The Princess Is Dead. Long Live the Princess

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Princess Diana in 1983

And so Scotland Yard has spoken. Diana was not pregnant. She was not engaged to be married. She was not killed as part of some shadowy plot. But it really doesn't matter, does it? Why, because she's not really dead.

She is deceased, of course. But can you really be dead when you continue to cause such a ruckus? And there will be more official to-do: Scotland Yard may be done, but there's the official British inquest into the cause of death, which begins preliminary hearings next month. So there will be more anticipation and more speculation. Mohammed al-Fayed will continue to attract an audience for his contention that the royals were complicit in the murder of his son and the princess in what only appears to be a car accident.

But again, that is beside the point. Diana's miraculous survival does not depend solely on the endlessness of investigations. The making of the mythology of Diana, Princess of Wales, has been a wonder to behold — and of a class above the ravings of a rich man propagating conspiracy theories. Had she simply become an aging, Botoxed ex-wife of the heir to the throne, she would not have been so powerful. Shakespeare has often been cited to describe the nature of her supernatural charms: "Age will not wither her." Shakespeare, of course, was describing another historical but mythic character, Cleopatra, whose appeal, like Diana's, is both of beauty, beguilement, good and malevolent powers.

Diana is the great catch-all for contemporary secular beliefs, the embodiment of the modern quests pursued so religiously by all of us: the search for domestic happiness, the struggle of women to be heard, the little person rising against the entrenched organization. And to those archetypes, she provides boundless content. She was the most photographed and videotaped woman on earth. Her BBC interview on the troubles in her marriage will be replayed again and again and again. Her death was a fateful gift: providing her with the halo of martyrdom.

I am afraid we will be talking about Diana for decades to come. Just as the Romans could forever be haunted by the Queen of the Nile, in spite of her suicide, Britain and the world will be in the thrall of Diana Spencer for a long, long time. The increasing power of the celebrity press and, more recently, of the celebrity net have only pumped up her appeal — if only because of the liturgy of gossip, repeating and repeating again and again.

It is the kind of afterlife that Marilyn Monroe and Elvis have. But with older teenagers today still able to remember a living Diana — and perhaps even to recall the suddenness of her passing — she is perhaps even more indelible. Add to that the pomp, panoply and potential for high-class scandal and controversy of the hoary British royal family. This is a family, after all, that has an ancestress who may have murdered her husband and yet is considered a saint by many. (That would be Mary, Queen of Scots). It's all in the dynasty.

So expect more books. There is already a very good movie out (The Queen,in which Diana plays herself in a film she pervades). Don't be surprised by plays, maybe even a musical or two. Perhaps Diana herself will even make appearances to some true believers. The deathless gods have been known to do that. I think I see her now.