book very disengaging and non-organic.

As a side note, today, in my archive, I’ve found some silly poems by Fiona Trumbull, a relative of mine, who was 7 years old when she wrote it at school. I’d like to cite one of her poems here in order to illustrate what kind of rhymes a child of this age finds fanciful, even if it’s only a case of one particular child. And although Fiona isn’t a little girl anymore, she’s a teenager now, her lovely rhymes still make me laugh.

The Bees

Do bees wish they were trees?

Do they want to jiggle like keys?

Do they want to be green like leaves?

Do they hate to be yellow?

Do they have a nice fellow?

Have you noticed the colours, sounds, and even a tiny bit of philosophy and social critique in her poem? I wish Ms Markle took a field trip to school in order to learn how to write for children and what exactly children of that age prefer, if she had failed to read the most inspiring Scottish tale “The Old Man of Lochnagar” (1980) by the Prince of Wales. The tale that has withstood the test of time.

While she offers a catalogue of different benches and fathers with their children in the book, one bench remains in focus, the one Ms Markle had gifted to Prince Harry and their son, with a very daring inscription-poem: “This is your bench/ Where life will begin/ For you and our son/ Our baby, our kin.” It’s hard to miss her self-importance, resentfulness, and an instructive tone of a prophecy-monger here. ‘Where life will begin’: might it be that she implies her Prince had no life before they had met? Most likely. Given that Harry hadn’t had the foggiest idea that he was a poor prisoner, trapped inside the House of Windsor, until his saviour, Meghan Markle, arrived on the scene, falling from the sky, out of the blue. And thus, beyond the shadow of a doubt, Prince Harry got the surprise of his life. We all heard that in the Oprah-interview. Now we also know that many statements from those friendly conversations contained numerous inaccuracies and lies. Hence, everything that had happened to Prince Harry before his ‘saviour’ appeared shall be erased? That, too, we had displeasure to witness in one of his other public faux-pas-moves. In any event, Ms Markle is taking a lot of risky responsibility on her shoulders. It’s her nearly maniacal desire to emaciate the Prince’s memory of everything that doesn’t have to do with her and give him instead tabula rasa. There is something deeply and frighteningly Shakespearean in this strategy of hers, remember how some of the heroes in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” woke up and had no clue how on earth they were able to change overnight that much that they couldn’t recognise themselves? Therefore, the Prince’s past shall be deleted and replaced with everything that refers to ‘our kin,’ Ms Markle probably decided. Out of all words to use such a heavily loaded word ‘kin’ can only be dictated by resentfulness towards Harry’s former home. She is saying that she is giving him a new home where she will be the ruler and Commander-in-Chief and where Harry will be a liberated, happy-go-lucky father-babysitter and occasionally a businessman. Luckily, the ‘Pushmi-Pullyi’ won’t let the Duke and Duchess dine with Duke Humphrey too often.

The striking oddity of this poem upsets and unsettles the reader’s humour (at least mine) because benches are usually given in memory of those who had already departed for the other side. And that subconscious association is so unwelcome and incongruous in this children’s book. However, the bench in the poem symbolises their departure from the Royal Household. In the heaviness of the word ‘kin,’ she inserts all her expectations and ideals, e.g., of their cloudless and dazzling future as a family that ought, in her view, to overshadow all other Royal family members and thus incite their jealousy, a sort of vengeful and spiteful move. And although this deeply personal matter becomes public good, thanks to their own relentless publicity efforts, the conspicuous impudence of this whole enterprise finds its roots in utter hypocrisy on so many levels.

How else to explain the contradicting behaviour of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when they show their bitterness and utter displeasure about the Royal Family and the Firm, accusing them of many things that have never occurred, and yet, they aren’t shy to take advantage of their Royal affiliation and benefit handsomely from it? Frankly, how many writers who submit such a low-quality work would get published? The only answer is no one, I sincerely hope. Of course, now every other writer must think he is a genius, after having read this awkward piece. The fact that by publishing the work of such a substandard quality the publisher automatically lowers literary standards and devalues the work by other writers, and that is quite disturbing. Many aspiring children’s writers would probably find such practice appalling and very exclusive. So much for the inclusivity the Duchess of Sussex is trying to preach. But most importantly, why shall we let our children read books written by the people who, instead of introducing literary work of outstanding merits to us, bring double standards and exhibit unscrupulous behaviour? The people who let their phantasy go wild in their interviews and have no single ounce of phantasy in their work of fiction. Yes, most certainly, we are blessed with the freedom of speech here, and anyone can utter whatever s/he pleases, but it doesn’t mean that it gives them the (moral) right to make us witness how they follow their gold-digging instincts so blatantly, at the expense of others, in front of our children, in such an aggressive way. The hypocritical neutrality of some of the media and even support (e.g., I was appalled by the NPR piece on “The Bench”) for her project is disheartening, as if the whole thing weren’t about children, culture, and our society in general. Are you telling me, Ms Markle, that the snow is black, the grass is blue, and that this is all true? It reminds me of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen where the little child perplexedly gasps right in the midst of the bogus praises from the crowd: “But he hasn’t got anything on.”

(Written on 25th June 2021 in the Sky Control Room on Cape Cod.)

“The Bee” by Fiona Trumbull was cited here with her permission.

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All rights reserved.

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