Hilary Mantel

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Dame Hilary Mantel
Born Hilary Mary Thompson
(1952-07-06) 6 July 1952 (age 63)
Glossop, Derbyshire, UK
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, essayist and critic
Nationality British
Alma mater University of Sheffield
Notable works Wolf Hall,
Bring Up the Bodies
Notable awards Man Booker Prize
2009, 2012
Walter Scott Prize
Costa Novel Prize
Spouse Gerald McEwen (m. 1972)
from the BBC programme Bookclub, 6 October 2013[1]


Dame Hilary Mary Mantel, DBE FRSL (/mænˈtɛl/ man-TEL;[2] born Thompson, 6 July 1952), is an English writer whose work includes personal memoirs, short stories, and historical fiction.[3]

She has twice been awarded the Booker Prize, the first for the 2009 novel Wolf Hall, a fictional account of Thomas Cromwell's rise to power in the court of Henry VIII, and the second for the 2012 novel Bring Up the Bodies, the second installment of the Cromwell trilogy. Mantel was the first woman to receive the award twice, following in the footsteps of J. M. Coetzee, Peter Carey and J. G. Farrell (who posthumously won the Lost Man Booker Prize).[4][5] The third instalment to the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, is in progress.

Early life[edit]

Hilary Mary Thompson was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, the eldest of three children, and raised in the mill village of Hadfield where she attended St Charles Roman Catholic primary school. Her parents, Margaret (née Foster) and Henry Thompson, both of Irish descent, were also born in England.[6] Her parents separated and she did not see her father after the age of eleven. The family, without her father but with Jack Mantel (1932–1995)[7] who by now had moved in with them, relocated to Romiley, Cheshire, and Jack became her unofficial stepfather.[8] She took her de facto stepfather's surname legally.

She has explored her family background, the mainspring of much of her fiction, in her 2003 memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. She lost her religious faith at age 12 and says this left a permanent mark on her:

"[the] real cliche, the sense of guilt. You grow up believing that you're wrong and bad. And for me, because I took what I was told really seriously, it bred a very intense habit of introspection and self-examination and a terrible severity with myself. So that nothing was ever good enough. It's like installing a policeman, and one moreover who keeps changing the law."[9]

She attended Harrytown Convent in Romiley, Cheshire. In 1970, she began her studies at the London School of Economics to read law.[3] She transferred to the University of Sheffield and graduated as Bachelor of Jurisprudence in 1973. During her university years, she was a socialist.[6]

Early career[edit]

After university, Mantel worked in the social work department of a geriatric hospital and then as a sales assistant in a department store.

In 1972, she married Gerald McEwen, a geologist. In 1974, she began writing a novel about the French Revolution, which was later published as A Place of Greater Safety. In 1977, Mantel moved to Botswana with her husband where they lived for the next five years.[10] Later, they spent four years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She published a memoir of this period in the London Review of Books. She later said that leaving Jeddah felt like "the happiest day of [her] life".[11]

McEwen gave up geology to manage his wife's business.[12] They divorced, but remarried a couple of years later.[13]

Literary career[edit]

Her first novel, Every Day is Mother's Day, was published in 1985, and its sequel, Vacant Possession, a year later. After returning to England, she became the film critic of The Spectator, a position she held from 1987 to 1991,[14] and a reviewer for a number of papers and magazines in Britain and the United States. Her novel Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (1988), which drew on her life in Saudi Arabia, uses a threatening clash of values between the neighbours in a city apartment block to explore the tensions between Islamic culture and the liberal West. Her Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize-winning novel Fludd is set in 1956 in a fictitious northern village called Fetherhoughton, centring on a Roman Catholic church and a convent. A mysterious stranger brings about transformations in the lives of those around him.

A Place of Greater Safety (1992) won the Sunday Express Book of the Year award, for which her two previous books had been shortlisted. A long and historically accurate novel, it traces the career of three French revolutionaries, Danton, Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins, from childhood to their early deaths during the Reign of Terror of 1794.

A Change of Climate (1994), set in rural Norfolk, explores the lives of Ralph and Anna Eldred, as they raise their four children and devote their lives to charity. It includes chapters about their early married life as missionaries in South Africa, when they were imprisoned and deported to Bechuanaland, and the tragedy that occurred there.

An Experiment in Love (1996), which won the Hawthornden Prize, takes place over two university terms in 1970. It follows the progress of three girls – two friends and one enemy – as they leave home and attend university in London. Margaret Thatcher makes a cameo appearance in this novel, which explores women’s appetites and ambitions, and suggests how they are often thwarted. Though Mantel has used material from her own life, it is not an autobiographical novel.

Her next book, The Giant, O'Brien (1998), is set in the 1780s, and is based on the true story of Charles O'Brien or Byrne. He came to London to earn money by displaying himself as a freak. His bones hang today in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. The novel treats O'Brien and his antagonist, the Scots surgeon John Hunter, less as characters in history than as mythic protagonists in a dark and violent fairytale, necessary casualties of the Age of Enlightenment. She adapted the book for BBC Radio 4, in a play starring Alex Norton (as Hunter) and Frances Tomelty.

In 2003, Mantel published her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, which won the MIND "Book of the Year" award. That same year she brought out a collection of short stories, Learning To Talk. All the stories deal with childhood and, taken together, the books show how the events of a life are mediated as fiction. Her 2005 novel, Beyond Black, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. Set in the late first and early second millennium, it features a professional medium, Alison Hart, whose calm and jolly exterior conceals grotesque psychic damage. She trails around with her a troupe of "fiends", who are invisible but always on the verge of becoming flesh.

The long novel Wolf Hall, about Henry VIII's minister Thomas Cromwell, was published in 2009 to critical acclaim.[15] The book won that year's Man Booker Prize and, upon winning the award, Mantel said, "I can tell you at this moment I am happily flying through the air".[16] Judges voted three to two in favour of Wolf Hall for the prize. Mantel was presented with a trophy and a £50,000 cash prize during an evening ceremony at the London Guildhall.[17][18] The panel of judges, led by the broadcaster James Naughtie, described Wolf Hall as an "extraordinary piece of storytelling".[19] Leading up to the award, the book was backed as the favourite by bookmakers and accounted for 45% of the sales of all the nominated books.[17] It was the first favourite since 2002 to win the award.[5] On receiving the prize, Mantel said that she would spend the prize money on "sex and drugs and rock' n' roll".[20]

The sequel to Wolf Hall, called Bring Up the Bodies, was published in May 2012 to wide acclaim. It won the 2012 Costa Book of the Year and the 2012 Man Booker Prize; Mantel thus became the first British writer and the first woman to win the Man Booker Prize more than once.[21][22] Mantel is working on the third novel of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy, called The Mirror and the Light.[23][24]

She is also working on a short non-fiction book called The Woman Who Died of Robespierre about the Polish playwright Stanisława Przybyszewska. Mantel also writes reviews and essays, mainly for The Guardian, the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books. The Culture Show programme on BBC Two broadcast a profile of Mantel on 17 September 2011.[25]


During her twenties, Mantel suffered from a debilitating and painful illness. She was initially diagnosed with a psychiatric illness, hospitalised, and treated with antipsychotic drugs, which reportedly produced psychotic symptoms. In consequence, Mantel refrained from seeking help from doctors for some years. Finally, in Botswana and desperate, she consulted a medical textbook and realised she was probably suffering from a severe form of endometriosis, a diagnosis confirmed by doctors in London. The condition and necessary surgery left her unable to have children and continued to disrupt her life. Continued treatment by steroids caused weight gain and radically changed her appearance.

She was patron and is a supporter of the Endometriosis SHE Trust.[26]


Commentary on media portrayal of royalty[edit]

In a 2013 speech on media and royal women at the British Museum, Mantel commented on Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, saying in passing that the Duchess was forced to present herself publicly as a personality-free "shop window mannequin" whose sole purpose is to deliver an heir to the throne.[27][28][29] Mantel also said: "It may be that the whole phenomenon of monarchy is irrational, but that doesn't mean that when we look at it we should behave like spectators at Bedlam. Cheerful curiosity can easily become cruelty."[28]

These remarks caused much controversy. The Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband and Prime Minister David Cameron criticised them, while Jemima Khan[30][31] and Hadley Freeman defended Mantel.[32]

Thatcher murder fantasy[edit]

In September 2014, in an interview published in The Guardian, Mantel confessed to fantasizing about the murder of Margaret Thatcher in 1983, and fictionalized the event in a short story called "The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: 6 August 1983". In the interview she expands on her hatred for the former British prime minister. Allies of Thatcher called for a police investigation, to which Mantel sarcastically responded, "bringing in the police for an investigation was beyond anything I could have planned or hoped for, because it immediately exposes them to ridicule".[33]


In an interview with the Telegraph, Mantel stated that "I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people."[34] She continued in the interview to say that "When I was a child I wondered why priests and nuns were not nicer people. I thought that they were amongst the worst people I knew." These statements have led some to question her work in Wolf Hall, with Bishop Mark O'Toole noting that "There is an anti-Catholic thread there, there is no doubt about it. Wolf Hall is not neutral."[35]

Awards and honours[edit]

She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2006 Birthday Honours and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2014 Birthday Honours for services to literature.[43]

List of works[edit]


Short stories[edit]

  • Learning to Talk (Fourth Estate, 2003)
  • The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories (Fourth Estate, 2014)[46][47]


  • Giving Up the Ghost: Fourth Estate, 2003



  1. ^ "Hilary Mantel – Bring Up the Bodies". Bookclub. 6 October 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 2014-01-18. 
  2. ^ Sangster, Catherine (14 September 2009). "How to Say: JM Coetzee and other Booker authors". BBC News. Retrieved 1 October 2009. 
  3. ^ a b "Literature: Writers: Hilary Mantel". The British Council. 2011. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  4. ^ Clark, Nick (11 September 2012). "Booker Prize 2012: Hilary Mantel could become first British writer to win the literary prize twice after Bring up the Bodies makes shortlist". London: The Independent. Retrieved 17 October 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Pressley, James and Anderson, Hephzibah (6 October 2009). "Hilary Mantel's ‘Wolf Hall' Wins U.K. Man Booker, 50,000 Pounds". Bloomberg. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Larissa MacFarquhar (15 October 2012). "How Hilary Mantel Revitalized Historical Fiction". The New Yorker. Retrieved 17 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Hilary Mantel (17 April 2010). "Hilary Mantel remembers her stepfather's books". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 17 October 2012. 
  8. ^ Murphy, Anna (1 March 2010). "Hilary Mantel Interview". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  9. ^ Edemariam, Aida (12 September 2009). "I accumulated an anger that would rip a roof off". The Guardian (London). 
  10. ^ http://www.themanbookerprize.com/people/hilary-mantel
  11. ^ Mantel, Hilary (21 February 2010). "Once upon a life". The Observer Magazine (London). 
  12. ^ Renzetti, Elizabeth (18 June 2012). "Inverview Mantel: She writes about Cromwell, but Henry VIII is the key". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 26 November 2012. 
  13. ^ Jane Cornwell, "Hearths of Darkness", Weekend Australian, 17–18 April 2004, p. R7
  14. ^ http://literature.britishcouncil.org/hilary-mantel
  15. ^ Flood, Alison (8 September 2009). "Man Booker prize shortlist pits veteran Coetzee against bookies' favourite Mantel". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  16. ^ "Mantel named Booker Prize winner". BBC News. 6 October 2009. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  17. ^ a b Brown, Mark (6 October 2009). "Booker prize goes to Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  18. ^ Mukherjee, Neel (6 October 2009). "The Booker got it right: Mantel's Cromwell is a book for all seasons". The Times (London). Retrieved 7 October 2009. 
  19. ^ Hoyle, Ben (6 October 2009). "Man Booker Prize won by Hilary Mantels tale of historical intrigue". The Times (London). Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  20. ^ Voigt, Claudia (14 January 2013). "Der schwarze Kern". Der Spiegel (in German). pp. 132–134. 
  21. ^ http://www.npr.org/2012/10/16/163038934/hilary-mantel-first-woman-to-win-booker-prize-twice
  22. ^ "Hilary Mantel's Heart of Stone". Slate. 4 May 2012. Retrieved 4 May 2012. 
  23. ^ "Hilary Mantel reveals plans for Wolf Hall trilogy". BBC News. 18 November 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2012. 
  24. ^ "Hilary Mantel wins 2012 Costa novel prize". BBC News. 2 January 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2013. 
  25. ^ "Hilary Mantel: A Culture Show Special". BBC Two. Retrieved 19 May 2012. 
  26. ^ http://www.theguardian.com/society/2004/jun/07/health.genderissues
  27. ^ Sherwin, Adam. "Hilary Mantel attacks 'bland, plastic, machine-made' Duchess of Cambridge", The Independent, 19 February 2013; retrieved 19 February 2013.
  28. ^ a b Mantel, Hilary. "Royal Bodies", London Review of Books, 35:4, 21 February 2013, p.3-7
  29. ^ "They also took up a total of four paragraphs in a 30-paragraph speech – less than one-seventh, in other words" according to Hadley Freeman "Hilary Mantel v the Duchess of Cambridge: a story of lazy journalism and raging hypocrisy", The Guardian, 19 February 2013.
  30. ^ Sherwin, Adam. "David Cameron defends Kate over Hilary Mantel’s ‘shop-window mannequin’ remarks", The Independent, 19 February 2013.
  31. ^ See also Jessica Elgot "Hilary Mantel And 10 Reasons Why She Might Be Right About Kate Middleton", The Huffington Post, 19 February 2013.
  32. ^ "Hilary Mantel v the Duchess of Cambridge: a story of lazy journalism and raging hypocrisy", The Guardian, 19 February 2013.
  33. ^ Sherwin, Adam (13 November 2014). "Hilary Mantel: Coalition government more brutal to poor and immigrants than Thomas Cromwell was". The Independent (London). 
  34. ^ Singh, Anita (13 May 2012). "Hilary Mantel: Catholic Church is not for respectable people". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  35. ^ http://www.catholicireland.net/concern-anti-catholic-bias-bbcs-wolf-hall/
  36. ^ Alison Flood (5 December 2012). "EL James comes out on top at National Book awards". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 5 December 2012. 
  37. ^ Staff writer (2 January 2013). "Hilary Mantel wins 2012 Costa novel prize". BBC News. Retrieved 2 January 2013. 
  38. ^ McCrum, Robert (29 January 2013). "Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies: a middlebrow triumph". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  39. ^ Rahim, Sameer (29 January 2013). "Costa Book Award: who would dare refuse Hilary Mantel her crown?". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  40. ^ Staff writer (30 January 2013). "Hilary Mantel wins Costa Book Award". BBC News. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  41. ^ Alison Flood (7 March 2013). "Hilary Mantel adds David Cohen award to Booker and Costa prizes". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 8 March 2013. 
  42. ^ "South Bank Sky Arts Awards – Winners 2013". West End Theatre. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  43. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60895. p. b8. 14 June 2014.
  44. ^ Benfey, Christopher (29 October 2009). "Sunday Book Review of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel". NY Times. 
  45. ^ McGrath, Charles (25 May 2012). "Sunday Book Review of Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel". NY Times. 
  46. ^ "The Style Blog". The Washington Post. 
  47. ^ Castle, Terry (2 October 2014). "Sunday Book Review of The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories by Hilary Mantel". NY Times. 

External links[edit]