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.