Have you heard about this Hilary Mantel business? The thing where, apparently, she said some disparaging remarks about Kate Middleton and then the media picked up on it and ran with it?
Hilary Mantel is a terrific writer. She’s won the Booker prize twice. Once for Wolf Hall, which is so good. Really, really, live between the pages good. And one for Bring up the Bodies, which sits on my nightstand unread because I don’t want to live in a world where her Cromwell is dead. This is an excellent profile on Mantel.
She gave a speech a few weeks back called “Royal Bodies.” I encourage you to read the speech. It’s just as careful and well written as Wolf Hall. In it she’s saying that it’s our interest in the Royals that turns the women into nothing more than bodies. She writes about Diana and Anne Boylen and the current princess. At the end, she is tender and kind toward Kate Middleton.
History makes fools of us, makes puppets of us, often enough. But it doesn’t have to repeat itself. In the current case, much lies within our control. I’m not asking for censorship. I’m not asking for pious humbug and smarmy reverence. I’m asking us to back off and not be brutes. Get your pink frilly frocks out, zhuzh up your platinum locks. We are all Barbara Cartland now. The pen is in our hands. A happy ending is ours to write. — Hilary Mantel, from “Royal Bodies”
And yet, this wonderful speech has been hacked up by the media and the controversy is all about portraying Hilary Mantel as a cruel, ugly, fat lunatic, and Kate Middleton as an angelic, beautiful, tenderhearted innocent.
Why can’t this incredibly smart woman comment on the way royal women are portrayed without it being covered in the media like a cat fight? I know this is a stupid question. We’re in the world of the 24-hour news cycle. We need information all the time. This seems as good a story as any other. But the whole thing is sad to me. I respect Hilary Mantel very much. I don’t have an opinion on Kate Middleton. I’m glad I found the original text of the speech because after reading a few of the news stories, I was thinking, Oh Hilary Mantel. I really hope this stuff is wrong.
The original text is worth reading whether or not you care about Hilary Mantel, or the Royal family. It’s worth reading because it reminds us that we’re all complicit in viewing women as nothing more than bodies. It starts with ourselves. We view ourselves as nothing more than bodies all the time. If we don’t stop that, we’ll never stop viewing others the same way.