We chase the dead, shouting, “Come back!
June 3, 2017 4:57 PM   Subscribe

Hilary Mantel: why I became a historical novelist. ‘Is this story true?’ readers inevitably ask.
In the first of her BBC Reith Lectures, the double Man Booker prize-winning author explores the complicated relationship between history, fact and fiction.
Hilary Mantel, writing in the Guardian and Previously.
posted by adamvasco (9 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
In imagination, we chase the dead, shouting, “Come back!” We may suspect that the voices we hear are an echo of our own, and the movement we see is our own shadow. But we sense the dead have a vital force still – they have something to tell us, something we need to understand. Using fiction and drama, we try to gain that understanding. I don’t claim we can hear the past or see it. But I say we can listen and look. There are techniques we can use.

God, I love Mantel. Thanks for this post!
posted by languagehat at 6:06 PM on June 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Is there even an approximate pub date for Cromwell-3 yet?
posted by hwestiii at 6:44 PM on June 3, 2017

I feel like this is the post I have been waiting for as long as I have known who Hillary Mantel is. Well done.
posted by 4ster at 6:50 PM on June 3, 2017

Her French Revolution novel (A Place of Greater Safety) is terrific.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:54 PM on June 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

This is fantastic. I am a historical novelist and I just deleted a long, rambling comment about my motivations that largely added up to what she said. I could not improve upon it.

Recently, I came across this article, an account of her latest Reith Lecture, which begins with the provocative "Women writers must stop rewriting history to make their female characters falsely 'empowered', Dame Hilary Mantel has said." Without having read or heard the lecture, I think there's an excellent point in there, and I hope she made it well without punching down or showing internalized misogyny. Personally I'll be happy if I never see another anachronistic heroine whose father taught her to read and shoot and sass back to men. I mean you did get those every so often but if there were as many as novelists seem to want us to believe, women's suffrage would have been in the Magna Carta.

(And yes, A Place of Greater Safety is amazing. I carried that cinderblock on an airplane trip and it was worth it.)
posted by Countess Elena at 7:59 PM on June 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

I love Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, listen to the Audible versions at work all the time. But it's also interesting how the main character - who, among his many other attributes, is the consummate enabler of a monstrous ruler - reads in the Age of Trump. Every once in a while I find myself wondering how much the internal self-perspective we get in these books relates to how more modern "courtiers" - Bannon, Jared, Spicer et. al. today, or Kissinger and Erlichman in a previous era - justify themselves.

As Mantel's Cromwell puts it, "You pick your prince, and then you say yes to him."
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:22 PM on June 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

Students take Hilary Mantel's Tudor novels as fact, says historian - "Facts and alternative facts, truth and verisimilitude, knowledge and information, art and lies: what could be more timely or topical than to discuss where the boundaries lie?"

Novelist Hilary Mantel on truth and Thomas Cromwell - "The writer discusses the Tudors and why Prince Charles would be an 'interesting' king."
posted by kliuless at 9:06 PM on June 3, 2017

Mantel's "Wolf Hall" and "Bringing Up the Bodies" are a hard slog, with Cromwell constantly in third person while referring to himself. I tried twice to read it before getting the books and the DVD series from the library and setting myself to it.
But after you get used to it, her writing is lyrical. Her Cromwell is loyal, pragmatic, and lives by the motto, "Revenge is a dish best served cold."

And her take on saintly Jane Seymour is interesting. Instead of the martyred mother of the prince, she is shown as a woman of the court, lady-in-waiting to two queens, and aware of her own value. Given Anne Boleyn's ruthless campaigns against her rivals (Bishop Fisher, Thomas Moore, Catherine of Aragon), it sounds reasonable that the Seymours would plot against her. Giving Cromwell a personal interest in her safety is a bit of whimsy, but such is the role of the novelist -- it's not a textbook.

I, too, look forward to the last book in the series.
posted by TrishaU at 10:18 PM on June 3, 2017

I love Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, listen to the Audible versions at work all the time.

I love both books and have read each twice. But when I tried the audio version, I found it extremely hard to follow without the typographical clues (like paragraphs and line breaks) that help signal who is saying something and what is happening now versus being talked about.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:03 AM on June 4, 2017

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