It all began at the British Museum. The two-time Booker prize winner, reflecting on her favourite historical period…the time of Henry VIII and Cromwell… began a very amusing riff on royal wombs and vaginas; a shocking juxtaposition of noun and adjective which may have led Big Dave to charge to the defence of ‘Princess’ Kate.
Hilary was rightly pointing out the important role of those organs in the history of the monarchy & as she might have added of the Church of England too.
Her speech was reproduced in full in the London Review of Books:
Whilst she examines new evidence to show that Henry VIII’s story might have been a biological rather than a moral tragedy… given a possible rare blood-type of Kell’s positive… some of the best parts of her lecture describe the current monarch roaming the carpeted acres of a reception at Buckingham Palace stalking her guests, who ‘as if swept by the tide’, parted before her or surged ahead into the next room. The canapés were the Queen’s Revenge; small chunks of gristly meat on sticks… with no obvious disposal place for the latter; ‘as the guests ebbed away and the rooms emptied…what I saw placed at the base of every pillar, was a forest of little sticks: gnawed and abandoned’. Mantel magic.
Mantel sees similarities between Marie-Antoinette, Diana and Kate noting that the French Queen was ‘eaten alive by her frocks’. Parallels between the Marie-Antoinette and Diana seem particularly apt in the week that Diana’s dresses are sold … again.
The parallel between Diana and Kate seems less sure-footed for a number of reasons. Kate was not the ideal royal womb & had to wait for that ring for a long time (‘Waity Katie’). She has already shown everyone including the media that she knows how to play a long game. Cleverly she has already tweaked our expectations by shopping on the High Street … making the fortunes of Reiss & L.K.Bennett… and swapping clothes with her mother. The Middleton women seem to be thin because they want to be & can. Not because of media scrutiny and criticism or pressure from the Great British Public (GBP).
Whatever Hilary says, and as she recognizes, one thing is sure: nothing will stop us looking. After all one cannot be a National Symbol in private; and the GBP and others need some return on their investment. Where royals are not symbols… as in Belgium or Holland perhaps… and they don’t cost so much, very few people care or even know what they look like.
However there is a balance to be struck. Complaints that Kate is just a ‘machine-made plastic princess’ & we don’t know if she has opinions seem beside the point.
Does anyone seek out the Queen’s opinions at her own receptions?
Do we really want a repetition of Diana’s mawkish revelations to Panorama http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/politics97/diana/panorama.html or Charles’s absurd tampongate with Camilla? In this light the frequently rehearsed ‘hatred of the media’ by (those symbols) William & Harry, because of what the media did to their mother, seems a little forced (and wasn’t her chauffeur over the limits); but no doubt it’s an easier narrative to deal with than hating their father?
There’s a delicate balance to be achieved. We don’t want too much revelation from our Symbols but we do appreciate it if they rattle the cage from time to time. The Duke of Edinburgh has a sure hand here. As has the Queen… with one famous miss-step after Diana’s death… let’s hope that she is mentoring her grand-daughter -in-law as they trudge gamely round Baker Street Tube Station, or attend a fashion show in some remote northern outpost.
The Queen’s Olympic outing as a Bond Girl was a bold and very successful pushing of the symbolic envelope. And maybe she has got a taste for impersonation now… perhaps she is impersonating Helen Mirren even as we speak.
*** Tenniel’s famous drawing of the Duchess for Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland