Author Hilary Mantel attacks "plastic" princess Kate

LONDON Tue Feb 19, 2013 2:03pm GMT

1 of 2. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge arrives at Hope House addiction treatment centre in south London February 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

LONDON (Reuters) - One of Britain's most celebrated authors has launched a withering attack on the Duchess of Cambridge, the pregnant wife of Prince William, branding her a "shop-window mannequin" with a plastic smile whose only role in life is to breed.

Prime Minister David Cameron described award-winning writer Hilary Mantel as "misguided" after she likened the former Kate Middleton to a "machine made" doll, devoid of personality.

Her comments about the 31-year-old wife of William, second-in-line to the throne, divided public opinion, with newspapers condemning Mantel as "venomous", "cruel" and "staggeringly rude".

Supporters said her words had been taken out of context from a long analysis of society's centuries-old obsession with the appearance and fertility of royal wives that ended with a plea to "back off and not be brutes" to them.

"I saw Kate becoming a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung," Mantel said in a lecture at the British Museum earlier this month in which she spoke about her changing view of the princess.

"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."

Speaking during a visit to India, Cameron said Mantel was wrong and that people should do more to encourage a young royal who is a "fantastic ambassador for Britain".

"She writes great books, but I think what she's said about Kate Middleton is completely misguided and completely wrong," Cameron told Sky News.

Mantel, who last year became the first Briton to twice win the Man Booker prize for fiction, referred to the princess's severe morning sickness during the early stage of her pregnancy and said her role was to provide an heir.

"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 said in the lecture organised by the London Review of Books on February 4. The literary magazine reprinted the lecture on its website this week.


A smiling Duchess of Cambridge showed no sign of being affected by the row when she visited an addiction charity in London. Wearing a grey wrap dress, she crossed her hands over her small baby bump as she chatted to charity workers.

Well-wishers who waited in the late winter sunshine for a glimpse of her expressed sympathy.

"It's totally uncalled for," said Morag Hamilton, 36, from London. "It's a shame - that's what her life is going to become now.".

Mantel, 60, is best known for her historical novel "Wolf Hall", about the rise of blacksmith's son Thomas Cromwell to the pinnacle of power in King Henry VIII's court. Her follow-up "Bring Up the Bodies" recounted Anne Boleyn's fall from grace after failing to give Henry a male heir.

In her lecture, Mantel said the Duchess of Cambridge was "selected for her role ... because she was irreproachable", contrasting her with the "emotional incontinence" of William's late mother, Princess Diana.

"As painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character. She appears precision-made, machine-made, so different from Diana," Mantel said. The author's agent and a royal spokeswoman declined to comment.

Reaction on Twitter suggested Mantel had split public opinion. Royal commentator Robert Jobson said the "venomous attack" was "unfair and publicity-seeking". Others agreed with Mantel, saying she had elegantly articulated what many people had long thought about the royals.

The lecture looked at the public fascination with the "regal body", examining the lives of royal women and the importance of providing an heir. Mantel compared their fate to caged pandas in captivity.

"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," Mantel said. "But aren't they interesting? Aren't they nice to look at?"

(Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn in New Delhi; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Paul Casciato)

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Comments (7)
JimGoddard wrote:
‘Staggeringly rude’ sums up my own sentiments. Further evidence of just how idiotic some intelligent people can occasionally be. Mantel could have made the same general point about the role of women in the royal family much more powerfully by choosing her words more carefully and making her comments less personal. I’ve read a fuller account of what she said and to describe her comments as ‘crass’ would be an understatement. I’m a republican, but one can’t forget the people involved. Kate Middleton (or Windsor, as I guess she now is) won’t be in a position to reply but is a young woman in an exposed position who just has to endure this sort of stuff while getting used to constantly being in the public eye. I’m all for public debate about the monarchy, but whatever happened to good manners, diplomacy and tact? Mantel may not have meant to wound, but I hope she has the decency to regret her choice of words.

Feb 19, 2013 11:46am GMT  --  Report as abuse
Tazzer wrote:
Smacks of jealously if you ask me.

I know who I’d rather have a drink with, not the one that looks like Calista Flockhart after she’s been morphed with Margret Becket.

Feb 19, 2013 12:35pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
Phil999 wrote:
The point has apparently been missed again. People in the public eye are subjected to the way the media and the press, in particular, project their public image. The press can make or break anyone’s public persona, sometimes at a whim, as we have seen on many occasions. Perhaps we do not openly recognised that the ‘reports’ and comments we see from the media form our opinions on people we do not and will not actually ever know. We often think we know them well but we simply only know their public faces as the media want us to see them and form our opinions on what we believe to be factual, rather than the prejudice of the reporter.
The Royal Family has a very strong publicity machine working for it that tries to control the public image of its members. Even with all that muscle, the media will always win because of its control and power over what we are given to believe or not believe, as the case may be. I suggest we should treat what we are given to read, hear and watch by the media with a large pinch salt. The comments made are often a one way street in which the victim has very little opportunity to respond except through a biased media that will always have its own way, unless and until the public gets some control. I am in essence not in favour of censorship but arguments for of press control through legislation are completely understandable in our modern, make believe world.
Kate is probably a nice person who is just doing her best to be what she is expected to be as a princess. Do we know her? Is she special? The media will decide the answers to those questions for us. I am cynical and it works for me.

Feb 19, 2013 2:56pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
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