NINE MONTHS after her death, Diana has given birth to a new cultural and media frenzy. Two timely new books coming hard on the heels of recent thinly spun TV docudramas, late-night radio phone- ins, and renewed tabloid titillations, give an interesting insight into the schizophrenic response Diana continues to provoke.
Curiously, Julie Burchill's Diana and Beatrix Campbell's Diana, Princess of Wales: How Sexual Politics Shook the Monarchy have more in common than you might expect. Both relate a Gothic narrative of modern monarchical manners. Both tell the tale of how a suitable young virgin was found and set up to be the sacrificial bride and victim of a man who could have chosen to do things differently - but didn't. Both articulate, to varying degrees, an understanding of bulimia, self-harm and postnatal depression which places Diana in a tradition and community of suffering women of all classes and from all backgrounds.
But their styles and motives couldn't be more different. Burchill's book is a paean to the Queen of Hearts: a glossy, hardback, royalist homage from the woman who, bizarrely, still describes herself without irony as "the cynic of the world. The cynic's cynic. A class warrior whose personal flame for the Unknown Soldier never fades." Diana has lots of colour pictures and the kind of self-aggrandising opinion, masquerading as journalism, that we have come to expect from La Burchill. Claiming to be "part love story, part document of our times", the blurb trumpets that "Many books will be written about Diana, but the only precedent for this book will be Norman Mailer's Marilyn". Burchill can usually be relied upon to turn a stylish sentence and deliver an elegant polemic. There's none of that here. Diana, it seems, has only turned Burchill's head. History is invoked merely to give background colour "to a fairytale scripted by the Brothers Grimm, all locked rooms, icy- hearted queens and night starvation". Diana was a one-off, a shining solo star, "a wondering, wandering girl coming home for the last time to her people . . . like the good soldier she was." Finally, we are treated to an extraordinary, execrable epilogue: an embarrassing poem celebrating "Her in all her Herness, not her HRHness. Her; just her . . . Her, loser and still champ - / And then the darkness, and nothing else." In the absence of research, interviews or political analysis, what we get here is unexpurgated, slavering sycophancy. Campbell's cheap, unsexy paperback, by contrast, offers a serious study of a woman who, by telling her story, "did not create republican sentiment, but . …