Dr Starkey rather cuttingly said last week that he’d not read Hilary Mantel’s books nor seen the BBC adaptation Wolf Hall. Why would he want to, as someone who is a “massive believer in fact”?
I breathed a sigh of relief. I was not alone in finding her novels unreadable, even though I am not, like the great Dr Starkey, a Tudor historian.
Wolf Hall, he said, is a deliberate perversion of history. I suspected as much. That’s partly why despite all those inviting accolades from the TV critics, I have refused on principle to watch it. For Dr Starkey is incensed by Ms Mantel’s misrepresentation of the characters of Cromwell and his arch-enemy Thomas More. This twisted history is the extraordinary and perverse achievement of Hilary Mantel and BBC drama, one which makes of Thomas Cromwell, a flawed hero, and of St Thomas More, one of the greatest Englishmen, a scheming villain. As the Bishop of Shrewsbury commented yesterday: “It is not necessary to share Thomas More’s faith to recognize his heroism – a man of his own time who remains an example of integrity for all times.” he said.
He right of course but Hilary Mantel hates Sir Thomas More’s faith, as she hates many things. The various publicity-seeking interviews and lectures she’s given suggest that hatred, bitterness as well as a deep cynicism colour her vision. They reveal little of generosity of spirit in her.
For example, she believes the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people and that Catholicism “.. is a great training in doubleness – this looks like bread but it is actually a man’s body, this looks like wine but it’s actually blood. And that’s very much a writer’s way of thinking – she comes in and says good morning, but she means damn you to hell.”
Indeed – her way of thinking.
She uses her literary talent to vent her bile and the Catholic Church is far from her only target. She has a way with words that in the past would simply have been called ‘catty’.
That’s what her swipe at the unsuspecting Kate Middleton a year or two back looked like to me. While most of looked on with delight as Kate Middleton’s engagement to William breathed fresh air and love into the life of the Royal Family and the nation, Mantel put out her claws.
Mantel said that Kate (yes the one who’d charmed the public with her open smile, naturalness, warmth and manners) “appeared to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen, with a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished”.
No one ever told the young Hilary that if you can’t find anything nice to say about someone say nothing at all. “Kate”, she went on sneeringly, “seems capable of going from perfect bride to perfect mother, with no messy deviation”. Since this is exactly what most women still dream of what may I ask was wrong with that? Well everything of course if you are an angry and bitter feminist – as Mantel appears to be.
These were the comments of a woman who also has had the gall to criticise another woman, Mrs Thatcher, (another national icon she bitterly objects to) for living ‘the unexamined life’ and, would you believe it, for not liking other women. Apart from simply being untrue, the cheek of it! Talk about a beam and a mote.
Along with the Catholics and the Royals, Mantel has set her sightline on vilifying our first and so far only woman Prime Minister. Her recent collection of short stories The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, describes, yes you have got it, the fictional assassination of the former prime minister in 1983 at the hands of an IRA gunman; something I suspect she wished she could rewrite history on. But this time she went too far and it backfired. The Daily Telegraph refused to publish the story on sight of it despite having paid the author a hefty advance.
Not that this has stopped the venomous Ms Mantel from holding forth in interviews as her prejudiced thoughts on and explicit hatred for Mrs Thatcher reveal:
Imagine the consequences of having the first woman prime minister who is the milk snatcher. She takes away the nourishment of the nation.
It was unfortunate for other women who might come after her that the first woman to become prime minister was a male impersonator. And in order to successfully impersonate men, the woman launched a war. [laughs]
She scorned and despised other women, and predicated her values entirely on the values of her father, a small town shopkeeper.
I would say that she wrecked this country. I loathed her.
Mantel is an easily riled woman. Her hackles rise too when people begin to talk about “our island story”. The term she thinks is deluded and conservative.
It’s no wonder that the ‘witch is dead’ brigade at the BBC loves her and her jaundiced interpretation of the country’s history so much.
After all, she’s a woman who hates her country, hates femininity, despises the Royals and is not just anti-Catholic but anti-Catholics too – and – she rewrites history according to her very own brand of bigotry. Of course she is just perfect for the BBC. They are made for each other.