Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess

by Sally Bedell Smith

Published by Times Books

320 pages, 1999

Read an excerpt from the book






The Final Word?

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


Two years after her untimely death, it's easy to wonder if the world will ever forget Diana. At least, if it will ever forget enough to stop eating up every television show that's made, every magazine article that's written and -- of course, most salient to our purposes here -- every book that's published about her life. The instant bestseller status of Sally Bedell Smith's long-awaited Diana In Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess has got to make us wonder. And yet, Bedell Smith's reputation as both an author of well-crafted and non-sensational biographies and a journalist was enough to make this latest addition in the Diana wars worthy of a peek. In Diana In Search of Herself, Bedell Smith doesn't disappoint.

A contributing editor to Vanity Fair who has worked at The New York Times, TV Guide and Time, Bedell Smith is also the author of a biography of William S. Paley called In All His Glory as well as Reflected Glory: The Life of Pamela Churchill Harriman. As befits a journalist of her caliber, Bedell Smith's work for Diana in Search of Herself was obviously thorough and the resulting book is perhaps the most balanced biography on the troubled princess to date. Diana emerges as neither demon nor saint. Rather she is revealed by Bedell Smith as being all too human and very much the product of her environment. Refreshingly, this environment and the history that produced it is looked at in some detail. Diana's parents, grandparents and the society they moved in are included in the mix that produced the late princess. And in the revealing, a bit more understanding is possible.

The result of that pregnancy was Diana, born on July 1, 1961, eighteen months after the birth and death of John. Diana's father was thirty-seven at the time, and her mother twenty-five. Johnnie declared Diana "a perfect physical specimen," but he still needed an heir. In Diana's adult life, the circumstances of her birth -- "the girl who was supposed to be a boy" -- assumed enormous significance in her mind as the first of a series of rejections that would splinter her self-esteem.

The portrait of Diana that Bedell Smith paints in this book seems the most level thus far. Diana is seen as a loving -- even doting -- mother who wanted to ensure that her sons never felt the lack of emotional warmth that she herself did while growing up. Diana's penchant for playing with the truth is examined, as are her much-reported eating disorders, her infidelities -- and those of her husband -- as well as her search for personal truths that took her to the farthest edges of accepted medical practice. And, in Bedell Smith's hands, somehow none of this is out-of-sync with the patient princess, the loving princess, the giving princess that the world fell in love with or even the troubled, contradictory and sometimes almost manic princess that those closest to her saw most often.

Diana In Search of Herself is a worthwhile read for those looking for the final word on Diana. Don't kid yourself: there will be other, more final words. But Bedell Smith has covered all of the ground that needs covering in this generous volume. And she's done it with the even hand and unbiased eye of the seasoned journalist. | August 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine.