Award-winning author Hilary Mantel found herself surrounded by a storm of controversy Tuesday, as excerpts emerged from a recent lecture in which she skewers what she views as the public's simplified view of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and some media outlets criticized the two-time Booker Prize-winning author, essayist and critic for characterizing the 31-year-old wife of Prince William as "a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung...a shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she [wears]."
Cameron, who is currently travelling in India, said Mantel's comments were "completely misguided and completely wrong," while the Daily Mail blasted the Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies author on its front page for a "venomous attack" on Kate.
The comments were taken from Mantel's lecture, given earlier this month at the British Museum. It included observations about Kate.
Excerpts from the speech — the text of which has now been published by the London Review of Books — circulated widely on Tuesday, but many detractors did not note Mantel's description was of what she considers a prevailing image of Kate constructed by the media and the general public.
Describing a "perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished," Mantel said that the Duchess seemed" 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."
Lecture explores view of royal women over time
Mantel's lengthy speech explored the complex, voyeuristic relationship between the British public and the Royal Family over the centuries, in particular the public perception of royal women from Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn through Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, the late Princess of Wales, and Kate.
'Cheerful curiosity can easily become cruelty. It can easily become fatal. We don't cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them'—Hilary Mantel
"Along with the reverence and awe accorded to royal persons goes the conviction that the body of the monarch is public property. We are ready at any moment to rip away the veil of respect, and treat royal persons in an inhuman way, making them not more than us but less than us, not really human at all," Mantel says.
"Cheerful curiosity can easily become cruelty. It can easily become fatal. We don't cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them, and we did memorably drive one to destruction a scant generation ago. History makes fools of us, makes puppets of us, often enough. But it doesn't have to repeat itself," she adds, urging the public to "back off and not be brutes."
Mantel has declined to comment on the issue, as have representatives of the Duchess of Cambridge.
On Tuesday, masses of journalists and photographers turned up at a London addiction treatment centre for Kate's first public appearance since announcing her pregnancy in December, with reports emphasizing her growing "baby bump," her demeanour and her choice of fashion.