‘Finding Freedom’: the new Harry and Meghan book is the latest, risky move in a royal PR war


Giselle Bastin, Flinders University

Front cover of 'Finding Freedom', Harry and Meghan smiling for cameras
Finding Freedom was published on August 11.
HarperCollins Publishers

A new book about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is generating sensational headlines about their private life, defiance of Queen Elizabeth and how Prince William “behaved like a snob” to his future sister-in-law.

It is also the latest foray of British royals into the minefield that is royal

Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family, by royal reporters Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, promises stories about how the royal couple has struggled with “the many rumours and misconceptions that [have] plagued” them since their 2017 engagement.

According to numerous reports, this also includes tales of their clashes with palace officials and members of their own families, as well as their courtship and ill-treatment by the British press.

A spokesperson for the couple has firmly said they “did not contribute to ‘Finding Freedom’”. But there is widespread speculation Harry and Meghan were nevertheless involved, given the level of detail in the book.

According to the publishers, HarperCollins, the biography has been produced with “unique access and written with the participation of those closest to the couple”.

‘Never explain, never complain’

We’ve seen this before, and it is a tale that seldom ends happily or well. In 1976, John Wheeler-Bennett, official biographer of George VI, observed royal biography is

not to be entered into advisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly and in the fear of God.

Wheeler-Bennett was here referring to the role of the royal biographer, but could just as easily have been referring to the royals themselves.

The royals are not supposed to go on the record and speak of private matters. The dictum ruling the House of Windsor for the best part of the 19th and 20th centuries was they should “never explain, never complain”.

In 1947, when hearing of a former servant’s plans to write about her time in royal service, the Queen Mother summed up the royal family’s strong expectations when she said:

people in positions of confidence with us must be utterly oyster.

Subsequently, the royal family was dismayed when the Duke of Windsor fed his story to a ghostwriter in 1951’s A King’s Story, outlining his own version of the abdication crisis. Prince Philip also disapproved strongly of Prince Charles’s candid revelations in Jonathan Dimbleby’s 1994 book Prince of Wales: A Biography and subsequent interview.

Diana’s experience

Prince Harry could also have learned some valuable lessons from his own mother, who flouted the “utterly oyster” rule.

Cover of 1992 book, Diana: Her True Story, with portrait of Diana
Diana: Her True Story generated waves of controversy for the Princess in 1992.

Diana, Princess of Wales, was behind the most famous royal biography of all time when she commissioned Andrew Morton to “ghost” her tale of marital woe and royal suffering with the 1992 tell-all Diana: Her True Story.

Her True Story was a huge commercial success – having sold more than ten million copies as of 2017. But after the book’s publication, Buckingham Palace and conservative media outlets went after Morton, expressing disbelief a royal princess would talk to a tabloid journalist with no official royal biographer status.

After publicly eviscerating Morton, and the airing of Diana’s explosive 1995 Panorama interview, the palace and establishment then went after Diana. Conservative MP and close friend of Prince Charles, Nicholas Soames, claimed she must have been “in the advanced stages of paranoia” to have been disclosing the types of things she had.

Read more:
Diana revived the monarchy – and airing old tapes won’t change a thing

‘Her True Story’ backfires

Diana thought Her True Story would act as a passport to freedom. She hoped it would help her separate from the royals, while keeping her privileges intact. As journalist Tina Brown wrote in her 2007 book, The Diana Chronicles, the princess thought she would get to keep all

the good bits of being a princess and doing her own global thing without Charles around to cramp her style. She did not factor in the power of royal disapproval and its consequences.

Nor did she factor in “the risk of … the Palace ‘going nuclear’ and continuing until there [is] nothing left”.

Critically, Diana had thought the revelations in Her True Story would invite her estranged royal relations’ sympathy. As Brown also notes,

she had been so long in her private panic room she thought this deafening public scream would solve the matter once and for all.

Brown records how Diana quickly regretted the book, telling her friend David Puttnam shortly before the book’s release in 1992,

I’ve done a really stupid thing. I have allowed a book to be written. I felt it was a good idea, a way of clearing the air, but now I think it was a very stupid thing that will cause all kinds of terrible trouble.

Diana was right. The biography and the Panorama interview hastened Diana’s exit from the royal enclosure. This gave her a short spell of relief and exultation. But this was followed by unhappiness that she had to live, in effect, in exile.

A long-running soap

With release of another sensational royal biography – that very much gives one side of the story – the parallels between Diana and her son are uncanny.

Harry and Meghan obviously already have a rocky relationship with the palace, given their split with the royal family in March.

Harry and Meghan looking uncertain at public event.
Harry and Meghan are trying to win the PR war, but history suggests a ‘tell-all’ book is a dangerous move.

Their latest public pronouncement about their “true story” (albeit via interlocutors) is the latest salvo being fired in the long-running soap opera known as “The Windsors”. It has obviously been made to try to win a public relations war. Indeed, public relations is what the royals do. They don’t have “jobs” as such, but merely have to be “seen to be”.

Finding Freedom might have felt like a good idea to the Sussexes — an opportunity to set the record straight – but as Diana’s experience suggests, they may well come to regret the opening of their particular oyster of royal rage.

Their contribution of yet another chapter to the Windsor soap is one that will likely prove unstoppable, insatiable even. And one thing is almost certain: Harry and Meghan will very probably lose any editorial control they thought they had over their own story.

Read more:
The Crown series 3 review: Olivia Colman shines as an older, frumpier Elizabeth

The Conversation

Giselle Bastin, Associate Professor of English, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Radical hope: What young dreamers in literature can teach us about COVID-19

The arts, literature and culture provide models for hope and resilience in times of crisis.
(Marc-Olivier Jodoin/Unsplash)

Irene Gammel, Ryerson University

We rarely associate youth literature with existential crises, yet Canada’s youth literature offers powerful examples for coping with cultural upheaval.

As a scholar of modernism, I am familiar with the sense of uncertainty and crisis that permeates the art, literature and culture of the modernist era. The modernist movement was shaped by upheaval. We will be shaped by COVID-19, which is a critical turning point of our era.

Societal upheaval creates a literary space for “radical hope,” a term coined by philosopher Jonathan Lear to describe hope that goes beyond optimism and rational expectation. Radical hope is the hope that people resort to when they are stripped of the cultural frameworks that have governed their lives.

The idea of radical hope applies to our present day and the cultural shifts and uncertainty COVID-19 has created. No one can predict if there will ever be global travel as we knew it, or if university education will still to be characterized by packed lecture halls. Anxiety about these uncertain times is palpable in Zoom meetings and face-to-face (albeit masked) encounters in public.

So what can literature of the past tell us about the present condition?

What we see in the literature of the past

Consider Canadian author L.M. Montgomery, a master of youth literature. In her books, Montgomery grapples with change. She provides examples of how youth’s visions and dreams shape a new hopeful future in the face of devastation. I have read and taught her novels many times. However unpacking her hope-and-youth-infused work is more poignant in a COVID-19 world.

Her pre-war novel Anne of Green Gables represents a distinctly optimistic work, with a spunky orphan girl in search of a home at the centre. Montgomery’s early work includes dark stories as subtexts, such as alluding to Anne’s painful past in orphanages only in passing. Montgomery’s later works place explorations of hope within explicitly darker contexts. This shift reflects her trauma during the war and interwar eras. In a lengthy journal entry, dated Dec. 1, 1918, she writes, “The war is over! … And in my own little world has been upheaval and sorrow — and the shadow of death.”

COVID-19 has parallels with the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed more than 50 million people and deepened existential despair. Montgomery survived the pandemic. In early 1919, her cousin and close friend Frederica (Frede) Campbell died of the flu. Montgomery coped by dreaming, “young dreams — just the dreams I dreamed at 17.” But her dreaming also included dark premonitions of the collapse of her world as she knew it. This duality found its way into her later books.

Rilla of Ingleside, Canada’s first home front novel — a literary genre exploring the war from the perspective of the civilians at home — expresses the same uncertainty we feel today. Rilla includes over 80 references to dreamers and dreaming, many through the youthful lens of Rilla Blythe, the protagonist, and her friend Gertrude Oliver, whose prophetic dreams foreshadow death. These visions prepare the friends for change. More than the conventional happy ending that is Montgomery’s trademark, her idea of radical hope through dreaming communicates a sense of future to the reader.

The same idea of hope fuels Montgomery’s 1923 novel Emily of New Moon. The protagonist, 10-year-old Emily Byrd Starr, has the power of the “flash,” which gives her quasi-psychic insight. Emily’s world collapses when her father dies and she moves into a relative’s rigid household. To cope, she writes letters to her dead father without expecting a response, a perfect metaphor for the radical hope that turns Emily into a writer with her own powerful dreams and premonitions.

What we can learn from the literature of today

Nine decades later, influenced by Montgomery’s published writings, Jean Little wrote an historical novel for youth, If I Die Before I Wake: The Flu Epidemic Diary of Fiona Macgregor. Set in Toronto, the book frames the 1918 pandemic as a moment of both trauma and hope. Twelve-year old Fiona Macgregor recounts the crisis in her diary, addressing her entries to “Jane,” her imaginary future daughter. When her twin sister, Fanny, becomes sick with the flu, Fiona wears a mask and stays by her bedside. She tells her diary: “I am giving her some of my strength. I can’t make them understand, Jane, but I must stay or she might leave me. I vow, here and now, that I will not let her go.”

Governor General Julie Payette and author Cherie Dimaline pose for a photo at the Governor General's Literary Award for English young people's literature. Dimaline is holding a book in her left hand.
Governor General Julie Payette presents Cherie Dimaline with the Governor General’s Literary Award for English young people’s literature for The Marrow Thieves.

A decade later, Métis writer Cherie Dimaline’s prescient young adult novel The Marrow Thieves depicts a climate-ravaged dystopia where people cannot dream, in what one of the characters calls “the plague of madness.” Only Indigenous people can salvage their ability to dream, so the protagonist, a 16-year-old Métis boy nicknamed Frenchie, is being hunted by “recruiters” who are trying to steal his bone marrow to create dreams. Dreams give their owner a powerful agency to shape the future. As Dimaline explains in a CBC interview with James Henley, “Dreams, to me, represent our hope. It’s how we survive and it’s how we carry on after every state of emergency, after each suicide.” Here, Dimaline’s radical hope confronts cultural genocide and the stories of Indigenous people.

Radical hope helps us confront the devastation wrought by pandemics both then and today, providing insight into how visions, dreams and writing can subversively transform this devastation into imaginary acts of resilience. Through radical hope we can begin to write the narrative of our own pandemic experiences focusing on our survival and recovery, even as we accept that our way of doing things will be transformed. In this process we should pay close attention to the voices and visions of the youth — they can help us tap into the power of radical hope.The Conversation

Irene Gammel, Professor of Modern Literature and Culture, Ryerson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.