Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endingsby Linda Rodriguez McRobbie is just what the title promises: A collection of short chapters about historical princesses who were not exemplary, at least not by "princess" standards. Some of them spied, most lied, some fought, some got what they wanted, some did not. It's a diverse collection as well, covering a wide range of places and times, moving out of the traditional all-European mold to include princesses from almost every continent.

McRobbie manages to pack a lot of information into short chapters, covering most of the princesses lives from birth to death with enough detail to make these women live. The writing is lively, and McRobbie's enthusiasm is catching.

I was amused and surprised to find myself occasionally shocked by the inclusion of some characters or details. "But these are hardly exemplary people!" I would find myself exclaiming "I wouldn't want my daughter reading about this!" And that, of course, is the point. These are princesses behaving badly. They're real people offering the kind of range of behaviors and options I have been known to complain are not offered to female characters in books and movies. Then I noticed that McRobbie's attitude was often similarly ambivalent. There were chapters where she would revel in the princess's "badness," sometimes pointing out that she had out-schemed male schemers, but there were also chapters where she would defend the princess in question, pointing out that, well, maybe she'd been wicked or evil, but that she was a loyal sister, or a loving wife. It is an interesting conundrum: Is one obligated to forget a person's domestic virtues because of political vices? Or visa versa? Does it make a difference that the person was female?

My personal favorite chapters were the first two: Warriors and Usurpers. These were princesses who had real power, some of them, like Hatshepsut and Wu Zetian (whom I had never heard of prior to this), over sizeable kingdoms for measurable amounts of time. The fake princesses were also a delight even though, as McRobbie makes clear, things did not always go well for them. The princesses who got locked away for their troubles were, while real and an important part of the book, much more sobering to read about.

Overall, Princesses Behaving Badly is an impressive survey of places, peoples, and personalities, and a good starting point for further research, should one wish it. McRobbie has included a biography of her sources that would also make a good springboard for further reading.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher. A positive review was not specified and all views expressed are my own

Publication Details
Publisher: Quirk Books
Expected publication: November 19th 2013
ISBN 1594746443 (ISBN13: 9781594746444)