RECALLING TIMES PAST: ACADEMIC LIFE 1980-2020

As someone wrote recently, it makes sense to think of the 1970s as 40 years ago but how can 1980 be 40 years ago? This has come to my mind in relation to a question asked by one of my Master’s students. He wanted to know whether, on the whole and considering our current access to countless sources of information, academic writing has improved in the Humanities. This question started my recollection of the times when I didn’t have access to the Internet, much less to a computer. Having been born in the mid- 1960s, I’m old enough to have seen a dramatic change in academic work in my own lifetime. As this student told me, there will be far less difference between the academic life of people born in the 1990s and in the 2020s than there is between the academic life of the people born like myself in the 1960s and that of those born in the 1990s. I can only say that he’s totally right.
So let me go back to 1980, the year when I started secondary school. The first papers I handed in were handwritten, a situation which continued for at least three more years until my fourth and last course, what used to be called Curso de Orientación Universitaria (College Orientation Course). If you think that what comes next is the arrival of a PC to my working-class home you are in an alternate universe. What I got then, when I was 17, was my grand-father’s second-hand typewriter, a rather basic, heavy Olivetti. I recall in one particular instance a long Literature paper which I wrote by hand and my mom typed late into a Sunday evening; she had been an admin clerk before marrying, and still had the typing skills that I have never acquired. The typewriter in question, however, had a few glitches, one of which was that the Spanish orthographic stress key was broken. This means that the accents in my paper, which was in Spanish, were all open, in Catalan style. My teacher forgave me because she knew from what kind of home I came from.
This state of matters continued for a while. I enrolled as a university student in 1984, that Orwellian year. I continued using a typewriter, though I seem to recall a lighter new Olivetti made of plastic, with some suspicion that it was not mine but, again, someone else’s. I continued writing handwritten and typed papers based, of course, on school library resources until 1987. I spent the year 1986-87 in England as an au-pair girl and all my communication with my family and friends was through handwritten letters and the occasional phone call from a phone booth. Only when I returned from England did I finally have access to a computer, that of my boyfriend at the time, a nerdish type who grasped how important PCs would be before this was generally understood. All this time, please notice, I was still using library resources: those of my own university, the Autònoma, and the resources of the British Institute in Barcelona, which were in many cases better than what I found at UAB.
After completing the five-year Licenciatura, I started in 1991 my doctoral studies. Doctoral programmes consisted of two years of taking courses with a third year for writing your first dissertation, or tesina. I still wrote mine using bibliography on paper from libraries because although the Internet had already been born it only existed in very limited military and scientific circles. I recall purchasing dozens of articles, very expensively photocopied, from the British Library. I started work on my doctoral dissertation in 1993, spending one year in Scotland (1994-95), still with no internet access, not even e-mail. Like back in 1986-87, all communication with family and friends was done though snail mail and phone calls (no cell phones yet!). I submitted my doctoral dissertation in 1996 still without an Internet connection, though the novelty then was the introduction of email in our communications. This means that if you wanted to publish an article you would snail-mail the hard copies of the article accompanied by a cover letter and then whether the article was accepted or not would be communicated to you in the same way, by letter.
The first academic websites were started then, in the mid-1990s, and some look as they did originally. I was going through the Victorian website the other day and I realised that the layout and most of the texts that you can find there possibly come from that time. The same goes for many other websites built in the 1990s on a voluntary basis that need a revamp but will be lost for lack of volunteers. My post-doc life begins in 1996, when home Internet access also became generally available, but without a flat rate, which means that any prolonged consultation with any website could potentially cost a lot of money. In 1998 I became a consultant at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, the first online university in Spain, and that was an interesting position because the job included free Internet access. Telefónica eventually offered, around 2000, a flat rate, which was really the moment when the Internet took off in Spain (and so did illegal downloading of music, films, books…).
From 2000 onward, then, we academics started having access to many online sources, which means that composing a bibliography became quite easy. Months of research could suddenly be done in one afternoon sitting before your computer, accessing catalogues anywhere in the world. However, what truly made the difference was database access. A catalogue tells you what is available and where, but the database usually contains part of what is available as downloadable texts and that makes an enormous difference. You might have a bibliography which is 200 entries long but if none of those sources is really accessible there is not much point in its bulk. The wonder of research in the last 15 years, then, is not only that any list can be quickly compiled but also that you can download onto your computer in just a few hours many sources, particularly articles in journals. Books remain a grey area of research because not so many are accessible from college libraries as e-books. Universities subscribe to article databases but there are not equivalent book databases, which is the reason why everyone is using Google Books but keeping quiet about it. The price of academic books has gone through the roof so that few researchers and even few libraries can actually purchase books, which may easily cost 100 euros or more (a non-illustrated hardback). So, thanks Google!, you know what for.
The abundance of sources does not necessarily mean, however, that we are producing better research or better academic writing. A typical article in the Humanities usually contains around thirty secondary sources. They take less time to be located but still take a long time to be read. In the past, before the 1990s, when theory exploded, researchers in the Humanities could get away with using a maximum of ten sources for each article. This is a luxury that we can no longer afford. The proliferation of bibliography might seem to be a benefit and in many senses it is. Yet, at the same time, it has resulted in a style of writing that is very constrictive. Most articles I read these days consist of a long barrage of quotations taking the introduction and usually two thirds of the article itself, leaving just a little corner, usually less than one third of the article, for the actual discussion of the text supposedly analysed in it. Before so much bibliography was available and used, literary criticism was literary criticism, that is to say, it was an exercise in reading focused on what the primary source did say. The voice of the scholar had to be strong because it had to sustain the whole analysis, and so you got classics of literary criticism such as Leslie Fiedler, Tony Tanner, John Hillis Miller, Marianne Thormählen, Catherine Belsey, Elaine Showalter and so on.
Now there is very little room for one’s own voice among so many secondary sources, and to be honest this is one of the reasons why I started writing this blog: I was losing my voice in my own academic production. Since the need to publish has grown enormously, this means that you have less time for each of the articles or chapters you write; many sources need to be read diagonally, looking for that quotation which will contribute to your own article. Articles are more frequently quoted than books because a) they are more easily found in databases, b) can be read more quickly. Nobody uses bibliographies in which most items are books that must be read from beginning to end, for a quotation ends up costing too many working hours. That’s our reality. All this constant flow of bibliography, then, is coming when we have least time to benefit from it: to sit down and absorb whatever may be new and exciting. In my worst days I think that literary criticism is dead and we are just endlessly circulating the secondary sources without really paying much attention to what the literary authors themselves are saying. Post-1990s academic rhetoric, in short, has eaten up academic creativity in Literary Studies, and even in the apparently less conventional Cultural Studies.
This can be very daunting for a beginner in the field but, like all rhetoric, academic writing has a playful side. You need to look at academic research as a complex game, with rules that need to be mastered. I do not mean that scholarship is trivial or banal. I just mean that in order to get published you need to learn how to play the game, and this includes understanding which sources you need to check and how valuable they are for you. Having said that and although I’m not going to praise those times when literary criticism was written by hand and based on what your university library housed, we have certainly lost an indefinite something. The Internet has brought the world to our fingertips, but our brain still needs time to process information and deliver solid discourse. Yet time is what we most lack now, in our frantic effort to excel when more people than ever are in academia.
In a sense, then, the cyberpunk dream of the 1980s–if only we could access all the academic riches computers contain–has become if not a nightmare, certainly a source of anxiety, for those who rule academic life have decided that we need to use that flood of information to generate a flood of academic work and so increase the deluge until nobody can really follow it. The solution is to work on one’s own little corner, and play the game as best one can.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

WORLD AND TIME ENOUGH: QUEER HERMAPHRODITISM AND MATURE ROMANCE IN KIM STANLEY ROBINSON’S 2312

I’m working these days on an article about Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel 2312, which has turned out to be a love story. Science fiction does not often deal with that topic, and, besides, this novel has been mainly read as a utopian tale of regeneration after Earth is devastated by the effects of climate change. Robinson presents a scenario in which Earth is a backward remnant of pre-Spacer times, preventing its own survival while Mars, the Saturn League, and Mercury progress towards a new alliance which will one day leave our stubborn little planet and its pseudo-feudal capitalism (the author’s appreciation) behind. As it is typical of Robinson’s fiction, the world building is energetic and requires masses of information that, without constituting info-dumps as they do in less gifted writers, do conceal in this case the centrality of the romantic motif. That 2312 is essentially a love story is not, after all, my own impression, but the author’s own. At least he declared at the time of publication that “I began with the idea of the romance at the center of the novel, between two people from Mercury and Saturn who were (surprise!) mercurial and saturnine in character, and thus a real odd couple”. The project of building their high-tech future civilization became necessarily “a major component of the novel, but it all began by trying to give the central romance its proper setting”, three hundred years into our future (in Susan De Guardiola “The Future Is Fun”. Publishers Weekly, 259.10, March 2012, 54).
To make matters even more complicated, Robinson’s odd couple is composed by two persons–Swan Er Hong from Mercury and Fitz Wahram from Titan, one of the moons of Saturn–who are not particularly likeable and who take a long time to have a series of almost random meetings transform into something that we might call with conviction romance. It took me two readings (the kind of exercise to which you only submit for academic reasons, or out of love for a writer) to grasp the mechanics of their love, and a third reading, which I finally totally enjoyed, to truly warm up to them. So, as you can see, I am recommending 2312 only to sf die-hards willing to go to all that trouble to enjoy an interplanetary tale of love.
What finally struck a chord with me is that Swan and Wahram have time and space as we don’t have, for theirs is a world in which longevity is expanding (reaching the 200 year mark is common) and in which none of members of the new post-human sub-species known as the Smalls have yet died of old age. The more years you live, as we’re beginning to learn in real-life, the harder it is to think of marriage for life. Swan’s grandmother Alex had lived with her partner for 70 years before she died (please recall that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip of Edinburgh have been married for 73 years) but what do love and marriage mean when you’re life expectancy might be in the hundreds? As for space, which does not seem to trouble Swan and Wahram in their many comings and goings across the Solar System to which Robinson confines space travel, I was reminded of Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’, but in reverse since 2312’s odd couple have “world enough and time” to let their love grow “Vaster than empires and more slow”. It doesn’t take Wahram “Two hundred to adore each breast” Swan possesses nor “thirty thousand to the rest” but about three years for him to declare his love, which (attention!) is but a blink of the eye, considering that he is 113 and she 137. The 24 year gap, however, is nothing in a context in which, as it appears, people remain young as they age, at least judging by Swan’s fierce love of physical adventure.
Now, here comes the really peculiar gender bit in Robinson’s world: longevity is significantly improved for the individuals he calls bisexual but are really hermaphrodites, possessing a male and a female sex (we call them usually intersexuals). This is the accidental result of therapies that have led “to very sophisticated surgical and hormonal treatments for interventions in utero, in puberty, and during adulthood. The XX/XY dichotomy still exists, but in the context of a wide variety of habit, usage, and terminology”. As Robinson adds, “principal categories of self-image for gender include feminine, masculine, androgynous, gynandromorphous, hermaphroditic, ambisexual, bisexual, intersex, neuter, eunuch, nonsexual, undifferentiated, gay, lesbian, queer, invert, homosexual, polymorphous, poly, labile, berdache, hijra, two-spirit”, with some “cultures deemphasizing gender (…) sometimes referred to as ursuline cultures”, a nice wink at Ursula K. Leguin’s masterpiece The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) in which the Gethenians remain sexless and genderless except for a few days every cycle. As for Swan and Wahram, she is a woman-identified gynandromorph and he is a man-identified androgyne. Both have parented children as mothers and fathers.
Among readers that did not enjoy 2312, no complaint is louder than that of Robinson’s admirer and fellow sf author, Vandana Singh. She wrote in her blog a scathing indictment of this novel (“Why KSR’s 2312 is a Fail on Many Counts”. Antariksh Yatra: Journeys in Space, Time and the Imagination 19 March 2013, https://vandanasingh.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/why-ksrs-2312-is-a-fail-on-many-counts/) that, focused, above all, on the patronizing attitude that Swan and Wahram assume towards Earth. Swan’s misguided attempts to help Africans build homes fast with the help of AI-guided machinery is totally unacceptable in the context of the novel but Singh was incensed above all by how the couple and their extra-terrestrial allies decide to start a revolution on Earth to increase the safety of the other more prosperous planets. Singh denounces that this smacks of the worst colonial ideology, as Earthlings are treated as if “They aren’t people” but just “a monolithic mass of misery, beyond help”.
Her anger against what she calls Robinson’s betrayal of his post-colonial readers expands to his alleged mismanagement of the gender issues: “It is worth mentioning also that despite its apparent imaginativeness on the subject of human sexuality, gender and variations thereof, the book seems to idealize heterosexual mating, although between hermaphroditic beings. (Come on!) The romance between the two main characters, even independent of sexuality, does not come across as believable”. I was flabbergasted by this–not because Singh found the romance unappealing, as I found it when I first read the novel, but because she decried Robinson’s supposed idealization of heterosexual mating. Now, here’s the only sex scene in 2312. Judge for yourself: “Now it was said that their particular combination of genders was the perfect match, a complete experience, ‘the double lock and key’, all possible pleasures at once; but Wahram had always found it rather complicated. As with most wombmen, his little vagina was located far enough down in his pubic hair that his own erection blocked access to it; the best way to engage there once he was aroused was for the one with the big vagina to slide down onto the big penis most of the way, then lean out but also back in, in a somewhat acrobatic move for both partners. Then with luck the little join could be made, and the double lock and key accomplished, after which the usual movements would work perfectly well, and some fancier back-and-forths also. Swan turned out to be perfectly adept at the join, and after that she laughed and kissed him again. They warmed up pretty fast”.
Quoting Judith Butler’s Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” is not something I do frequently, for fear of misreading her opaque philosopher’s prose. But I found in its pages that given that heteronormativity is maintained by the ‘logic’ that ‘he’ is the penetrator and ‘she’ the penetrated “then, without this heterosexual matrix, as it were, it appears that the stability of these gendered positions would be called into question” (51, original italics). So, if you have a couple for whom sex consists of mutual penetration, I understand that this cannot be heterosexual mating, as Singh calls it, but something else. Furthermore, Butler notes, “The heterosexual logic that requires that identification and desire be mutually exclusive is one of the most reductive of heterosexism’s psychological instruments: if one identifies as a given gender, one must desire a different gender” (239, original italics). Neither for Wahram nor for Swan is their double sex and gendered identity an obstacle in this sense: both have had a diversity of sexual partners and both have, as noted, fathered children and been mothers. In fact, Robinson goes as far as to have Swan visit several times a former partner that goes by the gender-neutral name Zasha and for whom he never uses a personal pronoun. The child Swan and Zasha have parented together is a girl but though it appears that Swan was the father, this does not mean that Zasha, the alleged mother, is a woman. She could be another gynandromorph or a wombman like Wahram. Or someone else in gender terms altogether.
My personal perception is that Robinson is trying to do many things at the same time with Swan and Wahram. To begin with, I don’t think he offers conventional heterosexuality disguised as something else with this couple’s hermaphroditism but a comment on how perhaps only mutual penetration in intercourse could break heterosexuality away from heteronormativity. I am tempted to use the word heteroqueer for Swan and Wahram but I realize that it falls short since they are not really heterosexual: they are bisexual intersexuals, but I’m not sure whether there is a category for them, taking into account that each member of the couple identifies as either a man or a woman. Following this binary identification, they cannot be called gender-neutral or gender-fluid, so perhaps what Robinson is saying with all this is that not even three hundred years into the future will we have solved the matter of gender–though I hope we do sooner than that.
Actually, and this is the other big statement in the novel about sex, Robinson is saying that it just matters far less than love. In his otherwise quite insufferable philosophical novel On Love, Alain de Botton has some brilliant moments and, so, he says through the narrative voice of his main male character that love should be divided into mature and immature, categories by which he does not mean a difference connected with age but with idealization. Immature love is trapped by it, hence bound to be disappointing, yet this is the type we prefer. In contrast, “the philosophy of mature love is marked by an active awareness of the good and bad within each person, it is full of temperance, it resists idealization, it is free of jealousy, masochism, or obsession, it is a form of friendship with a sexual dimension, it is pleasant, peaceful, and reciprocated (and perhaps explains why most people who have known the wilder shores of desire would refuse its painlessness the title of ‘love’)” (185). I find that Swan and Wahran’s love is a great instance of mature love in this sense, though it is true that their romance is also mature because both are facing what could be called a second life, when most of the experiences of a habitual life have been gone through, and neither fully knows what to do with the years ahead.
When the word marriage starts looming in their horizon, Swan wonders what this old-fashioned patriarchal word may mean in a society in which, Robinson writes, “affection, child rearing, sex, lust, cohabitation, family, and friendship have all been delinked from each other and reconfigured as affect states” and in which individuals are free to engage in “line marriage, group marriage, polygamy, polyandry, panmixia, timed contracts, crèches, sexual friendships” in whatever capacity they choose. Yet, as Stephanie Coontz writes in Marriage a History: How Love Conquered Marriage (2005), marriage remains, though “optional and more brittle” still “the highest expression of commitment” (309). Perhaps it will be still that in 2312, on Mars, Mercury, Titan or wherever Swan and Wahram choose to live. Of course, there is no guarantee that a union across vast time and space can work better than a union among conventionally aged humans living together 24/7 but Robinson is throwing at us this peculiar ‘what if?’ and it is just fascinating to consider its implications – had we but world and time enough.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

AFTER WATCHING THE CROWN: WONDERING WHY I CARE…

Needing entertainment I chose to spend close to 40 hours watching the four seasons of Netflix’s The Crown (2016-). It has been impossible these last few weeks to ignore the abundant articles and blog posts on the alleged misrepresentation of the British Royal Family in the new fourth season, released in mid-November, as I just got curious. As you possibly know, so worried is the British Government about this matter that the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, asked Netflix last week to insert a warning at the beginning of each episode declaring that the series is intended to be fiction. I am under the impression that most spectators are aware that the series is not a documentary, but it seems there is some concern that the younger generation might take The Crown as a reliable history lesson. Naturally, there is also concern that the living persons represented in the Netflix series may be offended by their portraits, or even the object of social media attacks. The main worry in that sense is the Royal Family’s inability to protect Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, for the renewed wave of hatred against her as the late Princess Diana’s rival for the love of Charles, the Prince of Wales.
I recall in all detail the shock of hearing about Lady Diana Spencer’s tragic death in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris on Saturday evening, 31 August 31. I heard about the lethal car crash the following morning, when a neighbour told me, still amazed by the grim news. Diana was nothing to us, and I personally had no admiration for her, but she was an immense celebrity and still very young, just 36. There have been rumours to this day that MI5 had followed orders by Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to have Diana killed, fearing that the by then divorced ex-wife of Prince Charles was about to marry Muslim Harrods’ heir Dodi al Fayed supposedly because she was pregnant by him. The supposition behind these rumours was that the Crown did not want the future King, William, to have a Muslim half-brother. I find all this conspiracy theory nonsense, though it appears that Diana really had the intention of marrying a Muslim, Pakistani surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan, and was dating al Fayed, who also died in the crash, just to make this other man jealous. That’s the thing about the Royals… they make you engage in gossip, whether you are naturally gossipy or not. Anyway, on the day news of Diana’s death reached me, it was clear as daylight that the car crash had been provoked by the relentless pursuit of the media. The paparazzi started pestering young Diana the day it was known she was dating Prince Charles and, I have no doubt whatsoever, eventually caused her death; it was manslaughter though not direct murder. I fail to understand why this type of harassment is tolerated when any ordinary citizen chased by another citizen has the right to report this to the Police as a crime.
On the whole, I have enjoyed far more the three seasons of The Crown previous to the point when my own memory of events started. Once Diana appeared in season four, memory and dramatization got entangled and I started questioning not so much the truthfulness of the series as finding it too focused on the triangle formed by the Princess, Charles, and Camilla. For the first three seasons, the series works in a far more appealing way, with each episode being a self-contained narration of a particular crisis. And in that sense in can be taken as an History lesson, not because it tells the truth but because it send you rushing to Wikipedia and other sources to check for yourself. On average, I have spent about 30 minutes reading online for each episode, sometimes finding that the events narrated were quite different but also learning about matters I knew nothing about, or just very little. Looking back, I find that episode 3 in season 3, dealing with the Aberfan disaster, which claimed in 1966 the lives of 28 adults and 116 children when a colliery spoil tip collapsed in this Welsh mining town, was not only extremely poignant but also, on the whole, a valuable lesson on the Monarch’s duties. Now we are used to the images of Kings and Queens comforting the families of the victims of disasters or terrorist attacks but at the time this was a novelty, and whether this is strictly how Queen Elizabeth II behaved or not, the reflection that show-runner Peter Morgan (also author of most scripts) presents is valuable. Of course, what he offers is an interpretation based on his own personal thesis about the events narrated but if his views have currently more weight than those of the British historians, then we need to consider why giving reliable History lessons to the general public is generally such a daunting task. In this time of fake news and when American historians are begging President Trump not to destroy crucial documentation when he leaves the White House, as it is assumed he will do, this is more important than ever.
Season four, I read, has been quite traumatic to watch for those Britons who recalled Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s mandate (1979-1990) in all detail. If you closed your eyes and listen to the marvellous Gillian Anderson, here playing Thatcher, you will certainly get goosebumps–at least, I did. Anderson has done better than Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady (2011). Yet, having spent 1985-86 in Britain as an au-pair, a period which included my stay for a few months in the borough of Finchley in North London, Thatcher’s own electoral district or constituency, I missed more about her mandate. Yes, the Falklands War was there (though no way she got into it distracted by her son Mark’s going missing during the Paris Dakar rally), and the final crisis that pushed her out of her long-held Prime Minister seat was there, but not the miners’ strike of 1984-85, the Poll Tax crisis and other events. Instead, we got the appalling soap opera that Charles and Diana’s romance was from its very onset.
The problem, perhaps, is that in current times each of us has become an amateur historian and we all have theories about what did or did not happen. I read an article by a woman journalist who claimed that now she finally understood Lady Diana, but to understand her I believe that the 2017 documentary Diana: In Her Own Words (also on Netflix) works much better. Not only because it reproduces interviews secretly taped to help journalist Andrew Morton to write his best-selling tribute Diana: Her True Story (1993) but because, ironically, it is easier to understand Prince Charles by listening to Diana’s own testimonial. The Crown argues that Diana was treated with total coldness by the Royal Family and by Charles himself, and so she is presented as their victim, but her own words present her as a victim of her own immaturity and of a grand vision of herself that Charles’ choice of her as his bride fulfilled, with horrific consequences. At many points of the documentary Diana is heard saying that she expected guidance from her husband, who was thirteen years her senior, but instead only got contempt for her immaturity. Peter Morgan has, in any case, a similar theory about Charles’s upbringing and treatment by his parents: that he received a cold-shoulder when he expected warmth and, yes, guidance. These were, then, two misguided individuals led to marry for the Crown’s convenience despite being woefully ill-suited to each other–which happens all the time, though in far less politically significant circumstances.
The history of the British monarchy as told in The Crown is, of course, a fascinating tale about how Western ideas of marriage have changed. Despite initial difficulties caused by Prince Phillip’s reluctant subordination to his wife, who is also his Queen, and his sense of emasculation as a man, the couple agree that divorce can never be an option. The real-life couple have been married for 73 years, and I must wonder whether theirs is one of the currently longest-lived marriages on Earth. The marriage may have survived with some infidelities on his side, as Peter Morgan hints in his series (though recall how Prince Phillip said it was hardly possible to commit adultery with a policeman shadowing his every move), but it is still there, whereas three of the couple’s four children have got divorced: Charles, but also Anne and Andrew; only Edward, who wed Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999, is still married.
The episodes of The Crown dealing with Princess Margaret are in this sense pitiful to watch: her relationship with divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend ended when she chose her privileges as a Princess over a civil marriage to him and a private life away from England; later, she did marry in Westminster Abbey with the acquiescence of Crown and Church but her union with talented bisexual photographer Tony Armstrong-Jones was anything but placid. The message we are given is not really that the Royals are failing to do their duty by staying married, but that the changes in the idea of marriage, from life-long commitment accompanied by a high degree of personal compromise to a relationship supposed to provide sexual and sentimental fulfilment, has changed radically. Of course, the old-fashioned model may have worked for Elizabeth and Phillip, but we are now seeing in Spain how the long-lasting union of the still married Juan Carlos and Sofía, was a sham all along. The united front they presented was crucial for the transition into democracy, but the former King’s long stream of mistresses and his shady financial dealings is revealing to us not only the less palatable aspects of his personality but that Spain on the whole respected a man who did not respect the women in his life, beginning with his wife, nor his fellow Spanish citizens.
In all this matter of the Windsors, the most intriguing participant is, no doubt, Camilla Parker-Bowles, née Shand. In hindsight, it is quite clear that Charles and Camilla should have married not long after they met in the 1970s but most biographers agree that she was seen as a commoner (which Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle are) and was sexually too experienced (Lord Mountbatten advised Charles to marry a virgin); besides, as Charles’s junior by just one year she was ready to marry while he was told to sow his wild oats before wedding anyone. As we all know by now, in 1973 Camilla married Andrew Parker-Bowles, a man all accounts agree that she did love, and had to watch his ex-boyfriend marry the virginal Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. I was astonished to listen to Diana herself explain in the 2017 documentary that she had avoided having any boyfriends, and had kept herself “tidy,” just in case that became required. The girl, nicknamed Duch by her family, had fairy-tale dreams of marrying at Westminster Abbey one day, perhaps even being a Queen. I’m not saying that she was a calculating teen, but there is something unsettling about a woman that decided to remain a virgin till marriage in the late 1970s/early 1980s. That was unusual. Anyway, in past times, or not so past if we think of Queen Sofía, Diana could have played her assigned role as future Queen and tolerate Camilla as the official mistress. That, however, was not to be, and the irony is that now Camilla is finally Charles’ wedded wife. They married in 2005, in a civil ceremony (as Camilla is a divorcee), though Camilla is known as the Duchess of Cornwall, not the Princess of Wales because that was Diana’s title. If Charles is ever crowned, which seems doubtful, she would be Princess Consort, though it is known that the British heir wants his wife to be crowned Queen. I was going to write ‘fat chance’…
When the credits of the last episode rolled, my husband and I burst out laughing. He had joined me in the second season, attracted by the high quality of the dialogue written by Morgan and his other scriptwriters. The reason why we laughed is that we found ourselves at specific points feeling deep empathy for some of the characters, despite our republicanism and general mistrust of families who inherit absurd, anachronistic privileges. We have, then, embarrassed ourselves a little bit by following the lives of Queen Elizabeth’s family. I read that Prince William and Prince Harry are very much against the addition of a sixth season dealing with their lives to the planned five seasons, and I doubt that I’ll watch more of this show. To disconnect, in fact, I watched one episode of the hilarious, over-the-top The Windsors, also on Netflix, and a few episodes of the new Spitting Image. I must, in any case, take my hat off to British monarchy and British society in general for their ability to endure misrepresentation and satire with no major political damage. Here in Spain we are light years away from that.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/