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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Second chances

July 1997. A lavish birthday party for a controversial royal paramour. Her old flame and current lover, the future king of England, rises to offer an affectionate toast. His text: Persuasion.

 

Yes, it’s happened again: Some 208 years after Jane Austen was frog-marched into dedicating Emma to the scandalously not-quite-divorced Prince Regent, the poor woman finds herself embroiled in another royal marital soap opera—this time courtesy of Netflix and its based-on-fact-but-not-always-factual series The Crown.

 

Episode 1 of The Crown’s sixth and final season, which began streaming earlier this month, pivots around Princess Diana’s doomed summer fling with playboy Dodi Fayed and the efforts by her ex-husband, the future Charles III, to win public acceptance for his relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles.

 

Key to this PR campaign is the elegant party that Charles (played by Dominic West) throws at his Gloucestershire estate to celebrate Camilla’s fiftieth birthday. And key to the party scene is Charles’ toast (starting at 26:50), in which he pays tribute to Camilla’s loyalty by reading an excerpt from a book that he describes as “a story of ardent young lovers challenged by adversity who have a second chance of happiness later in life.”

 

Needless to say, the passage he quotes comes from Captain Wentworth’s uber-romantic letter. “Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you,” Charles recites, as Camilla (played by Olivia Williams) gazes up at him adoringly. “Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. Camilla, for you alone, I think and plan.” (In case your memory is hazy: The “Camilla” part isn’t in the original.)

 

Alas, according to those what’s-fact-and-what’s-fiction-in-The-Crown stories (for instance, here and here), the entire Austen bit isn’t in the original, either—shelve the whole thing under "fiction." While Charles did indeed throw Camilla a lavish birthday party that summer, he apparently gave no toast, let alone a swoony, Austen-quoting one.

 

It’s not hard to see why screenwriter Peter Morgan couldn’t resist the Persuasion reference: In earlier years, Charles and Camilla were indeed ardent young lovers whose marriage was blocked by a stuffy older generation hung up on such inconsequential matters as rank and virginity. Morgan may even have known of Camilla’s oft-professed love for Austen, not to mention the weirdly apposite fact that Williams has previously played not only Austen’s Jane Fairfax, one of the protagonists in a scandalous secret relationship, but also Jane Austen herself. Kismet, no?

 

Still, with two spouses and four children occupying the years between the youthful affair and the midlife second chance, “never inconstant” strikes me as a bit of a stretch. Plus, “I have loved none but you” seems downright cruel to Charles’ first wife. But then, while I don’t begrudge these elderly lovebirds their happily ever after, I was always Team Diana.

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