Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Smart, creative Mantel exposed to the grubby tactics of Fleet Street

Novelist Hilary Mantel is apparently lying low after some comments she made during a speech given this month at the British Museum for the London Review of Books. The British prime minister, Teddy Silvertongue, had to interrupt official duties in India to comment publicly in defense of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, who Mantel had apparently insulted. The Guardian is all over this story, and has run a good analysis of the case, which of course involves those famous British tabloids that everyone hates but that everyone reads. The things is that the tabloids took a few comments out of Mantel's hour-long contemplation on the fact of royalty and blew them up into a scandal.

Mantel won the top prize for novelists, the Booker, twice, both times for historical novels that examine the life of Thomas Cromwell, a statesman in the court of the savage Henry VIII. So Mantel knows a bit more about royalty than your average punter. Looking at those comments in isolation they do sound harsh. Harsh comments aimed at the British royals will, of course, please some people no end. But to the doughty, patriotic, lower-middle-class tabloids anything that denigrates the House of Windsor is taken as a personal slight on behalf of every right-thinking Briton alive. The operation had something fantastic about it, as though the newspaper editors were intent on inserting some monstrous Amazonian butterfly into a test tube, alive. Mantel's speech is long, thoughtful, interesting, and intellectually challenging. Which is natural because Mantel is a smart, educated, creative woman. To bring such a thing into contact with the grubby tools of Fleet Street is to guarantee some sort of damage, so Mantel is currently, as I said, lying low. If you have a free hour, listen to Mantel talking. It's worth it. It's not worth reading the stories that caused all this trouble, but check out the bottom link above as well, because he said first what I wanted to say. There you have it.

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