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Posts Tagged ‘Prince Charles’

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Even before the name of the new little princess was announced, I, like many others, wondered if she would be called after her grandmother, Diana. Diana was thrust onto the world stage at age nineteen, a bit gawky, a bit naive, but utterly charming and sincere. By age twenty-three, she was the mother of two children, one a future king. By the time she died in Paris, at age thirty-six, she had grown into a beautiful, compassionate woman, anxious to be a healing and unifying influence in the world.

After Diana died, I found I missed her although we had never met. While she was living through her disastrous marriage and divorce in the glare of world wide publicity, I was living through my own marriage and divorce nightmare on a smaller, but nevertheless, public scale. On the days when I had to wait to check-out at the grocery story, I used to read the tabloid headlines written by Prince Charles’ supporters, accusing Diana of mental illness and instability; and I would comfort myself with the thought that at least no reporters were sitting in the courtroom to hear the man I’d married say exactly the same things about me. Although it was a public courtroom and anyone who walked in could have heard how, by having three children whom I loved more than life itself, I had maliciously morphed from an academic over-achiever who graduated Number Two in her law school class into a dangerous, crazy, lying freeloader. I felt a bond with Diana, although I was unenviably poor and she was enviably rich, because I realized that access to all the money in the world could never make up for the pain of having the father of your children heap lies and disrespect on you in a public forum.

When Diana died, I felt as if I’d lost a friend. And as the years passed and Charles and his publicists pushed Diana and her memory farther and farther into the background to replace her with Camilla Parker-Bowles, I wondered how many people remained who, like me, thought of Diana, not as a clothes horse or as a Royal Highness, but as a beautiful, loving woman, unfairly used and demeaned by a powerful and wealthy family.

My first novel, Dance For A Dead Princess has many themes, but one of the most prominent is the power of an aristocratic family to control its members. Nicholas Carey, the heredity duke, who is the hero of Dance for A Dead Princess, was forced to return from America when he was only sixteen to assume the position of heir to the dukedom, although given his choice he would have gladly remained in New York and studied to become a concert pianist like his mother. Diana was also affected by the power of her aristocratic family at a very young age when her father wrested custody of his children from their mother, leaving Diana and young Charles to be raised by nannies at Althorpe while grieving their mother’s loss.

Another central theme is the toll an unhappy marriage takes on the individuals involved. Having been unhappy in childhood, marriage for both Nicholas and Diana represented the chance to form happy unions of their own. For them, marriage was a chance to love and be loved rather than to be used as pawns on their aristocratic families’ chessboards. But Nicholas and Diana’s hopes were dashed yet again. Nicholas’ wife, Deborah and Diana’s husband, Charles, turned out to be powerfully in love, but not with their spouses. For Nicholas and for Diana, having lost the chance at a happy childhood, the loss of the opportunity to have a happy marriage was a second and even more powerful blow.

Some readers interpret Diana’s presence in Dance for a Dead Princess as an attempt to make believers out of the conspiracy theory of Diana’s death or as a crass attempt to sell books because her name is in them. But neither was ever my intention. I brought Diana into the book to keep her memory alive and to remind the world of the tragedy of her life. She was a beautiful, loving woman who was denied the thing she most longed for: the chance to create a loving family for herself, her husband, and her children. At one point in Dance, Nicholas observes how unfair it was for Diana to be called unstable and mentally ill all because she wanted what every wife wants, to have her husband to herself.

The haunting tragedy of Diana’s life was what I hoped every reader would take away from Dance. In the Prologue, the reader encounters Nicholas in Paris where he is grieving the loss of his beloved friend and the mutual support and companionship they offered each other in their isolated, unhappy lives. Nicholas stares down at the Place d’Alama Tunnel, thirteen years after that fateful August night, deeply longing for one more chance to talk to Diana. “How many nights had he spent talking to Diana about his marriage, about her marriage, about his guilt over Deborah and about the impossibility of being in love?” And he wonders how his friend felt as death approached. “ . . . What had she felt as she slipped away from everyone who loved her? Had she struggled against it, as Deborah had? Or had her torn and broken heart quietly accepted her fate? No, he doubted that. She’d have fought to stay with her boys.”

Whether or not there was a historical conspiracy to assassinate Diana is not the point of Dance. The role of the conspiracy in the plot is to give Nicholas an opportunity to express his unbearable grief over the loss of both Diana and his wife. Aching from all that loss in his life, Nicholas vows to expose Diana’s assassins, not as an act of vengeance, but as means of expressing his soul crushing sadness. And ironically, through this one, last powerful expression of grief, Nicholas meets Taylor Collins, the one woman who has the power to give him what he has always longed for, but has never had.

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I began law school at the University of Tennessee in the summer of 1978. I had no idea what lawyers actually did, but liberal arts grads all around me were turning into them, so I figured I could, too. My then husband, like me an English major with a graduate degree and no teaching job, was happy to see me darken the legal doors of learning.

I came out in 1981, number two in my class, and still without much of an idea of what lawyers did. For three years I had done what I excelled at – read, memorize, and regurgitate facts – but I had never been inside a courtroom or taken a deposition or even seen a real live client. I had done one mock oral argument in moot court my first year with sweaty hands, a dry mouth, and a heart slamming in my chest. That was the entire extent of my “practical training” in law school. (Think medical school where you memorize the symptoms of every disease on earth but never see a body, dead or alive.)

At first being a lawyer wasn’t so bad. I’d accepted a job with a Big Firm in Virginia where I had family, and they paid me to study for the bar all summer, sitting in the apartment they rented for me and my husband. I watched the ducks swim on the pond out back and re-memorized all the law I’d learned in three years of law school. This time, Virginia style.

On the day before Princess Diana married Prince Charles, I drove to Roanoke where I stayed in the hotel room The Firm paid for. Next morning, I put on my lawyer suit, went to the Civic Center, and sat at a long table where I took the Virginia Bar under the watchful eye of the Bar Examiners IN PERSON. They sat on a dias above us and watched us spill our brains into blue books for two, very long days. (Weren’t they bored to death?) At night, I ate room service and watched the royal wedding.

Perhaps the fate of that marriage was a metaphor for the fate of my Big Firm career.

On my thirty-first birthday in August, I put on my lawyer suit again – this time supposedly for good – and took my place in my tiny office at The Firm in the litigation section. Until the Bar Examiners certified me as “passed,” I could not sign pleadings or take depositions or appear in court as anything except a clerk. And that was just fine with me. I wrote research memoranda that, as one senior lawyer observed, he could actually follow and understand. What a concept!

But my luck ran out in October. The day after I passed the bar, I was sent to court with the Firm’s Tallest Partner (I am five feet two), to oppose an injunction that Legal Aid was seeking against one of Our Most Powerful Clients. The Firm’s Tallest Partner was only there to watch me; I was the performing bear that afternoon. Of course, it was not a major matter (or they wouldn’t have sent newly-minted lawyer me); but, as far as I was concerned, it was The End of The World.

I didn’t even know which table to stand behind in the courtroom. And what questions to ask my witness? OMG. No CLUE. I used up at least three of my nine lives that afternoon, standing mute behind the defendant’s table, listening to the judge tell me he didn’t believe my witness. (While I wondered what the witness had actually said and what to say to a judge who says your witness is lying.)

A couple of miserable hours later, the Firm’s Tallest Partner, who had watched me demonstrate total incompetence in that courtroom, walked me back to The Firm in a steady downpour, with no umbrellas. My client had been enjoined, big time. Or small time, really; but it didn’t feel that way to me. It was my own personal Trail of Tears. The Firm’s Tallest Partner had nothing to say to me on the way back. I wondered if I’d offered to throw myself in the James River, if he would have given me a push.

Never mind that I had been a successful English graduate student, teaching three sections of freshman composition per semester. Never mind that I could take kids from writing C themes to A themes and have them laughing all the way. (Beware the flying commas!) Never mind that I could recite the Rules of Evidence backward and forward, and I actually understood Constitutional Law, including the dreaded Commerce Clause. Law on the hoof was a very different animal than in the classroom, my home turf. Teaching colleagues had always said they could stand in the hallway and know which class was mine because that was the room that the laughter was coming out of. Judges don’t laugh. Killer creative comedic timing is a useless skill before THEIR HONORS.

So for the next two years, I struggled to figure out the alien world I had landed in by mistake. Next time: More Baby Lawyer Adventures or The Judge who Taught Me Why You Never Change the Words and Still to Come: the Female Partner Who wore HATS and Ate Associates for Breakfast and High Tea

Below:  the James River

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