Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 19th 2013 by Quirk Books
You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating read for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.
Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie is a much more expansive look at princesses than the ones afforded by Disney. Written as a response to the very same Disney princesses who have created a princess culture characterized by consumption, the volume looks at the real princesses who have dotted human history with their exploits of both the scandalous and courage variety.
I agree with McRobbie that Disney’s princess culture is problematic and that parents need to be aware of all the things that these princesses stand for and signify. Princesses Behaving Badly is a brilliant answer to these rather uniform fictional constructs and goes a long way to remind people that real life is just as rich and fascinating, real people are just as complex and crazy as their fictional counterparts.
The book is split into sections and McRobbie organizes the princesses by their defining characteristic. There are warrior princesses, manipulative princesses, crazy princesses and party princesses. She does not attempt to box them into these singular traits though, this is just to create a semblance of order to the princesses.
And these princesses are so varied: the Chinese princesses who controls an army of 70 000 soldiers, the Indian princess who was killed for her efforts during the second world war, the not-crazy princess who was locked into her room and was refused when she asked to see her children. There is one thing that becomes clear when reading about these women who dot the landscape of human history: all of their lives were moulded by the men who tried to control them and when they couldn’t control them, they killed them. Between the lives lived and the deaths faced by these women are the whispers of the men who profited off them. It is a chilling realization that the history of women, who we were, is so reliant upon the scribblings of men.
Anyway, this book is brilliant and it should be used as reference material for authors looking to bring princesses to life. There are many women here who could inspire heroines who are not afraid to take their life in their own hands, damn the consequences. I think each one of you should read this book and even if it just at a glimpse, get to know these real life princesses who are diverse, brilliant, flawed, evil, good.