Hilary Mantel has long communed with ghosts, those in history who inhabit her novels, her Irish Catholic ancestors, the children she never had. The success of the works of the British novelist was very real.
His last book, conclusion of his trilogy The counselor about the tumultuous life of Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s chief minister in the 16th century, created queues outside bookstores when it was released in March 2020.
Died Thursday “peacefully” at the age of 70, according to her publisher HarperCollins, Hilary Mantel was the first writer to have twice won the prestigious British literary prize Booker Prize for the first parts of the series, translated into 41 languages: In the Shadow of the Tudors and The power.
The third, The Mirror and the Lightwas tipped by many critics to complete the winning trio, without ultimately succeeding.
“For a long time, she was admired by critics, but the trilogy (..) allowed her to find the vast audience she long deserved,” said her former publisher, Nicholas Pearson, on Friday.
Each of her books was “an unforgettable web of illuminating phrases, unforgettable characters and remarkable vision,” he observed, recounting that the writer was still working on a new novel last month.
“Woman, from the North and poor”
Hilary Mantel has often swum against the current since the publication in 1985 of her first book, It’s Mother’s Day everydaythe darkly humorous story of the mysterious pregnancy of a mentally handicapped girl and her spiritualist mother.
The first book she wrote in the 1970s, Revolutiondevoted to the French Revolution, was only published in 1992.
Born on July 6, 1952 into a family of Irish origin, Hilary Mantel (née Thompson) had the disadvantage of being “woman, from the North and poor”, she said in her memoirs, Giving Up the Ghostpublished in 2003.
The book describes a girl with an overactive imagination who grows up in a village in Derbyshire, following the teaching of doctrinaire Catholic nuns. She explains that she lost her faith at the age of eleven, when she saw her father for the last time. He left after four years of cohabitation with his wife’s lover.
Mantel was the name of the new “stepfather”, given to Hilary and her two younger brothers, although he and her mother never married.
Young Hilary studied law at the London School of Economics with the aim of becoming a lawyer, but enrolled in Sheffield University in 1971 to be closer to her fiancé Gerald McEwen, who was studying geology in this limestone region .
In her autobiography, she recalls that one of her tutors in Sheffield “was a bored local solicitor” who “didn’t think women belonged in his class”.
The misogyny erupted even more prominently when, upon graduation, Hilary Mandel developed crippling pain in her abdomen and legs. The doctors judged her “hysterical, neurotic, difficult” and put her on psychotropic drugs.
Years later, while living in Botswana where her fiancé had traded limestone for diamonds, Hilary Mantel found her symptoms detailed in a medical textbook and managed to get doctors to finally take her illness seriously. It is endometriosis, for which she will be operated on in London in 1979.
The intervention makes her infertile and the hormonal treatments lead to rapid weight gain, a double trauma that she detailed in her autobiography. She imagined life there with a daughter she never had, baptized Catriona, the most heartbreaking ghost of the many ghosts that dot a work that has a total of twelve novels.
She had described herself in search of truth “in the accumulation of dusty and broken facts, in the cellars and the sewers of the human spirit”.
Criticizing the monarchy as well as Brexit, Hilary Mantel said last year that she wanted to apply for Irish nationality and “become European again”.
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British writer Hilary Mantel dies at 70