Here we are, more than a month after Hilary Mantel’s widely derided LRB lecture (or “Kate Gate,” if you will) and finally, the author speaks. The media can’t seem to get enough of this fluffed up feud – a near Million Little Pieces size PR scandal and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in haste. It’s been a long time since James Frey lied to Oprah and the nation, nay the world, was outraged. But this time, there’s a different “scandal” on our hands. We’ve got a classic case of ugly witch scholar v. pretty, pretty princess, as painted by The Daily Mail and for heaven’s sake, The Telegraph, reducing Mantel’s laser-precision to a petty narrative of female jealousy For some brief background, simply search for two-time Booker Prize winning author, Hilary Mantel, and Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, but do yourself a favor and read the original, wholly eloquent lecture entitled Royal Bodies here in its entirety first before you get into the tabloid outrage.
For her part, Mantel remained stone silent for a month and a week, neither leaping to defend her meaning and how grossly it was misconstrued by the public and the papers, nor taking to Twitter to lash out against the myriad of hateful comments directed towards her in the form of personal attacks (her age, her weight, her lack of children.) One must applaud Mantel for simply refusing to dignify anyone with an immediate answer. She is the rare author who understands that silence can be just as potent as soaring rhetoric. Her point was made and she wisely receded into the wings to wait out the farcical press pageant. The Duchess has wisely declined to comment so there is hope that Camp Catherine has understood that Mantel is a writer of historical fiction who gave a scholarly talk on the history of the monarchical body. In her remarks to the BBC, Mantel expresses as much and insists that she owes no one an apology and good on her for that.
Kate Gate is a textbook example of the dangers of forced punditry once you’ve achieved a certain level of literary acclaim. Hilary Mantel did not set out to become the most hated woman in Britain when she gave her incredibly potent lecture last month. That much I think we can assume. British press and blogs the world over pounced on quotes taken out of context and lazily inferred some deep-seeded animosity between writer and royal, but had they taken the trouble to read any of Mantel’s previous work, they would see a consistent example of razor-sharp wit and cultural reflection. Perhaps it is the looking glass held high that is the malicious act? In any case, were Mantel my author (would that she were!) I would have advised her to react as graciously as she has by not deigning to react until the dust had settled. The last thing the media needs is fuel for its insatiable fire but when an author does pipe up with a dignified, levelheaded response, it is a humble serving of crow tart for those who should have known better than to print dreck in the first place.