Friday, April 29, 2011

Happily Ever After?

Once in a while an event comes around that unites us— sometimes, unfortunately, it is an epic tragedy, such as the recent devastation in Japan; other times, it is a royal wedding, like the recent union of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

In the weeks leading up to the most anticipated royal event in decades, there’s been a lot of bombastic media gushing, with everything from Ms Middleton’s semi-nude catwalk to the prince’s previous dalliances touted out for our consumption. There has also been some rather vitriolic condemnation of our societal fascination with an institution that no longer seems relevant, much less in-touch, with today’s culture, and with a group of people who dwell in a rarified glass bubble of privilege that never reflects anything but the fantasies we cast upon it.

All of which is, to a certain extent, true. Monarchies have by and large become relics clinging to the crumbling edifice of past glory, even as the real world speeds up to pass them by. And past hyped-up royal marriages that ended up being personal and public calamities have certainly plagued the House of Windsor, with the celebrated marriage of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana being the most sobering example.

Nevertheless, this wedding seemed different right from the start. Oh, the bells and extravagance were all there; so were all the over-the-top hats and dowdy rituals and botoxed famous guests. And so were the inevitable comparisons to the union of Diana and Charles. But none of this managed to overshadow the actual sight of two radiant young people, who have had their own ups and downs in their journey to the altar, taking the first steps into marriage.

For those of us who watched Diana’s wedding and painful transformation from shy prey to suave cover model and crusader for the less fortunate, even as she weathered the blinding glare of her own celebrity and devastation wrought by it and the collapse of her marriage to Charles, there are marked differences to be noted. Diana entered the cathedral in an armorial frock garnished by enough tulle to conceal her very person— a symbolic representation of the life that awaited her as royal prisoner. She had to literally claw her way out of that gown to uncover, all too briefly, the stunning flesh-and-blood woman underneath who demanded the right to her own life.

In contrast, the new duchess of Cambridge glided over her red carpet in breathtaking elegance, sheathed in confidence and arm-hugging lace, unable to contain her smile, proof that no matter what the future may hold, she will be no princess-in-peril. And her groom, stalwart and blushing in his military order, gazed upon her with genuine awe, so that all that pomp surrounding them faded to insignificance. Unlike Charles and Diana, who even while standing on the palace balcony appeared to be strangers, this was a couple in love, celebrating their union before the world— and it showed.

Weddings are by their very nature ephemeral. After months of frenetic planning and dieting and expense, they burst upon us and for a few hours rivet our attention with their glamour and endless possibilities, only to be captured as if in amber through videos and photographs, while the couple itself embarks on the challenging road of daily togetherness. As evidenced by Diana's experience, royal marriage can turn catastrophic, much like ordinary marriages all over the world. In essence, there is therefore nothing different between her wedding and her eldest son’s –swathed in gigantic expectations and witnessed by millions, there is still no guarantee of success.

Except for the hope that this time, William and Kate have found the elusive happily ever-after.


Pricilla said...

One does hope they can find a sense of normalcy, if that is possible, in their life together.

Gareth Russell said...

Great post. Although, I have to disagree about monarchies being irrelevant. In the age of the soundbite and the platitude, it's politicians which have become, I think, the more deceptive irrelevance. 67% of Britons think the monarchy is "strongly relevant" in 2011 and I think in part that's because it's capable of summoning collective outbursts of sentiment and happiness, in a world which is otherwise troubled or divided by party politics. It was a wonderful day and a very happy one. A historian commenting for the BBC called the monarchy "the vessel of national memory," a poetic and lovely phrase. It's merging the old and the new which, I think, is its most wonderful attribute.

I completely agree about Princess Catherine's serenity and grace. There was timelessly elegant quality to her, wasn't there?

Thanks for the post and hope you have a great weekend!


Elizabeth said...

I was getting quite annoyed with nonsensical and vapid questions being bandied about in the media that I said quite a few times, 'can't they just be married, already', but when I watched the events of today all of those petty annoyances and ludicrous chatter went away. I was able to take in the loveliness that was their wedding ceremony and feel that same tingling in my toes and flood of emotion I felt on my own wedding day. I, however, probably unlike the bride was able to sleep soundly last night! I hope their marriage and partnership will be as beautiful as their wedding was. Thanks for the post!

Ruth said...

Wonderful post - I wish them the best and hope that the promise of this day is fulfilled for them throughout the rest of their lives.

lizzy J said...

Great post Christopher as usually you know your ish and state it eloquently. She was a classic beauty today and some stations were saying her dress was thought to be modeled after Grace Kelly's dress. I just have this feeling that once he does get to the throne both of them will be so different from any previous ruler.

C.W. Gortner said...

Thanks, all! Gareth, I agree with you about the monarchy, but to the larger world it would appear few mean much anymore. I've actually had otherwise well educated people say to me, "Spain still has a king and queen?" as if it were a revelation. The United Kingdom's is an exception as far as popular knowledge goes, perhaps because the queen herself is so recognizable through her efforts to both uphold and adapt her monarchy. I personally think well-run and accessible monarchies that, as you say, meld the old with the new remain both viable and beautiful institutions that are capable of bringing people together in times of crisis and celebration. Today's wedding for me was proof positive of this.

momma was thinking.. said...

It was such a glorious event- full of obvious love and devotion. It is hard to feel sorry for Charles but I think he was just as blindsided as Diana when he found out she really thought this was to be a love match and not just a contractual pairing for the monarchy. They only met 15 or 16 times before the wedding, he had her calling him "sir" and he kept in touch with his real love all the while- not a man who thinks he has found his dream Princess! She was young and didn't get it. She actually thought that she was plucked out of the air to have all her dreams come true -if only that really happened in life! Kate and William on the other hand are equals in every sense and the looks on their faces told the whole story. Dreams do come true- but it takes work and a whole lot of love!