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We ‘sacrifice’ royal woman, author says

- February 19th, 2013

British media have been writing editorials and blasting a speech given by author Hilary Mantel recently in which she describes Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, as appearing “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.”

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Author Hilary Mantel. (Photo: HarperCollins)

The Daily Mail called the speech a “venomous attack” on the duchess, while Reuters called it a “withering attack.” The Telegraph said Mantel doesn’t know Kate, so she shouldn’t “fictionalize” her.

Even U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron slammed Mantel for her comments.

Mantel begins her speech saying she was at a festival last summer when she was asked to name a famous person and choose what book she would give them.

“I chose Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, and I chose to give her a book published in 2006, by the cultural historian Caroline Weber; it’s called Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution,” Mantel said.

“It’s not that I think we’re heading for a revolution. It’s rather that I saw Kate becoming 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. These days she is a mother-to-be, and draped in another set of threadbare attributions. Once she gets over being sick, the press will find that she is radiant. They will find that this young woman’s life until now was nothing, her only point and purpose being to give birth.”

Editors jumped on those comments, but in subsequent interviews, Mantel asked people to read the speech for themselves before they judge her based on the media reports.

Thankfully, you can read it – the London Review of Books has published it online.

The speech is actually a fascinating look at royal women – in particular, the wives of Henry VIII (as Mantel is currently promoting her fictional books about Thomas Cromwell), but she also discusses Kate and Diana.

Mantel says royal women are regarded for their ability to produce children – even dating back to the reign of Henry VIII and his many wives.

“When it was announced that Diana was to join the royal family, the Duke of Edinburgh is said to have given her his approval because she would ‘breed in some height.’ Presumably Kate was designed to breed in some manners. She looks like a nicely brought up young lady, with ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ part of her vocabulary,” Mantel said, later comparing the royals to pandas.

“I used to think that the interesting issue was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not? Our current royal family doesn’t have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage.”

She does refer to Kate as being “precision-made, machine-made.” She also says Kate is “so different from Diana whose human awkwardness and emotional incontinence showed in her every gesture. Diana was capable of transforming herself from galumphing schoolgirl to ice queen, from wraith to Amazon. Kate seems capable of going from perfect bride to perfect mother, with no messy deviation.”

She also says the royal family is nothing more than “breeding stock.”

“In looking at royalty we are always looking at what is archaic, what is mysterious by its nature, and my feeling is that it will only ever half-reveal itself. This poses a challenge to historians and to those of us who work imaginatively with the past. Royal persons are both gods and beasts. They are persons but they are supra-personal, carriers of a blood line: at the most basic, they are breeding stock, collections of organs,” she said.

But in the end, Mantel doesn’t attack Kate – rather she calls on people to “back off and not be brutes” – a message that seems particularly apt when you consider there was a media circus when Kate went out in public Tuesday, with every photographer and reporter focusing on her baby bump.

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This is an unedited photo as it appeared on the wire from a “pool” photographer. The cutline with the photo notes the person in the middle, whose head is not visible, is the duchess “cradling her baby bump” as she speaks with trustees at Hope House charity in south London. (Photo: Mary Turner/AFP)

“It may be that the whole phenomenon of monarchy is irrational, but that doesn’t mean that when we look at it we should behave like spectators at Bedlam. Cheerful curiosity can easily become cruelty. It can easily become fatal. We don’t cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them, and we did memorably drive one to destruction a scant generation ago,” she said.

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1 comment

  1. J | February 20, 2013 at 8:24 am

    hehe -good article, and good thing freedom of speech exists. The truth hurts the “breeding stock” no doubt.

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