The Books Briefing: Meghan Markle’s Story Is Devastating and Familiar

The many people the monarchy has hurt: Your weekly guide to the best in books

Meghan Markle being photographed

In an interview with Oprah on Sunday, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry described the experiences that led them to leave their official roles in the British Royal Family. Specifically, Markle said, a barrage of attacks from the British press, racist attitudes within the Royal Family, a lack of support, and other factors drove her to have suicidal thoughts. (The Palace has since released a statement sharing that the family was saddened by the couple’s revelations and would address them privately.) The interview was devastating and, for many, familiar.

Many modern members of the Royal Family have struggled with media scrutiny, including the Queen’s sister, whose life the author Craig Brown explores in the biography 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret. But Markle’s experience may be most closely mirrored by that of Princess Diana, who died in a car crash while being chased by paparazzi. Many books, movies, and TV shows track her life, including The Crown. The most recent season takes aim at the monarchy and portrays the Queen as someone whose coldness and stubborn devotion to tradition contributed to Diana’s experience. Diana: Her True Story, by the journalist Andrew Morton, focuses more on Diana herself, revealing the princess’s struggles with mental health.

Still, certain elements of the recent attacks are unique to Markle. In addition to the media vitriol and lack of support from the Royal Family, Markle has also had to grapple with the United Kingdom’s racism, which the author Afua Hirsch explores in Brit(ish), a book blending memoir and history. The monarchy in particular is steeped in racism and colonialism. As K. A. Dilday observed in an article for The Atlantic about marrying into the British aristocracy, she experienced racism in the United States as well, but found the aristocratic embrace of hierarchy and birthright uniquely disturbing.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email.

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What We’re Reading

Princess Margaret


How to write about royalty

“What could be more absurd, after all, more darkly funny, than being a minor royal in the mid-to-late 20th century—supremely useless, yet retaining in one’s personage, like a tribal hangover, certain faint traces and flavors of the old dispensation?”

📚 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, by Craig Brown

Qyeen Elizabeth in "The Crown"


The Crown takes the shine off Queen Elizabeth’s reign

“Instead of seeing Diana as a luminous young woman who is changing the British people’s (and the world’s) impression of the royal family, Elizabeth sees her as an outsider who must either bend or break to the family’s will.”

🎥 The Crown on Netflix

Princess Diana


The enduring fictions of Princess Diana

“Twenty years after she died, chased down by paparazzi who were chasing the images the people craved, many of these new takes look at Diana’s life and see not just a princess trapped in a flawed fairy tale, but also a public who helped to ensure her continued captivity.”

📚 Diana: Her True Story, by Andrew Morton

Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton


Meghan, Kate, and the architecture of misogyny

“While researching my history of feminism, Difficult Women, I was struck by a pattern in which ‘good girls’ are promised an escape from misogyny, as long as they are docile and conformist—a pattern that has race- and class-based overtones.”

📚 Difficult Women, by Helen Lewis
📚 Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging, by Afua Hirsch

About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Kate Cray. The book she’s reading next is Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro.

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