Hilary Mantel, the prize-winning English novelist who certainly can write up a storm in her books (and whose tongue is as sharp as her pen, that is to say, razor sharp), ignited another kind of storm yesterday over in England when she was revealed to have said of beautiful pregnant British Princess Kate (that’s the princess at left, no one would ever accuse Ms. Mantel of being beautiful):
“Kate seems to have been selected for her role of princess because she was irreproachable: as painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character. She appears precision-made, machine-made, so different from Diana whose human awkwardness and emotional incontinence showed in her every gesture.”
She characterized the former Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, as “plastic”, as a “breeding machine.” Oh, the uproar! I took the time to click on the link to the very long lecture by Mantel from which the inflammatory sentences were abstracted, and found instead of pop scandal, a treatise on royalty far more nuanced and complex than the sensational headlines. Why should I have been surprised? (Here’s the link to the lecture. Those interested in the question of monarchy and history and roles of women will find it long but interesting. As I said, the woman can write up a storm.)
The reason I’m telling you all this is twofold. First, Downton Abbey finished off Season 3 this week by finishing off Matthew, eldest daughter Lady Mary’s divinely understanding husband, in a car crash. Fortunately Matthew was in a state of bliss at the time because his first child, son and heir to Downton Abbey (talk about relevant headlines) had just been born. Now that Matthew/Dan Stevens has departed for a better world (in Hollywood? on Broadway? at Ealing Studios?) next season’s plot certainly will have to deal with the changing role of Lady Mary in a changing world for the aristocracy. Talk about relevance!
And second, I think that aggression and ill-nature (if it was in fact ill-nature that prompted Ms. Mantel’s remarks), is contagious. So I hope that explains the ill-natured comment I’m about to make about Lord Grantham, the lord and heir of Downton Abbey. Hugh Bonneville, the actor who portrays Lord Grantham, is very much an imposing lordly presence. Sometimes he is an exceedingly imposing presence. His presence, as it were, runneth over. So much so that I find myself thinking of him (in the privacy of my own mind, of course) as the Larded Gentry.
I don’t mean to be unkind, but Lord Grantham appears to be about three feet wide in his sausage-tight old Army uniform. Carson, the butler, also appears to be stuffed. A perfect example, it seems to me, of an old adage: Like master, like man.
Well, we in the USA don’t have royals. We have to roll up pomp and power and riches all in a single package, where England gets to divide them up. Sometimes I think that more is merrier, or perhaps even useful; that having royalty can be an advantage. What about you, my friends? Some of you are American, many are from other countries. What do you think about the institution of royals?