Celebrated British Writer Derides Kate Middleton As 'Shop-Window Mannequin'

One of Britain's most celebrated authors has launched a withering attack on the Duchess of Cambridge, the pregnant wife of Prince William, branding her a "shop-window mannequin" with a plastic smile whose only role in life is to breed. Prime Minister David Cameron described award-winning writer Hilary Mantel as "misguided" after she likened the former Kate Middleton to a "machine made" doll, devoid of personality.

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There is nothing the British enjoy more than a good argument about their royal family. And there's a juicy one under way right now. It involves prestigious people, including a prize-winning author and the British prime minister.

NPR's Philip Reeves has the story.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hilary Mantel is one of Britain's most celebrated authors. Her novels about England's Tudor monarchs sell across the world. She's won the prestigious Man Booker Prize not once, but twice.

So her remarks about Kate Middleton, who'll one day be Britain's Queen Consort, are causing surprise and, in some quarters, outrage. She made them in a recent speech at an event organized by the London Review of Books.

Mantel says Kate seems to have been selected to be a princess because she was irreproachable and also she's as...

HILARY MANTEL: Painfully thin as anyone could wish, without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character.

REEVES: Mantel draws a contrast between Kate and the late Princess Diana, saying Kate appears...

MANTEL: Machine-made, precision-made. So different from Diana, whose human awkwardness and emotional incontinence showed in every gesture.

REEVES: Mantel says she used to see Kate as a shop window mannequin, entirely defined by what she wore. But now that Kate is a mother-to-be, with morning sickness...

MANTEL: She's draped in another set of threadbare attributions. Once she gets over being sick, the press will decide she's radiant.

(LAUGHTER)

MANTEL: And they will find that this young woman's life, until now, was nothing, her only point and purpose being to give birth.

REEVES: In Britain, these days, you criticize the monarchy at your peril. The English are in a generally patriotic mood, stoked up by last year's Olympics and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

No tabloid newspaper is a more accurate bellwether of that mood than the jingoistic Daily Mail. Mantel's words are astonishing and venomous, yells its front page.

Prime Minister David Cameron is joining the fray, saying he thinks Mantel writes great books...

DAVID CAMERON: But I think what she said about Kate Middleton is completely misguided, completely wrong.

REEVES: There may well be a misunderstanding here. Some commentators say Mantel's speech is an indictment of the way Britain's royals - especially women - are exploited by the press and public.

Author Kate Williams says Mantel is actually defending the royals.

KATE WILLIAMS: She's saying we shouldn't look at them like they're animals in the zoo. We should see them as whole people.

REEVES: You see, Mantel ends that speech with an appeal about the way the royals are treated.

MANTEL: I'm not asking for censorship. I'm not asking for pious humbug or smarmy reverence. I am asking us to back off and not be brutes.

REEVES: Kate Middleton could not have put it better herself.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

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