Hilary Mantel (1952–2022) innovated an entire genre

This is a cultural article which is part of Then24’s opinion journalism.

Author Hilary Mantel has passed away, aged 70.
Author Hilary Mantel has passed away, aged 70.

Its no one small thing to have innovated a literary genre. Hilary Mantels trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s efficient handman, did something with the historical novel that no one had done before fully. She wrote the three novels, Wolf Hall, Bring in the dead and The mirror and the light, in what might be called the pseudo-historical present. This meant that neither the characters in the novels nor the narrator, unlike the reader, knew how things would turn out.

This technical feat of storytelling combined with her control over language created novels that gave historical and psychological credibility to the events surrounding the English royal house at the end of the 16th century. Unlike historical novels in general, they won the approval of professional historians. This is how it could have happened when Cromwell made sure to get rid of the queens Henry VIII was tired of, and where his wishes for a divorce were at the same time a weighty reason for the king to leave the Catholic Church.

Stylistically chiselled Mantel presented a dramaturgy that was noticeable in every sentence, things happen all the time. Also, which is unusual, the novels gradually got better. Partly probably due to the fact that the dramatization for the theater of the first ones, where Mantel wrote the script, was an experience that left its mark on both the dialogues and the dramaturgy of the later ones.

But the road to this feat was not entirely smooth. Her novel Brotherhood from 1992 about the French Revolution, is comparatively heavy-handed. The fiction hasn’t really gained power over the historical (she was trained as a historian), dialogues and environmental depiction are not yet quite in place. But it was her first novel (although it came out later), and as such remarkable.

In historical times also played out The Giant, O’Brienabout a (real) man who at the end of the 18th century goes to London to make a living as a freak, a story in the backwaters of the Enlightenment. Flood sticks to the 1950s and is a scathing criticism of the Catholic Church.

Mantel is also the author of one of the best book titles of recent years, The assassination of Margaret Thatcher (The assassination of Margaret Thatcher), where the title short story goes back to a fantasy Mantel had during the Thatcher regime (some of the sympathizers of the former prime minister wanted to set up a police investigation because of the short story).

It must be that it was the Cromwell trilogy that gave Mantel an international breakthrough. But her writing has a breadth, both subject-wise and stylistically, which An experiment in love, A change of climate or the autobiography Giving up the ghost (The shadow of a life), in which the disease she suffered from a young age (endometriosis) is described, as well as the experiences from the anything but pleasant, Catholic girls’ school. Her childhood was a kind of state of war, her writing life a struggle against her own history and various controversies (the royal house, Catholicism) in which she emerged victorious.

Source: Then24

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Deborah Acker

I write epic fantasy; self-published via KDP. Devoted dog mom to my 10 yr old GSD, Shadow! DM not a priority; slow response at best #amwriting #author.

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