Monday, November 11, 2013

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings

Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
2/5 stars

Princesses Behaving Badly is a collection of mini-biographies (ranging from a few paragraphs to a few pages) of various royal (or royal-wannabe) women over a wide selection of history and cultures. The premise is that these are rebellious women who broke with the traditions of society, and promised to be a highly entertaining and interesting book.

Unfortunately, McRobbie writes about her subjects in a colloquial, flippant and at times campy style, which detracts from the subject matter. I've no doubt she intends to be humorous and accessible, but (for me) it clashed with the seriousness of her topic. For example, her use of terms like "crazy cat lady", "baby maker", and "broad" feels derogatory, not funny.

In a book that is supposed to be lauding women who are not typical of society's expectations, McRobbie manages to portray many of these ladies in a negative, as opposed to a neutral, light. Conversely to the premise, McRobbie appears to judge their actions by the very standards that these "princesses" faced in their own time. I was very disappointed by this; I had expected Princesses to be more on the lines of the "Uppity Women" series.

There is no doubt that the information was truly interesting, but I think the book would have benefited from more detailed biography on fewer subjects, instead of the small amount given on a large number. Photos or illustrations would also be helpful; I don't know if these will be included in the final copy.

Another point of irritation for me was the cover. It shows a slovenly drunk woman and a passionate lesbian kiss, neither of which actually occur in the book. I felt that this again was an example of trying to be humorous about the topic, but instead it depicted women in a manner that is supposed to be insulting (the drunk) and shocking/titillating (the kiss).

Overall, I was disappointed in this book as (based on the cover blurb) I expected it to be a celebration of individuality, of rule breaking, of women who didn't "stay in their place". Instead, it appeared as if McRobbie couldn't make up her mind as to whether she wanted to promote or condone this "bad behavior"; she seems to send mixed messages.

If McRobbie had approached her topic with a less jokey tone and had seemed to respect her "princesses" more, I think it could have been an excellent read. As it was, I would not recommend it. If this is a topic of interest, I would instead recommend the "Uppity Women" series by Vicki Leon, or Royal Pains by Leslie Carroll.

I was given this book by the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review.

On a personal note: What the deuce?!  Who is her intended audience?  I can't see it being well received by feminist readers. . . perhaps she intends it for young adults?  If so, I wouldn't recommend it for that audience either.  

I'm just puzzled by her attitude toward her subject.  I was so turned off by her slangy language and the disrespect that I felt she was showing these women, that I could hardly finish it.  

That being said, there are many positive reviews by others that didn't feel the way I did, with 38% of the reviews being five stars.