A book review from 1994 that appeared in my per’zine, Ad/Vance, and I stand by every word, despite the sad coda that Princess Diana’s death makes to the review.
Background note: Ruth Ellis was the subject of the film, Dance with a Stranger. And for those who saw my performance piece, Should Women Hang? (about the then-living Aileen Wuornos), the title of my piece was taken from a book about Ruth Ellis that argued for the abolition of the death penalty in the U.K.
Maybe Carl Jung was right about synchronicity: you know, the idea that two (or more) unrelated events have a reason for falling within the same sphere. For example, imagine selecting — at random— two books to read. Imagine your first choice is MURDEROUS WOMEN by Frank Jones. Then imagine THE ROYAL FASHION AND BEAUTY SECRETS BOOK by Ann Chubb. Imagine discovering that these two books are sequels to each other. If you get that last point, you’ve got synchronicity.
MURDEROUS WOMEN is a “true crime” compilation, each of the 15 tales being the story of a woman who killed. Unlike most true crime books, this one has a feminist agenda: to prove that women have been condemned to death in murder trials because they were women, not because of the crimes committed.
For example, Jones discusses Britain’s well-known Ruth Ellis trial, stating, “Even today, the Ellis case retains its relevance as a classic example of male injustice meted out to a woman” and then spends the remainder of the story proving why.
He does this to a greater or lesser degree in all the stories, including his retellings of Jean Harris' killing of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor and of the Clara Ford saga, a cross-dressing woman of color in the late 19th century.
While Jones shows how men have repeatedly punished women who’ve transgressed lines of behavior, Chubb shows how women punish themselves to be the line of behavior. The bulky subtitle of Chubb’s book is AN INTIMATE LOOK AT HOW PRINCESS DIANA ACHIEVES HER RADIANCE, STYLE, AND GRACE — REVEALED FOR WOMEN EVERYWHERE.
The format of Chubb’s book is the beauty makeover. In chapters like “Reshaping the Royal Curves” and “Inside the Royal Jewel Box,” Chubb tries to proves that you, Reader, can be a princess just by following her simple tips … the same ones that have worked so well for the former Lady Spencer.
And while THE ROYAL FASHION AND BEAUTY SECRETS BOOK is meant to be an inspiration to all aspiring princesses, a reader will most likely walk away deeply saddened.
After reading all ten grueling chapters, you come to understand how hollow to the core Diana’s life must be — and deeply saddened that, even if only for one brief moment, you thought, “I’d like to be her.”
By end of this book, as by the end of MURDEROUS WOMEN, you realize that your life is, after all, a pretty good place to be.
And what more is there that you can ask of literature, really, than to leave feeling good about yourself?