British novelist Hilary Mantel, winner of two Man Booker Prizes for her novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, has sparked controversy in the British press for her remarks about Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Early in February, Mantel was invited to give a lecture at the British Museum by the London Review of Books . Her chosen topic: the Royal Body, a subject she is somewhat au fait with given that her two biggest novels focus on the life of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII.
The lecture gained little press until a few British papers picked up on some of the remarks in her speech following its publication on the LRB website. The Daily Mail ran the story on its front page on Tuesday, with the headline “A Plastic Princess Designed to Breed,” and describing Mantel’s words as “an astonishing and venomous attack on the Duchess of Cambridge.” The Daily Telegraph too voiced criticism. Jake Wallis Simons, a features writer for the paper commented that the speech “clearly bears the potential to cause the Duchess of Cambridge to become increasingly painfully thin” — lambasting Mantel for her insensitivity.
Even Prime Minister David Cameron was drawn into the debate, remarking while on a trip to India that Mantel’s comments were “completely misguided.” St. James’ Palace has declined to comment on the speech.
Mantel’s defenders, however, insist her statements were taken out of context. The British press appeared to miss the point of Mantel’s lecture, they say. The LRB tweeted on Tuesday that “What Mantel really wrote is about how the media make the royals suffer.” Fans of the Duchess, however, are not convinced. Ingrid Seward, the editor of Majesty Magazine, told the BBC that Mantel “must have known when she wrote this very carefully crafted lecture, that people would pick up on [the statements]. It’s a veiled attack on Catherine.”
Mantel, as a writer who is described by the New York Times as ‘wickedly funny’ (and whose two Tudor books were both on TIME’s Best Books of the Year lists), is no doubt deliberate with her words. Her 5,650-word lecture does explore the idea that the royal body, such as Kate Middleton’s, exists simply to be scrutinized by the public, but it is as much a criticism of that scrutiny. At the close of her essay she makes a telling request: “I’m asking us to back off,” she said, “and not be brutes.”