“Obviously, most little girls don’t grow up believing that life is all dress-up heels, fairy godmothers, and Prince Charmings. But the princess fantasy is one that we don’t ever really give up.”
TITLE & AUTHOR: Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodríguez McRobbie
GENRE: Nonfiction/History/Short Stories
PUBLISHED : January 1st 2013, by Quirk Books
MY RATING: 3/5
And the author behaving badly.
Among the numerous collections of this kind sprouting up lately, this one caught my eye first because it was about princesses, and second because it promised the truth behind these women’s stories. It did turn out to be a collection of numerous stories about the real princesses and their, sometimes, gruesome and difficult lives, but the line between fact and fiction is very blurry here. The author often cites sources, both reliable and not, but more than often she tries to weave fictional stories around these women’s lives, with no evidence to support her claims.
It seems that the author couldn’t decide whether she was writing fiction or nonfiction. I expected the latter, since the book is marketed as such, so it’s no wonder I was annoyed at McRobbie’s constant interference with unsupported facts, bad jokes and overly colloquial terms.
“She also didn’t take any crap – she once beat her half brother Mbandi bloody after he stole her beaded necklace…” -I was kind of expecting a ‘woman need no man’ kind of line to show up.
Okay, I don’t really mind the crap, but this is just one of many examples where the author: 1. Doesn’t write consistently with the rest of the book, and 2. Seems to push a female empowerment of the totally wrong kind on her readers. In multiple stories I stumbled on similar lines, where a princess in question is doing unimaginable, disgusting things, and she is praised by the author. Is that what feminism is? Were these stories about men, and many men of that kind did exist throughout history and they still do, would we praise them or condemn them?
“It’s unlikely that she was ever initiated formally into the tribe, a gruesome ritual that involved the murder of a child.” –This is the author’s note on the same woman from the previous quote, concerning an initiation to Imbangala, a vicious band of mercenaries, concluding that this woman wouldn’t be involved into a murder of a child simply because she was a woman, when that same lady killed her 8 yo nephew on the previous page.
I’m digressing here, since it’s clear from the introduction that McRobbie’s main goal is to crush the princess myth; the fact that Disney Company glorified that title and turned it into something it almost never was, something little girls today look up to. Throughout the history, being a princess was rarely a lovely, beautiful thing, and the author successfully proved that point. It’s just that she did a very poor job of conveying it, and I cannot ignore that.
There are too many stories here to check the validity of each one, but the ones I did check were only half true. Some details are obviously added to interest or shock the reader, even some subtitles have a form of click-bait*, trying to make the story more interesting, and when you do read it you will realize that the title was either exaggerated or false. She also states multiple times that what you’ll read is probably not true, because the patriarchal historians weren’t too keen on female rulers, but what about the facts she added herself, without any kind of indication? What is true here and what is not is on the reader to decide.
“That Edward (II) had a lover wasn’t shocking, nor was it a big problem that his lover was a man.” -Ummm yes it was. Homosexuality used to be called sodomy, and it was condemned by the church, which equated it with heresy, even I know that much.
Throughout this collection, McRobbie tries to be funny, and she failed in that area too. Maybe it’s just the type of humor I don’t like, but it certainly feels unnecessary and simple.
“T-III, now in his mid-twenties, was more than ready to rock.” -The person here referred to as T-III is Tuthmosis III, how is this even funny?
On the brighter side, I actually did like this collection, as I would have liked an online article* on the subject: “30 fierce and dangerous princesses that kicked ass, read all about it!!!!”, which I would have forgotten the very next day. If it was written better, I would immensely enjoy it and buy it, but as it is I’ll just thank Netgalley for the advanced copy of the new and illustrated edition.
The main thing I liked was that it provided a peak into these women’s lives, collected in one place, and that some of my favorite women from history were mentioned, like Hatshepsut, Boudicca, Lucrezia Borgia, Queen Tomyris, Erzsébet Báthory, etc. I’ve also heard of some of these princesses for the first time, which will certainly lead me to more research and some better books on the subject, like I hope the Bygone Badass Broads by Mackenzi Lee is.
My favorite new discoveries are: Catherine Radziwill, the stalker princess; Sarah Winnemucca, whose autobiography was the first memoir written by a Native American woman; Caraboo, the fake princess who fooled the whole England; Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, still very much alive, who turned a personal tragedy and crisis over its head; etc. There are 30+ princesses (or not) in this collection who deserve being mentioned and read about, but hopefully next time in a book that’s written better.
So if you like interesting (I will not say powerful as it is not true for all of them) women from history, and if you don’t mind the gossip-column style* and unsavory jokes, I think this collection could be an interesting and quick read.
*Edit: I have just read that the author is actually a journalist, that explains a lot.