Hilary Mantel’s sympathy for the royals

19 February 2013

12:47 PM

19 February 2013

12:47 PM

Hilary Mantel has got into hot-water over a piece she has written about monarchy for the London Review of Books. There has been consternation over Mantel’s statement that the Duchess of Cambridge:

‘appeared to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen, with a perfect plastic smile… [who] seems to have been selected for her role of princess because she was irreproachable: as painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character.’

She went on to say that Kate used to be ‘a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung. In those days she was a shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore.’ Now the duchess is famous for being pregnant, as all queens and princesses are eventually; except, of course, for those who are famous for not being pregnant. As Mantel puts it, ‘a royal lady is a royal vagina’.


There is huge sympathy in that barb; so much sympathy, in fact, that it is bizarre how anyone could have taken Mantel’s other comments out of context and interpreted them as an attack on the royals, and Kate in particular. On the contrary, Mantel is saying that we – the media, the public and the institution of monarchy – should stop treating royal women (and also the princes) like freaks in a show in which the audience veers between extremes of cruelty and adulation. Mantel’s phrase ‘it’s nothing personal, it’s monarchy I’m staring at’, sums up the essence of her concerns and provides cause for her to ask that we ‘back off and not be brutes’.

This is not a call for deference, merely an appeal for quiet. The fevered reaction to Mantel’s piece proves the sense of her point rather well. You can read the whole article here and make up your own minds.

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Show comments
  • Bert3000

    Until we get ruling class we can vote for, I’ll be sneering at them plenty. The middleton woman doesn’t even look nice.

  • Grrr8

    Unfortunately for Kate (or anyone else on the Royal paylist), we (including Hilary Mantel) do get to have an opinion on their smiles, eyes, health, breeding habits, child rearing, career choices etc. This families existence has constitutional meaning for the UK as long as we are a hereditary monarchy. They are required to be passive recipients of instructions from the government. Their children and spouses are not their own; they belong to England. We pay them handsomely for this abnegation of rights.

  • judyk113

    I have read the piece in the LRB and read it long before the tabloid press got to it. The supposed get-out of “context” ie, supposedly expressing sympathy for women who become royal consorts does not in my view mitigate the sheer spite and venom of the way she refers to Kate Middleton as if she were a passive being without agency who was selected and put in place by some unspecified all powerful body for her consort role.

    She also gratuitously describes her thus:

    But Kate Middleton, as she was, appeared to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen, with a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished

    How’s that justified by “context”? This is a real young woman we’re talking about.

    Then we get the sneeringly patronising:

    She looks like a nicely brought up young lady, with ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ part of her vocabulary.

    Actually, Kate Middleton managed to get a 2.1 in Art History at St Andrews. Possibly modest compared with some, but is Hilary Mantel’s BA in Jurisprudence from Sheffield noticeably better?

    Then Mantel comments on a portrait of her by a not very renowned painter as if the representation was a literal representation of what she looks like:

    But in her first official portrait by Paul Emsley, unveiled in January, her eyes are dead and she wears the strained smile of a woman who really wants to tell the painter to bugger off.

    That portrait was almost universally and scathingly criticised when it was shown as not at all a credible representation of Kate Middleton, particularly failing to capture the radiance and enjoyment which she is widely acknowledged to project.

    Reading the Wikipedia entry on Mantel suggests why she might be a less than objective writer about Kate Middleton, for whom she very modestly prescribes a present of her own book.

    And there’s the rest of the context, which is her sneering and dripping distaste for the rest of the Royal Family.

    Nothing personal, indeed!

    • NorthBrit

      Funny because you look a bit like Hilary Mantel. But you don’t write as well.

  • NewsTweet

    I agree. You can’t say she’s being complimentary but it’s a thoughtful piece. In the end though, she seems to be saying we shouldn’t be reverent but that we kind of should-be just a little. I thought the essay lost its argument by the end and seemed to be a manifesto for conservatism.

  • White Wednesday

    Jake Wallis Simpson is upset about it in the Telegraph. And I read somewhere that he’s very clever.