Bad Princess: True Tales from Behind the Tiara, by Kris Waldherr
Bad Princess: True Tales from Behind the Tiara is one of those attractively designed nonfiction books that a lot of readers buy at a Scholastic book fair, read once, and then mostly forget about.
(There are, OF COURSE, some readers who will pick up this book, read and re-read it obsessively, and then turn to every other book on the topic that they can find. For me, weirdly enough, it was a book about special effects in horror movies—I read that book until it fell apart, and I wasn’t even ALLOWED to watch horror movies at that point!)
Waldherr gives us loads of facts and anecdotes—and yes, there are plenty of pictures—about various royal figures throughout history, and she does it in a chatty, gossipy tone, with lots of current pop culture references. The pop culture references are part of what makes this sort of book largely forgettable, since said references will be dated in .4 seconds, but that’s the way it goes with this subgenre.
Pros: Super-duper visually appealing, and Waldherr includes lots of lesser-known figures, rather than focusing entirely on the Usual Suspects.
Cons: From the very first page, Waldherr re-enforces stereotypical thinking about gender by setting up princesses as purely a “girl” thing:
Despite all this, many of us grow up yearning to become a princess. From the moment a little girl is born, it seems she can’t escape this princess obsession.
A few pages later, she does it again here:
While these pink-hued products have encouraged the popularity of princesses as a role model for girls, others claim they’ve led to a “princess backlash”—a general distrust of all things feminine and sparkly. As a result, some believe princesses undermine young girls’ self-esteem and independence by presenting them with an unrealistic standard of perfection, making princesses “bad” for young girls.
I generally try to stick to WHAT’S ON THE PAGE rather than WHAT’S MISSING, but it would have been easy enough to ALSO give a nod to the pushback that many boys and nonbinary kids encounter when they express interest in stereotypically femme interests.
On Lucrezia Borgia, Waldherr uses the phrase …more than just a Renaissance mom, which is a huge pet peeve of mine because it diminishes parenthood and because you’d NEVER ever EVER see the phrasing …more than just a Renaissance dad.
On the relationship between Marie Antoinette and the Princesse de Lamballe:
The affection between Marie Antoinette and the princess led to cruel gossip beyond the palace walls. Offensive pamphlets and cartoons depicting the two friends as more than “just friends” were circulated all over Paris.
Lack of context. There’s no information about homophobia in that specific place and time, so the phrasing subtly supports the idea that a romantic relationship between the two women would have been—and would be—a shameful thing. (Or not so subtly? I don’t know.) That said, the book does include a section about the marriage and artistic partnership between Winnaretta Singer (who was a lesbian) and Prince Edmond de Polignac (who was gay), and now I want to read ALL THE BOOKS about that.
On Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven:
Elsa’s father was a violent, alcoholic bricklayer; her mother had tried to kill herself. If that wasn’t bad enough, Elsa’s paternal grandfather was an alcoholic while her paternal grandmother was rumored to be a kleptomaniac—someone unable to stop herself from stealing things.
Again, context. With no context, this language reinforces the idea that addiction, suicide, and/or mental illness are shameful, etc., etc.
And there you have it.
This has been yet another installment of Leila Is A Nitpicky Nitpicker, see you all next time.