Oct 6, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 04 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Hilary Mantel is a bestselling British novelist whose works—mostly historical fiction, or novels and stories with contemporary political overtones—are better known in Great Britain than here. Which is surprising, since the 62-year-old Dame Hilary has a knack for self-publicity.
Last year, for example, she caused a minor sensation when, in a lecture, she characterized Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, as a “precision-made, machine-made [mannequin] . . . with a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished.” Indeed, she went on at some length in this critical vein—comparing “the plastic princess born to breed” unfavorably with Princess Diana and Anne Boleyn—and with such vehemence as to invite comparison with her own appearance.
Now she’s at it again. Readers of last week’s New York Times Book Review will have noticed the appearance of a short story (“The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher”) from Mantel’s forthcoming collection. Its plot is simple and self-explanatory: In 1983, two London acquaintances discuss the possibility—indeed, the desirability—of shooting to death Margaret Thatcher, who can be seen from the narrator’s window. Dame Hilary has explained that she, herself, once saw Mrs. Thatcher from her window during the Falklands war, and entertained similar thoughts. Certainly the narrator’s extended commentary about Thatcher—closer in tone to an op-ed than to imaginative literature—may be taken to be Hilary Mantel’s voice.
All of which, of course, yielded an even stronger reaction than her snarky comments about Kate Middleton. Indeed, like moths drawn to the flame, certain Conservative members of Parliament went so far as to suggest that the law might get involved in the case, since romanticizing the murder of public officials could inspire potential assassins. As well it could—-except that Mantel’s story is, ostensibly, fictional, and, in our transatlantic world, people aren’t chased by the police for their thoughts, no matter how unseemly. Freedom of thought, as Justice Holmes once declared, includes “freedom for the thought that we hate.”
The Scrapbook has two observations about this, and one question. First, the (understandably) indignant reaction of Margaret Thatcher’s friends and admirers to Mantel’s story allowed publications such as the Guardian—which is ordinarily happy to silence unpopular opinion—to take the high road on the question of speech. It’s more than a little annoying to be lectured on artistic license and freedom of conscience by people who believe that “hurtful” speech or “hateful” imagery or “offensive” ideas should be suppressed.
Second, Mantel’s story revived our memory of a now-forgotten 2004 novel by the American writer Nicholson Baker, Checkpoint, which has a comparable plot. In Checkpoint, two acquaintances meet in a hotel room in Washington and discuss the possibility—“for the good of humankind”—of assassinating George W. Bush. In Baker’s novel, as in Mantel’s story, the ending is conveniently ambiguous: Thatcher might have been shot, and Bush might have been killed; but we don’t know for certain. And as with Hilary Mantel, what we know about Nicholson Baker suggests that the mixture of fiction and fact—of author’s sentiment and narrative viewpoint—is deliberate and heartfelt.
Which leads to one question: What is it about the impotent rage of the cultural left? It is often said that while conservatives think liberals are misguided, liberals believe that conservatives are evil. Certainly the fevered visions—the dreams of murderous violence—in Nicholson Baker and Dame Hilary Mantel suggest that “rage” is the pertinent term here. Our friends on the left should consider their reaction if the tables were turned, and pop a Valium.
Before the trenchesSep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The Great War did not begin in the trenches, in rain, mud, and dark futility. At first, the fighting was out in the open under blue skies and late summer sunshine. There were bugles and drums, and sometimes the troops even sang when they charged. French officers leading these attacks wore white gloves.
On the whole, Europe welcomed the war. One of England’s finest young poets, Rupert Brooke, wrote in gratitude
Are the Tories already doomed?Jun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By ANDREW STUTTAFORD
A time bomb does not have to be elegant; it just has to be lethal, primed, and in the right place when the moment comes. Britain’s next general election is set for May 7, 2015. That is likely the day when David Cameron will pay the full price for failing to have defused the revolt on his right.
The English version of civility. Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By SARA LODGE
Two truths tend to strike people around middle age: Money buys less than it once did, and manners are in decline.
Is it ethical to make three-parent babies?Sep 2, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 48 • By BRENDAN P. FOHT
The decision by the British government earlier this summer to approve a suite of new technologies that would make possible the creation of human embryos with three genetic parents has brought a long-simmering and seemingly obscure bioethical debate into the public eye, raising questions not only about the future of human reproductive technologies but also about some practices that have been with us for decades.
The European Union’s coming attack on the Anglo-Saxon financial sector Jul 1, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 40 • By ANDREW STUTTAFORD
Take a visit to the cyber-belly of the beast, to a website run by the European Commission, the EU’s bureaucratic core, and you will be told that “the financial sector was a major cause of the [economic] crisis and received substantial government support.” Soon it will be payback time, in the form of Europe’s new Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), set to be levied at a rate of 0.1 percent on equity and debt transactions, and 0.01 percent on trades in derivatives. It will ensure that the financial sector “makes a fair and substantial contribution to public finances.”
The Chelsea Flower Show celebrates its centennial. Jun 17, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 38 • By SARA LODGE
In his short story “The Occasional Garden,” Saki pinpoints a subject dear to the British heart, but also key to its social anxieties. Elinor Rapsley is about to receive a lunch visit from a woman whom she detests, Gwenda Pottingdon. Gwenda’s garden is the envy of the neighborhood; Elinor’s is a barren wasteland. Gwenda is coming on purpose to crow over Elinor’s pathetic pansies while describing her own rare and sumptuous roses.
Hosted by Michael Graham.4:00 PM, Apr 8, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with William Kristol on the rise of Margaret Thatcher and the lessons for today's GOP.
Mar 25, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 27 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
The American position on the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic should be obvious.
The elder brother of Charles I, in pictures and memory.Feb 4, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 20 • By SARA LODGE
Henry IX is one of the most interesting monarchs Britain never had.
Where the Bright Young Things escaped from World War II.Oct 29, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 07 • By EDWARD SHORT
Now, wherever we turn, the cry has become incessant: The rich are not doing enough.
Why the author doesn’t like Churchill’s ‘History of the English-Speaking Peoples.’ Sep 24, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 02 • By EDWARD SHORT
Not long ago I was in Boston browsing the stacks of that legendary emporium, the Brattle Book Shop, when I chanced upon Winston Spencer Churchill: Servant of Crown and Commonwealth, a collection of tributes to the parliamentarian, war leader, historian, and wit, which his longstanding English publisher Cassell brought out in 1954 to celebrate the great man’s 80th birthday.
The royal consort as hero.Feb 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 21 • By TRACY LEE SIMMONS
Last April’s wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, ubiquitously covered from Westminster Abbey by every medium from satellite to iPhone, served up a reminder that even we in this constitutional republic, where all are equal, can always be counted on to get caught up with the lives of those who are a good deal more equal than others.