“Before she married the Prince of Whales…”

What is so hard about W-A-L-E-S? It’s not just the princes-of who give students problems. For years I incorporated a lot of Dylan Thomas’ writings into my first-year literature course, and over and over I corrected such sentences as “He and his wife roared from pup to pup in Whales” (bizarre in every way!) and “Holbrook makes the point that the village in Under Milk Wood bears no resemblance to modern whales.” (I get a sudden vision of Noah as the mayor of a town there in his non-modern whale.)

Well, back to this woman who married leviathan royalty. Here’s the rest:

“Before she married the Prince of Whales, she was a charming Englishwoman who had the passion to help and care for others….For the first time in 300 years, an Englishwoman was to marry an heir to the throne!”

The first sentence tempts us to expect a fairytale about a woman who fell in love with a whale and was turned into a mermaid (or something) to marry him. Such stories abound. But, as is suggested by the end of the first sentence, we’re talking about Diana here. Poor Charles resembles a whale in no discernible way but clearly fell for her charm.

The second sentence must have added nothing to the experience of the passage, because I elided it when recording this Horror—it did not, for instance, make a connection between “Englishwoman” and “commoner.” I’m sure my student meant the exclamation point to express enthusiasm or joy either that Charles and Diana were marrying or that Charles was marrying a non-titled young lady. But for me, the exclamation point echoes my own astonishment that every previous monarch or heir to the throne of England had married someone other than an Englishwoman. Now, foreign marriages were arranged from time to time, to establish or cement an alliance or tighten a multinational family tie; but I’m sure that over the course of 300 years some royal marriages were domestic. I can name names.

Well, in a country ruled by aquatic mammals, marriage of the head of state to a lady of the land (literally) would be a matter for exclamation.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

2 responses to ““Before she married the Prince of Whales…”

  • Mary Jane Schaefer

    Phil likes to say that Diana felt she was marrying DOWN. After all,her family had been English aristocrats for 500 years. Charles was merely a descendant of imported German petty nobility.

    And, on a different thread, to mix a metaphor if there was one, Americans, for the most part, have no idea there IS a Wales, where it is located, what it is, etc. They think of Dylan Thomas, if they think of him at all, as a relative of those people who make grape jelly.

    Enfin, “from pup to pup” is a most excellent phrase. It reminds me of a tale from my college days. One young man who HAD A CAR was sound asleep late one Saturday night in his dorm room when a friend of his woke him up, crooning to him, “Wake up, Tom. The night is but a pup.”

  • RAB

    My friend Marguerite Foster sent me this via Facebook in response to this post, and has given me permission to re-post it here:
    “I remember exactly three things about my sophomore year in high school, one of which involves my Honors English class. We were given an assignment to pick an author and compare a few of his/her pieces in a paper that was then to be presented orally to the class…or something like that. Anyway, we were given an entire semester to complete the project. I remember picking James Joyce (it suddenly occurs to me that my academic paper writing/ presentation phobia may have its origins in this event, which was traumatic on many levels—I mean, a 15 year old who hasn’t yet been educated as to the exact nature and mechanical details of human sexual intercourse—choosing to spend infinite hours intimately trolling the brilliant but arguable disturbed mind of Joyce? Please… ). The point of all this is that I recall one of my classmates choosing Dickens. One of the works he chose to analyse was “A Tail of Two Cities.” Yup. You heard right. A semester long project and every time he cited the title he had referred to it as “the Tail.” Before anyone accuses me of tongue wagging, understand that I share this anecdote in the spirit of compassion—it is an error I can see myself making.…”

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