There’s a mounting whirlwind of press coverage about Hilary Mantel’s Royal Bodies column in the LRB, claiming that it’s a vicious attack on Kate Middleton. The headline for the Stuff story is Novelist Lashes out at Kate Middleton. You can read it for yourself here, and quickly discover that the actual article is (amoungst other things) a lashing out, vicious attack etc on the public obsession with royalty and the media’s exploitation of that obsession. Sample quote:
When her pregnancy became public she had been visiting her old school, and had picked up a hockey stick and run a few paces for the camera. BBC News devoted a discussion to whether a pregnant woman could safely put on a turn of speed while wearing high heels. It is sad to think that intelligent people could devote themselves to this topic with earnest furrowings of the brow, but that’s what discourse about royals comes to: a compulsion to comment, a discourse empty of content, mouthed rather than spoken.
Much of the essay is about Henry VIII and his Queens, and the creepy, unchanging prurience about the sexuality of royal persons:
As for depression, he had a great deal to be depressed about: not just his isolation on the world stage, but his own decay and deterioration. He had magnificent portraits created, and left them as his surrogates to stare down at his courtiers while he retreated into smaller, more intimate spaces. Yet he was quite unable to keep private what was happening to his own body. The royal body exists to be looked at. The world’s focus on body parts was most acute and searching in the case of Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife. No one understood what Henry saw in Jane, who was not pretty and not young. The imperial ambassador sneered that ‘no doubt she has a very fine enigme’: which is to say, secret part. We have arrived at the crux of the matter: a royal lady is a royal vagina. 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.
You really need to bend over backwards to read this as ‘Novelist lashes out at Kate Middleton’, but when you’re a news site on which the lead story is usually about ‘Kate’s Baby Bump‘ this sort of stuff must cut pretty close.