jeudi, juillet 18, 2024
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The Queen of English literature is dead. RIP Dame Hilary Mantel 1952-2022

Dame Hilary Mantel died unexpectedly on 22nd September.  She was without doubt one of the finest and most celebrated authors in the English language. 

She studied law at the London School of Economics and then at the University of Sheffield.  Following her marriage to Gerald McEwen, a geologist, in 1973, she lived for five years in Botswana, then subsequently for four years in Saudi Arabia.  The latter country provided material for one of her early novels, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (1988).  During this period, she was also film critic for The Spectator magazine, and she wrote reviews for various other publications. 

She enjoyed success with A Place of Greater Safety (1992), published in France in two volumes: Révolution – tome 1, L’idéal and Révolution – tome 2, Les désordresThe book(s) trace(s) the lives during the French Revolution of Danton, Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins from their childhoods through to their deaths during the Reign of Terror.  The work was awarded the Sunday Express Book of the Year prize.

She cemented her reputation as a major literary figure during the 1990s with three further novels.  A Change of Climate is set both in rural Norfolk and in southern Africa, where a couple’s lives as missionaries encounter tragic events.  An Experiment in Love is a portrait of three young women’s experiences at university in London and of their passions and ambitions.  The Giant, O’Brien is set in the 1780s and is an account of how people with abnormal body characteristics were exhibited as “freaks” by the supposedly enlightened scientific community.

Mantel published Giving Up the Ghost in 2003, a memoir that was awarded the MIND (the mental health charity) Book of the Year accolade.   She also published Learning to Talk, a collection of short stories that are loosely autobiographical and deal with difficult childhood issues.  Beyond Black followed in 2005; it was a critically acclaimed portrait of mental disturbance, and was a contender for the Booker Prize, the UK’s most prestigious literary award.

2009 witnessed Mantel’s arrival as one of the foremost and best-known writers in the English language, when Wolf Hall was published.  Its brilliant analysis of Thomas Cromwell and of the Tudor period comfortably and deservedly won the Booker Prize.  It recounts the rise of a humble butcher’s son from London to become chief minister to Henry VIII during the turbulent years of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon in the 1530s and the establishment of the Protestant Church of England following the severance from the Roman Catholic Church.  The second volume of the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, also won the Booker Prize.  This was crowned in 2020 by the publication of The Mirror & the Light, a highly acclaimed Sunday Times bestseller.

Wolf Hall became a very successful stage production for the Royal Shakespeare Company.  It also led to one of the BBC’s finest drama series starring the mesmerising Mark Rylance as Cromwell and Damian Lewis as Henry VIII.  Mantel adapted The Mirror & the Light for anothersuccessful stage production with the RSC in 2021. 

As JK Rowling commented, “We’ve lost a genius.”

Adapted by: Colin Bloxham OGA

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