Hilary Mantel: Something For The Weakened


Insert spiteful but deserved because she was rude about ‘Our Kate’ caption here. Image: Stuart Wilson/Getty Images Europe.

Two weeks ago yesterday, Hilary Mantel spoke for over an hour to a sold out audience as part of the London Review of Books series of Winter Lectures. Entitled ‘Royal Bodies’, the author spoke of our fascination with the appearance and physiological details of royal family members from Ann Boleyn to Kate Middleton. She discussed fashion, pregnancy, perceptions, pressures and the social &  political complications that can arise from choosing the wrong outfit.

It was, as you might expect from a two time Man Booker prize winner, a thoroughly entertaining, insightful and at times appropriately caustic response to what is an abiding obsession of the British.

In days gone by, a person like Hilary Mantel, who has dedicated much of her life to the study of a specific subject, would have been considered an authority figure. Her evocative prose would have given pause to those of us less inclined to spend our time absorbed in literature and perhaps inspire some to further study.

Today we prefer to be guided by lazy news editors, who cherry pick specific contextual references to a current royal figure and present them as prima facie evidence of the author’s spitefulness. Far from being a figure of inspiration, Hilary Mantel is instantly transformed into yet another target of the generalised, apathetic ire we prefer to expend our excess energy upon.

At this point, ‘off with their heads’ seems like the least we should be demanding.