Kate Middleton made her first official appearance of 2013 on Tuesday, showing off the slight baby bump that has already transfixed legions of watchers.
But while the Duchess of Cambridge had planned to use her wattage to draw attention to Hope House, an all-female addiction rehab centre, many observers were looking for something else: A stiff upper lip in the face of a detailed skewering by a British writer.
In the London Review of Books, Hilary Mantel answers a hypothetical question: Pick a famous person and choose a book to give to them. She decided she would “give” the Duchess the book Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.
Mantel then describes the Duchess as a “jointed doll on which certain rags are hung” and having a “perfect plastic smile,” “her only only point and purpose being to give birth.”
“Kate,” writes Mantel, “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. Diana was capable of transforming herself from galumphing schoolgirl to ice queen, from wraith to Amazon. Kate seems capable of going from perfect bride to perfect mother, with no messy deviation.”
The Duchess may be cheered by people who came to her defence, including Prime Minister David Cameron. The Mirror reports that he spoke about the writer’s comments in New Delhi: "I think she writes great books, but I think what she's said about Kate Middleton is completely misguided and completely wrong."
And he told the BBC: "What I've seen of Princess Kate at public events, at the Olympics and elsewhere is this is someone who's bright, who's engaging, who's a fantastic ambassador for Britain.”
Telegraph writer Jake Wallis Simons, who points out that while the piece was framed as a cultural commentary, it still included painful insults that Mantel, who has written about her own struggles with body image, should have known better than to hurl.
In addition to that insult fest – which lasts, according to an online word count tool I used, for 5,730 words – just a few days earlier, the Duchess had been called out for wearing too many new rags.
In an interview at London Fashion Week, British designer Vivienne Westwood suggested the Duchess should recycle more of her clothes.
The Duchess may have already forgotten those comments, though, since she’s actually quite well known for wearing the same outfits over again. And also because the only reason Westwood was in front of a microphone was in the context of a fashion show, where, presumably, she was luring people into buying expensive new clothes.