Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel was the author of nine novels and three collections of short stories in addition to her prize-winning trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. She began to write for the LRB in 1987 and contributed more than fifty pieces to the paper on subjects ranging from some of the Tudors who appear in her trilogy (Jane BoleynQueen Mary, Charles Brandon and Margaret Pole) to some of the figures who appear in A Place of Greater Safety, her novel about the French Revolution: DantonRobespierre (twice), Théroigne de Méricourt and Marie Antoinette. Royal Bodies, her Winter Lecture for the LRB, considered the public perception of royal women from Anne Boleyn to Kate Middleton: ‘we don’t cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them.’ She also published several pieces of memoir in the LRB, on her childhood, the misdiagnosis of her endometriosis as mental illness, and the childlessness that was its resultMantel Pieces: ‘Royal Bodies’ and Other Writing for the London Review of Books was published by Fourth Estate in 2020.

We cannot approach her story from the inside. We know her, as we know so many of her contemporaries, through her inventories, through legal documents and official letters. Did she plot against the crown? Did she, as the regime alleged, burn the evidence that incriminated her? Or was there, as she claimed, nothing worth burning?

Story: ‘Kinsella in His Hole’

Hilary Mantel, 19 May 2016

The year we killed our teacher we were ten, going on eleven. Mitch went first, the terrier, a snappy article with a topknot tied with a tartan ribbon. The morning we saw him we hooted. He didn’t like us laughing and he flew to the end of his lead, and reared up snarling and drooling. ‘Hark at the rat,’ we said. Rose Cullan said: ‘Hark at Lucifer.’ He twisted, he screamed, his claws lashed out. The devil has several names and Lucifer is one.

Charles Brandon was one of a group of athletic courtiers employed to serve the leisure of Hooray Henry; they overlapped with, but can be distinguished from, the machiavels who served the policy of Horrid Henry, and the poets and priests employed to flatter the intellect and ease the conscience of Holy Henry. Henry came to the throne in 1509. Charles Brandon’s power as a court favourite endured till death removed him in 1545. A long run, on ground slippery with blood: how did Charles do it?

Story: ‘In a Right State’

Hilary Mantel, 18 February 2016

We sit there, slowly doing the quick crossword, noting as so often in institutions the presence of characters who seem habitués, knowing the procedures, familiar with the staff, A&E their scene.

Alan Bennett, LRB, 7 January

In the days​ when I had a reading lamp, I’d sit down with the papers at the weekend and make up answers to celebrity quizzes. Tell us your favourite food...

Story: ‘The Present Tense’

Hilary Mantel, 7 January 2016

‘Today we are going to have a nice lesson,’ I say. Twenty-nine faces, upturned: all dubious. I think, you don’t know how nice it will be, compared to the nasty lessons ahead. Next year is Cambridge Certificate, and we will have The Mill on the Floss till our brains bleed. I look around the classroom. ‘Today my question is – what makes a good story? Have you any ideas?’ If this were another country, and I were someone else, a luckier kind of teacher, they might say, ‘Suspense. Characters we care about. A cracking pace. Not too much description. Touch of humour. Smart dialogue. A twist in the ending.’

At moments Mantel might have heeded the words addressed by her Wyatt to Cromwell: ‘Be careful . . . You are on the brink of explaining yourself.’

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Bring Up the Bodies is not just a historical novel. It’s a novel with a vision of history that magically suits the period it describes. Its predecessor, Wolf Hall, the first part of what...

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How to Twist a Knife: Wolf Hall

Colin Burrow, 30 April 2009

There was no shortage of bastards in the early 16th century, but Thomas Cromwell stands out as one of the biggest bastards of them all. His surviving correspondence shows the energy, efficiency...

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Hilary Mantel’s dark, unsettling and gleefully tasteless new novel about spiritualism, Hell and the condition of contemporary England is part ghost story, part mystery, and as alarmingly...

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Freak Anatomist: Hilary Mantel

John Mullan, 1 October 1998

In the Council Room of the Royal College of Surgeons hangs the portrait by Joshua Reynolds of the 18th-century surgeon and anatomist John Hunter. It has been much darkened by the bitumen content...

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The Little Woman Inside

Dinah Birch, 9 March 1995

Women of my age, born in the early Fifties and now in our forties, have reached the season of retrospection. We have become – or have not become – wives, wage-earners, mothers,...

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A Form of Showing Off

Anna Vaux, 28 April 1994

‘If God knows our ends, why cannot he prevent them, why is the world so full of malice and cruelty, why did God make it at all and give us free will if he knows already that some of us will...

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Falling for Desmoulins

P.N. Furbank, 20 August 1992

When Sarah Orne Jewett sent her friend Henry James a copy of her latest work, a historical novel entitled The Tory Lover, he told her it would take a very long letter to ‘disembroil the...

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Looking for magic

Dinah Birch, 14 September 1989

It’s not long since the fairy story seemed the least political of genres. Not so today. A preoccupation with transformation and escape, coupled with a repudiation of the sober certainties...

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You bet your life

Margaret Walters, 21 April 1988

Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda is a tall story, as elaborate and fantastical as any of the yarns spun by the trickster hero of his last novel Illywhacker. For one thing, it’s a...

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Belfast Book

Patricia Craig, 5 June 1986

The first of these writers, M.S. Power, has a searing metaphor to describe the effect of Ireland on certain people, those native to it and others: nailed to the place, they end up as in a...

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