Rock of Rocks: Canadian Author Mines The Big One

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Having written a book on the Hope diamond, Toronto author Marian Fowler can assure you that the rock is not cursed.

The stone of stones has brought her the promise of a Hollywood screenplay and, at $350,000, the biggest advance of her seven-book career — “So, no, I’m not big on the curse.”

The malevolent side of the gem unearthed in India some time between 40,000 BC and 1660 AD is as famous as its beauty, Fowler says in her book,  Hope, Adventures of a Diamond (Random House Canada): “Some of its owners suffered astonishingly bad luck: one died a very slow, horribly painful death; another, quite literally, lost his head; a third lost a young son to a car accident, a daughter to suicide and a husband to an insane asylum.”

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Known as “the Blue Diamond of the French Crown,” the diamond was whisked to England after a farcical jewel heist during the Revolution. Resurfacing in 1812, it was coveted by British aristocrat Henry Philip Hope, who gave it its name.

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Washington hostess Evalyn Walsh McLean later wore it, as did her dog. But it was jeweller Harry Winston, who purchased the diamond from her estate in 1949, who propelled it to celebrity status.

A master of public relations, Winston urged his press agents to create an air of mystique around the Star of the East. He thought the tales of death and destruction complete bunk, but he loved the buzz.

Fowler, who graduated from the University of Toronto’s PhD program in 1952, did her dissertation on courtship conventions in Jane Austen. Her 1989 book, Blenheim: Biography of a Palace, was a precursor to this one: “It was a biography in which the house was the main character and so I felt having cut on my teeth on a house, I could take a new challenge and take on a cold and tiny inanimate object.”

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In a Gilded Cage, a book published in 1993 about American heiresses who married English lords, was nominated for a Governor-General’s Award.
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The Way She Looks Tonight: Five Women of Style, published in 1996, profiled Marlene Dietrich, Jacqueline Kennedy, Empress Eugenie of France, actress Elinor Glyn and Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, to illustrate her observation that apparel, “however old or dowdy or nondescript, always, to borrow fashion jargon, makes a statement.” Clothes, she concluded, “give a visual aspect to consciousness itself.”

In Hope, Fowler broadens the thematic focus of that last book to include jewellery, which she believes also mirrors the character and social role of the wearer. “The bigger the rock, the bigger the bank account,” she observes.

“A diamond’s allure is that it costs so much, and because of that it is a significant symbol of how much money a person has. People who buy big jewels want them to be outward signs their wealth. It’s vulgar, vulgar, vulgar.”

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Fowler collects vintage costume jewellery herself. At home, she has piles of rhinestones and big Forties pins: “It’s all fake.”

Right now, she is wearing a faux Hope diamond brooch she found in the gift shop of the Smithsonian Institution, where the real diamond sparkles on display.

“I had written half the book before I went to see it,” she confesses. “I was afraid that I’d be disappointed. I had built a picture of it in my imagination after having been with it for so long. I was afraid I would see only a small piece of coloured glass.”

But instead she was mesmerized. “It truly was magical. It hypnotized me. I am a big nature buff. I have a special relationship with trees and birds, and maybe to me such an incredible piece of the natural world represents the raw energy of creation.”

Despite having fallen in love with the subject of her book, Fowler has no plans to buy a real diamond. “I like to spend my extra money on travelling.”

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But once she did have one. Married for 23 years to a medical doctor, she got rid of the piece of marital glitter after the divorce.

“It was a diamond ring from Birks and I went back for a full refund.”

So what does that say about her?

“I needed the cash.”