The Duchess of Cambridge is topless in the French magazine Closer, and it is too close. She is no feminist, or anything like one. She is a semi-silent, semi-saintly doll (the recent photographs of her in a headscarf touring the Far East invite comparison with plastic Madonnas), who in her
engagement interview clutched her husband's hand and called him "a good teacher", as the feminist clock tick-tocked in the wrong direction.
To me, her choices are inexplicable - why educate a woman to be a publicist for a less equal society, where her loveliness is a distraction from other less lovely things? But too many people defend only duchesses they approve of, or duchesses who choose to leave, because they can no longer bear their husbands or people who read Closer.
Any sensible debate about the royal family and its corruption, which is rampant, despite claims of modernisation - their income has risen in this recession, and they are as profligate as ever - does not need a topless duchess on a sunlounger. She deserves criticism for her perfect interpretation of a surrendered wife, a wilting companion to Prince William's barely disguised rage. But this is too naked a punishment.
She is a reactionary figure, and this is a reactionary crime, even if the editor-in-chief of Closer - a self-serving monster called Laurence Pieau - calls it great fun. "She's a real 21st century princess. It's a young woman who is topless, the same as you can see on any beach in France or around the world," Pieau said. Any defence of these photographs is nonsense, including the tired press freedom argument. Poor press freedom, wanting to be free for Kate's breasts, or Harry's bottom, and not more interesting things the Windsor family is right to sue. We bought the clothes. We do not own the flesh.
Stories about her clothes surpass stories about the West Asia in volume, as if we want our public discourse to exist in some randomly chosen woman's wardrobe. It was the same with Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson: both dressed and undressed in a spotlight, and both left their marriages unhappier than they arrived.
The next story will be her pregnancy, or non-pregnancy. Should she conceive, Kate will not give birth in public, like Marie Antoinette, but it will be public. Perhaps the most offensive thing is that it will do the monarchy no harm, because it is a love of sorts. (What her controlling husband will say to this mistake is another thing.) Enjoy the photographs, or hate them, or both they will only add to her myth. The worst nightmare for monarchy is indifference. Tabloid tales and tawdry soap opera do not diminish it, if other family members are more stable, or too old to take their clothes off, or to play strip pool. Fascination, no matter the vessel, no matter how squalid, is essential.
It is grating to ascribe victimhood to a woman so privileged, especially now, when other victims are many, and growing, but she is a victim. The government's assault on the poor is ever more vicious, even as London Evening Standard's front-page headline on Thursday was "Kate's kindness", accompanied by a photograph of the Duchess sitting with a child who has leukaemia the next step is obviously to imbue her with healing powers, like the old monarchs, who 'cured' with touch. Her trajectory whizzes on to who knows where. No one can live for long in a euphoric dream, as Auden wrote. It will end badly.
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