Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

It’s not write to attack Kate


WRITER Hilary Mantel went from comparative obscurity to public enemy No1 last week.  It wasn’t an unguarded Facebook post, an ill-judged tweet or even a spur-of-the-moment insult. It was a crafted, pre-planned lecture at the British Museum.” 

Rarely does a speech become such a cause celebre. That quote from a  Sunday Mail OpEd (whose headline I have pinched) is snide, inversely snobbish and factually incorrect. It perfectly captures the essence of the 100,000 or so stories you can read about this now famous  stoush-that-wasn’t-one.

What a pity none of them is based on the actual speech.  Salon and Huffpo and our own Mamamia did at least  link to it; but if you want an account from someone who was there, you have to read  the New Statesman.

I sat in the audience that evening marvelling at Mantel’s knowledge of her subject and the honesty of her argument. As in her fiction, she was incisive to the point of cruelty …. Her central thesis was concerned with how we scrutinise and sacrifice our royal women.

The fuss over the toy-like image of the Duchess of Cambridge has blocked from view Mantel’s biting yet sympathetic take on the condition of being royal, and crucially, her concluding plea: 

“Cheerful curiosity can easily become cruelty. It can easily become fatal. We don’t cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them, and we did memorably drive one to destruction a scant generation ago. History makes fools of us, makes puppets of us, often enough. But it doesn’t have to repeat itself. In the current case, much lies within our control. I’m asking us to back off and not be brutes.” 

If you listen to this talk, it will take you an hour.  It will be enjoyable, but demanding. She’s a writer, not an orator. Her  storytelling prowess is gigantic, her gift for language daunting. She is  savage, insightful, scathing, self-deprecating, thought provoking, sympathetic, wry and amusing.  We are carried along as if on a boat. She rhotocises (look it up). Her voice is flutey, scratchy; her delivery deliberate, but clear.

Click here for the audio and transcript in the London Review of Books, who hosted the event. Last Week’s Media Watch is also well worth a look, for its analysis of how the Media went nowhere near the source before weighing into the debate.

And  read on for a list  of  my favourite bits.

“Marie Antoinette was a woman eaten alive by her frocks. She was transfixed by appearances, stigmatised by her fashion choices. Politics were made personal in her….She was a woman who couldn’t win”.

Princess Diana, whose  “human awkwardness and emotional incontinence showed in her every gesture… drove to St Paul’s…a blur of virginal white behind glass…An everyday sort of girl had been squashed into the coach, but a goddess came out. She didn’t get out of the coach in any ordinary way: she hatched. The extraordinary dress came first, like a flow of liquid, like ectoplasm emerging from the orifices of a medium. It was a long moment before she solidified.”

“Long before Kate’s big news was announced, the tabloids wanted to look inside her to see if she was pregnant”

“Historians are still trying to peer inside the Tudors. …The story of Henry and his wives is… timeless and universally understood; it is highly political and also highly personal. It is about body parts.”

“Anne Boleyn, in particular, is a figure who elicits a deep response, born out of ignorance often enough but also out of empathy…There is a prurient curiosity around her, of the kind that gathered around Wallis Simpson”

“The queen passed close to me and I stared at her. I am ashamed now to say it but I passed my eyes over her as a cannibal views his dinner”.

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