In case you hadn’t heard all the noise being made across the pond, author Hilary Mantel gave a lecture at the British Museum earlier this month, sponsored by the London Review of Books. In it, Mantel discusses the centuries-long fascination with royal families, royal women, and — specifically — a royal female’s ability to bear heirs.
At one point, she also describes Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge and pregnant wife of the heir to the British throne, as a “shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own.”
It was the quote heard ‘round the empire. Mantel’s line, along with several other sound bites lifted from the talk, have become flash points in the larger, ever-ongoing debate about how anyone should talk about the royals.
As Reuters reports, everyone from the British Prime Minister (who thinks Mantel was “misguided”) to “royal commentators” to everyday laypeople have chimed in. Mantel, meanwhile, has declined to comment.
But Mantel’s talk at the Museum goes on for almost an hour and mentions Middleton by name less than a dozen times. Instead, she fills much of the time with lengthy discussions of three different royal women: first Marie Antoinette, then Princess Diana, and last Anne Boleyn, explaining and exploring how public perception contributed to larger myths about each woman — and how, too often, these narrative are “inscribed on the body.”
Yes, Mantel does describe Middleton has a public figure basically voided of personality, the Stepford alternative to Princess Diana; and, yes, she does tip into a weak wordiness when describing the private turmoil of public figures.
But! Her talk is a yummy listen, if you have the time — and she has a clear footing in the world of monarchial discussion (which should surprise no one who’s read her much-fêted Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies).
Click over and a take a listen to the speech or read through the transcript. What do you think: Is Mantel making sense or did she go too far?