Royal bodies and other stars: the row that is not

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 20, 2013
Kate Middleton, British Royal Family

The Duchess doing what royal bodies do – at a public event last year

Kate Middleton’s royal body has become a talking point. What, you say, yet again? Just last week, there were the bikini shots, a few months ago the topless shots, and before that, constant tittle tattle about her slenderness, her wardrobe and dress sense and whether or not, she was a natural princess. Now, everyone is exercised about whether or not Kate Middleton is a perfect princess or a passive doll? The very cerebral Hilary Mantel thinks the latter and takes a very long, broad – and I would say, very deep – view of what it means to be a royal wife. “A royal lady is a royal vagina,” writes Mantel.

Cue, outrage from right the way across the board. What’s the point of the British Royal Family if one can’t have a decent controversy and column inches of coverage?

Early on in her London Review of Books essay, Mantel explains why she’s been musing on the subject. At a literary festival, she was asked to name a famous person and choose a book to give them. She chose the Duchess of Cambridge and elected to give her cultural historian Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.

William and Kate wedding

The transformational moment – when Kate Middleton became as Hilary Mantel says, ‘a royal body’

“I saw 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. 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,” writes Mantel.

Can we, in conscience, deny any of this? Does it make Kate Middleton a less relevant to recognize her place in the world – as mother-to-be of a little prince or princess, instrument of the lambent flame of genetic continuation? Or must she be brilliant and Best of British too?

Does any of this matter anyway? Evidently. Everyone’s writing about it. Everyone’s talking about it. Even the British prime minister judged it right and proper to wade into the controversy.

But what’s been ignored is the last paragraph of Mantel’s piece, when she pleads for people to back off Kate Middleton and allow her a life. “It may be that the whole phenomenon of monarchy is irrational, but that doesn’t mean that when we look at it we should behave like spectators at Bedlam. Cheerful curiosity can easily become cruelty,” she says, concluding that even though “we don’t cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them.”

Fewer circuses around Kate Middleton? Is that not kinder than the politically correct chorus that insists her role in Britain today is akin to some of the heavy lifting and heavy thinking that must fall to, say the Governor of the Bank of England?