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But what was it that everyone had seen? On this score, opinions veered dramatically. Some saw a princess martyred by publicity, hounded unto death by the cameras that loved her so and that then feasted on her funeral. Others blamed the family that drew her into its royal orbit, expecting her to glow with the pale fire of reflected glory, and later cast her aside when she blazed forth as a star.
Or perhaps the whole week of lamentation was an electronically stimulated hysteria, an ersatz binge catered by press and television barons that will be followed some morning soon by a massive letdown and hangover. Or again, maybe Diana's too brief life and meteoric streak across the world's consciousness enraptured people by its mythic qualities. A ballet shoe tied last week to the railing outside Kensington Palace was inscribed, "You were a Cinderella at the Ball and now you are a Sleeping Beauty."
These simple words capture an essence of Diana's extraordinary appeal. Men were swayed by her poise and beauty, but her hold on women was stronger still. For all her modernity, Diana was a living embodiment of an atavistic, patriarchal fact of life. Women marry up. Little boys don't dream of becoming princes, because they either are such by birth or are not. But little girls are still taught to dream that someday their prince will come and take them away to the castle. Grown women, no matter how bruised by reality, remember those romantic dreams.
Diana lived them. Her prince really came. She grew famous beyond measure, bore two healthy sons and acquired a regal platform for her generous heart. For all the opprobrium heaped last week by Diana's admirers on the chilly Windsors, she would have been invisible without them. The lonely youngest daughter of divorced parents, she translated her own pain not into bitterness and withdrawal but into a genuine desire to comfort the suffering of others--people afflicted with AIDS and leprosy and breast cancer, the mutilated victims of land mines. She could have done far worse with her fortune and acquired fame.
But then she and her prince went their separate ways, and her story grew more fascinating still. Diana alone became a work in progress, an inspiration to every woman anywhere who faced the trauma and challenge of sudden independence. Even those--men as well as women--who did not follow her every zig and zag over the past few years found themselves weeping last week. We have some sense of what she was, but we will never know what she might have become.
--With reporting by Barry Hillenbrand/Westminster Abbey