By Patricia Treble - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 0 Comments
“Her eyes are dead.” “She appears precision-made, machine made.” “Designed to breed in some manners.” Those are a few of the harsh comments directed at Kate, duchess of Cambridge by Hilary Mantel, who’s won two Booker prizes for instalments of her popular Thomas Cromwell series. They come from a biting lecture, “Royal Bodies,” delivered on Feb. 4 but just noticed by the press, at the British Museum for a London Review of Books series. While the lecture covers the baby-making qualities of everyone from Anne Boleyn to Marie Antoinette and Diana, princess of Wales, Mantel’s criticisms of Kate are its heart.
“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. These days she is a mother-to-be, and draped in another set of threadbare attributions…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. She appears precision-made, machine-made, so different from Diana whose human awkwardness and emotional incontinence showed in her every gesture. Diana was capable of transforming herself from galumphing schoolgirl to ice queen, from wraith to Amazon. Kate seems capable of going from perfect bride to perfect mother, with no messy deviation.”
Even Prime Minister David Cameron stepped into the controversy, calling Mantel’s comments “completely misguided and completely wrong.” The tabloids, needless to say, have gone ballistic. And, for them, the timing couldn’t be better, for they could juxtapose Mantel’s biting works with new pictures of Kate. Tuesday, she appeared at her first engagement in two months. Showing off her baby bump in a close-fitting wrap dress, she visited one of her charities, Hope House, an addiction recovery centre foe women in London.
Though seemingly harsh for the sake gaining attention when it comes to Kate, Mantel’s lecture is also a rollickingly good read, especially when she highlights the regal gilded cage–”everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage”— in which the Windsors live:
“I used to think that the interesting issue was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not? 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. But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage.”
By John Geddes - Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 11:26 AM - 0 Comments
I happened to stay up late last night to finish the Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, in which novelist Hilary Mantel imagines Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s often vilified chief minister, as a wily humanist who ushers England toward modern government. This being a story of 16th-century statecraft, torture and executions feature prominently. More than once the question of whether the king might show sufficient mercy to have someone’s head cut off, rather than burning them alive, arises.
I woke up this morning to read, on the front page of the paper, that the Iranian government has bowed to international pressure and is reviewing a sentence of death by stoning, handed down by one of its courts against a 43-year-old woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, convicted of adultery. The fear now is that Iran might hang her instead. It would have been comforting to pretend that the grislier concerns of Cromwell’s time were not still so precisely present in our own.
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 10:50 AM - 3 Comments
The Booker winner and a GG nominee take very different approaches to historical fiction
The English and those who trace their lineage, or at least their language, to Shakespeare’s sceptred isle, have always loved the Tudor era. It’s short and tidy (just three generations of rulers), full of sex and blood (Henry VIII and all those wives), exciting moments of glory (Francis Drake) and high art (Shakespeare). Hundreds of popular novels—not to mention hit TV series—have been set in the period, many of them, author Hilary Mantel waspishly notes, excuses to write about “sex and violence and the war between men and women—a lot of cheap romantic fiction.” All that goes a long way to explaining why Wolf Hall, Mantel’s massive novel of Thomas Cromwell, the royal official who masterminded Henry VIII’s first divorce and break with Rome, was always the favourite to take the Booker prize—bookies set their odds by bettors’ wagers, not by their literary opinions. It does not, however, explain why the novel actually won the Booker.
The vexing question of genre fiction—mystery, horror, romance, science fiction, fantasy and historical, to name the most prominent—doesn’t so much divide readers, critics and prize juries as confuse them. The barriers between genres are porous—romance-mysteries are common—and the line between the genres and literary fiction, which is what is supposed to be celebrated by the prestigious prizes, is in the eye of the beholder. Perceptions can turn on a writer’s reputation. Someone who made her name in historical fiction wouldn’t stand a chance, however good her work, of a Booker nomination. Mantel, though, is a well-regarded author whose seven previous novels have settings as diverse as present-day Saudi Arabia and Paris during the Terror. In short, a literary writer who sometimes mines the past. It helps even more to be Margaret Atwood. Her Oryx and Crake is beautifully written, scathingly intelligent—and pure science fiction. But that didn’t stop the Giller jury from shortlisting it in 2003. Continue…