The Birdcage Archives

Friday, 23 September 2022

Dame Hilary Mantel Dies Age 70

Hello Gentle Reader,
Dame Hilary Mantel’s sudden and unexpected death has come as a seismic shock to the English language literary world. Mantel was the first woman to win the Booker Prize twice, first for her breakthrough novel “Wolf Hall,” in 2009 and its sequel “Bring Up the Bodies,” 2012. This is a rare phenomenon, as only two previous writers had won the Booker Prize twice before hand: Peter Carey and J.M. Coetzee; Atwood’s second Booker prize win would cause controversy years later, as it was shared with Bernardine Evaristo, and the Booker Prize is quite clear about its rules of singular winners. “Wolf Hall,” was the novel that catapulted Hilary Mantel to public appeal and acclaim, her previous output though critically praised and appreciated, only had modest readership, which included her “Everyday is Mother Day Series,” “The Giant, O’Brien,” and “Beyond Black.’ Yet it was with the publication of “Wolf Hall,” that made Hilary Mantel a household name and one of Britain’s most formative and influential writers, whose expert attention to detail and respect for history and its ability to be adapted and dramatized earned the respect of the academic and the public. “Wolf Hall,” dramatizes the remarkable beginnings of Thomas Cromwell, specifically his shrewdness, political ambitions, and negotiating skills. Before “Wolf Hall,” Thomas Cromwell was a mysterious and villainous character within English history. Regarded for his ruthlessness, unquenchable hunger for power, and cold-blooded calculating intrigue, he was often seen as Henry VIII’s butcher and counsellor, the exact antithesis of the saintly Thomas More. Mantel in a manner of speaking, rehabilitated Thomas Cromwell, providing a rounder discussion of his qualities, his pragmatism, his loyalties to king, country, and family, as well as his skillful political aptitude to maneuver the tumultuous changing dynamics of Henry VIII’s court. All of which is juxtaposed against Thomas More’s punitive pettiness, inflexibility, and refusal to realize the extent of Henry VIII’s ability to dismantle and usurp the papal institutions. If anything, Mantel insinuates, Thomas More entombed himself into his own assurance of persistent loyalties, which were his demise. Beyond her Tudor trilogy of Thomas Cromwell, Mantell was also an expert writer of memoir and non-fiction, whereby she wrote about the negligence of doctors, who believer her medial ailments were psychiatric in nature, prescribing a cocktail of antidepressants and antipsychotics, only for Mantel to conduct her own research and discover (correctly as well) that she was suffering from endometriosis. A riveting essay for The Guardian describes Saudi Arabia as a lifeless, inscrutable, and oppressive country of unwritten rules, conventions, which views foreigners as mere flotsam with a short expiry date. She lived there for four years with her husband.
Despite it all though, Hilary Mantel maintained a striking thematic concern with morality and the nature of good versus evil, but in far more complex and historical contexts, rehabilitating traditional villains into more fully formed complex characters; while her novels of more modern or contemporary attitudes, were gothic and deranged exploring the depths of the demented and the abusive with frightening precision and intimacy. Truly a marvelous master of the age, whose work explored the complexities of the historical and the individual, Dame Hilary Mantel was rightfully so described and referred to as a genius.
Rest in Peace Dame Hilary Mantel.
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary

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