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Hilary Mantel Lecture on Kate Middleton

Did Author's Criticism of "Plastic" Kate Go Too Far?

As the only woman to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize twice, author Hilary Mantel is a British literary treasure, but she's attracted the disapproval of many Britons with her blunt critique of Kate Middleton. In a recent lecture titled "Royal Bodies," the author of the acclaimed Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (both about the Tudors, Henry VIII, and his wives), Mantel explained that, just like past royal women, Kate is judged by her appearance and fertility.

Discarding more gentle language, Mantel assessed Kate's public persona before she became pregnant:

"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."

Mantel went on to say how Kate's image has shifted:

"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."

Mantel continued to offer historical context, explaining that Kate is much more public-relations friendly than Marie Antoinette or Princess Diana were. But compared to Diana, who had "human awkwardness" and "emotional incontinence," Mantel said flawless Kate seems "designed by committee" with "a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished." In her lecture, Mantel continued, "Kate 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."

This blunt assessment is part of a broad and thoughtful lecture on the role of women in royalty by an author who has immersed herself in the subject. But it is not going over well in the UK. Even British Prime Minister David Cameron called Mantel "completely misguided and completely wrong." Cameron said, "What I've seen of Princess Kate at public events, at the Olympics and elsewhere, is this is someone who's bright, who's engaging, who's a fantastic ambassador for Britain." Princess Kate, huh? The prime minister continued, "We should be proud of that, rather than make these rather misguided remarks." Do you agree Mantel went too far?

Image Source: Getty
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MSucre MSucre 3 years
I think Mantel gets it all wrong. Maybe I'm naive in thinking that Kate and William are actually in love. But it's hard to criticize them when you compare their long courtship to Charles and Diana who were matched based solely on her pedigree and virginity. Even if I admit some sort of strategic action behind William's choice of a wife, it seems more likely that he chose this (perhaps boringly) bourgeois girl for her ability to make the stuffy royals more popular with commoners than for her ability to be a perfect or "plastic" princess!
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