Hilary Mantel DBE FRSL

English novelist Dame Hilary Mary Mantel, DBE, FRSL née Thompson was born 6 July 1952 in Glossop Derbyshire. She grew up in the mill village of Hadfield. She attended St Charles local Roman Catholic primary school. Her parents separated and she did not see her father after age eleven. The family minus her father, but with Jack Mantel (1932-1995) who by now had moved in with them, relocated to Romiley, Cheshire, and Jack became her unofficial stepfather. She took her de-facto stepfather’s surname legally. She has explored her family background, the mainspring of much of her fiction, in her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost (2003). She attended Harrytown Convent in Romiley, Cheshire. In 1970, she began her studies at the London School of Economics to read law but transferred to the University of Sheffield and graduated as Bachelor of Jurisprudence in 1973.

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. Later, they spent four years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She published a memoir of this time, Someone to Disturb, in the London Review of Books. McEwen gave up geology to manage his wife’s business affairs.They divorced, but remarried a couple of years later.

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 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 first-hand experience in Saudi Arabia, uses a threatening clash of values between the neighbours in a city apartment block to explore the tensions between Muslim 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.

Her second novel, 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. Her third novel, 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. Her fourth novel, An Experiment in Love (1996), 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, who 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 years around the 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.

In 2009 Mantel Published the novel Wolf Hall, about Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell.Set in England in the period from 1500 to 1535, Wolf Hall (which is named after the Seymour family seat of Wolfhall or Wulfhall near Burbage, just outside of Marlborough, Wiltshire, is a fictionalized biography which follows the exploits of Thomas Cromwell, who rises from humble beginnings as the son of a brutal blacksmith in the slums of Putney to become a mercenary, merchant and member of Parliament finally becoming the right-hand man of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, adviser to the King, After surviving Wolsey’s fall from grace Cromwell eventually takes his place as the most powerful of Henry’s ministers, during this time he oversaw Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn, was present during the religious upheavals of the Protestant reformation, the English church’s break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries. The story exposes the political machinations of Henry’s court and the vicious realities of the court of Henry VIII, Cromwell’s manipulation of the king and the court and how he re-shaped English politics and the balance of power. The story has more betrayals, affairs, alliances and scheming than a soap opera and also shows the nation on the brink of disaster and the very real threat of civil war looming large because the ageing king has no male heir.

The book won that year’s Man Booker Prize and Mantel was presented with a trophy and a £50,000 cash prize during an evening ceremony at the London Guildhall, by a panel of judges, led by the broadcaster James Naughtie, and On receiving the prize, Mantel said that she would spend the prize money on “sex and drugs and rock’ n’ roll”. 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. following in the footsteps of J. M. Coetzee, Peter Carey and J. G. Farrell (who posthumously won the Lost Man Booker Prize). The third novel of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy, is called The Mirror and the Light. Mantel 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 also profiled Mantel In 2011.

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