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Tuesday, February 19, 2013 

A plastic newspaper, edited to mislead.

When it comes to taking comments out of context, or to be accurate, deliberately misconstruing them, the hatchet job being performed on Hilary Mantel comes second only to the monstering Jeremy Clarkson received in late 2011 when his joke on the One Show was misunderstood by nincompoops.  "Venomous", says the Daily Mail's front page, Mantel savaged for daring to suggest the People's Kate is perhaps a little dull, as though she was "machine-made" for her role as duchess and (eventual) queen.  "Completely wrong and misguided", says David Cameron, taking a break from selling weapons to foreign johnnies to talk to the media, and what's more, she's "a fantastic ambassador for Britain".

A comment which says pretty much everything about how politics now sees the royal family.  Almost 80 years ago the then prime minister tried but ultimately failed to persuade Edward the VIII not to abdicate; now their usefulness extends only to how they influence Brand Britain.  As for how the rest of us view a family on welfare that is most certainly exempt from the bedroom tax, much of it comes from a media that doesn't really know what to do with them, post-Diana.  Once the likes of the Mirror urged royal princesses to make their mind up on whether to marry or not; now the closest they get is pondering as to whether they should publish incredibly grainy shots of Kate in a bikini.  The Sun might print Harry buck naked, covering his crown jewels with his hands, or indeed put a model wearing just a bikini and a pout on its front page the day after her violent death, but to publish snatched shots of a pregnant princess is now beyond the pale.

The end result of this decision as to which members of the royal family should be protected or venerated and which should be mocked or held in contempt is, as always, the most cynical humbug and hypocrisy.  While none of the papers would touch the shots of Kate on holiday with a barge pole, they will of course describe her as "putting her bump on parade" when she does venture out into the glare of the cameras.  Harry, meanwhile, used as a propaganda prop by the MoD, was treated even worse, his "comments" about killing Taliban which were in fact nothing of the sort becoming the story in part because of his open disgust for the media as made clear in the interview.  No one can say anything even slightly detrimental about Brenda herself, while it's all but permanent open season on Charles and her other two sons.

Even the most cursory glance at Mantel's speech makes clear that she is not saying unequivocally that Kate is an automaton, without character or personality or any of the other things that the Mail and other papers have got up in arms about, but rather that this is how the media and indeed the royals themselves have constructed her image.  Mantel writes in her very first paragraph that she "saw Kate becoming a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung", not that she is, or was.  Mantel sees her like this because this is how either the royals or the media want her to be seen, and in her view, it's as far from the image of Diana, as she was presented and later presented herself as it's possible to imagine.  The worst that can be said about Mantel's depiction of Kate is as the Heresiarch says, it comes across occasionally as "gratuitously mean", even if it also seems to be all but confirmed by the responses from Cameron and the boss of her charity.

More intriguing though is quite how far Mantel appears to fall for the cult of Diana.  This entire paragraph, taken from mid-way through the speech is almost certainly a shoe-in for the next Pseuds Corner:


In the next stage of her story, she passed through trials, through ordeals at the world’s hands. For a time the public refrained from demanding her blood so she shed it herself, cutting her arms and legs. Her death still makes me shudder because although I know it was an accident, it wasn’t just an accident. It was fate showing her hand, fate with her twisted grin. Diana visited the most feminine of cities to meet her end as a woman: to move on, from the City of Light to the place beyond black. She went into the underpass to be reborn, but reborn this time without a physical body: the airy subject of a hundred thousand photographs, a flicker at the corner of the eye, a sigh on the breeze.

A sticky stain on the newspaper, perhaps?  Quite why Diana continues to inspire this kind of almost idolatry is unclear: Mantel describes her as both receptive and passive, but she was also manipulative and more than capable of playing the media at their own game.  Her Panorama interview with Martin Bashir is the ultimate example of the underdog turning the tables on her accusers, and while she may have been uninformed by history as Mantel writes, she succeeded in writing her own.  Charles undoubtedly deserves all he gets and more, yet the idea that there were three people in the marriage is to completely forget about Diana's lovers, as indeed she wanted the public to.

That slight diversion into pretension aside, Mantel's speech is beautifully written, and if nothing else its seizure by the Mail means that many more will read and hear it than otherwise would have done.  I haven't read any of her novels so can't comment on how they ultimately play out, but her speech portrays the monarchy as a centuries long tragedy, and brings out the loneliness and futility of being a part of it, whether it be the guests at Buckingham Palace avoiding speaking to Brenda or the detritus of the event Charles was attending which he must notice everywhere he goes.  Where I part company with the Heresiarch is when he says "Kate herself is an entirely blameless woman, doing her best to make sense of her bizarre role in national life".  The second part is certainly true, and she may well be blameless, but she most definitely did have a choice as to whether or not to join the entire rotten institution.  She may not be able to control the way she has since been projected, or how her sister (or just a part of her anatomy) has been made into a sex object in her stead, but she didn't have to go along with the pantomime.  And ultimately, that's why she has to put up with the occasional jibe thrown her way, misconstrued in repetition or otherwise.

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