Celebrating The Life and Work of Hilary Mantel

In honor of the recent passing of ‘Wolf Hall’ author Hilary Mantel, let’s celebrate her life and some of her greatest works.

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Hilary Mantel

Growing up Catholic

Wolf Hall
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Hilary Mantel was born on July 6th, 1952, in Derbyshire into a Catholic family. Although Mantel hasn’t identified as a Catholic since she was twelve, she’s used her Catholic upbringing a lot in her writing. Mantel stated in an interview with The Iowa Review that “If you are to write about the C16, you have to be able to understand the centrality of religious belief and the sincerity with which people held their differing views and the reasons they persecuted each other so assiduously in the name of mercy. I can easily grasp this because religion was so central to my childhood.”

Inspiration for First Novels

Hilary Mantel
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Before Mantel was the famed historical fiction writer that we all know and love, she was actually studying law at the London School of Economics. She would later transfer to and graduate from the University of Sheffield with a bachelor’s degree in Jurisprudence, or legal theory, in 1973. 

After school, Mantel married geologist Gerald McEwan and began work as a social worker in a geriatric hospital. During her time as a social worker, Mantel would read about the history of the French Revolution. Eventually, it got to the point where she wasn’t just learning the history, she was making up her own. In 1974, Mantel began work on A Place of Greater Safety, a novel about the lives of Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and Maximilien Robespierre. Although this was the first novel Mantel worked on, it wouldn’t be published until 1992, as many publishers falsely believed that Mantel was pitching them a historical romance.


The first novel that Mantel published would be Everyday is Mother’s Day, a black comedy inspired by Mantel’s own time as a social worker. A year later, in 1986, Mantel would publish the sequel, Vacant Possession.

The Wolf Hall Trilogy

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Chances are if you know who Hilary Mantel is, you’ve heard about her legendary Wolf Hall trilogy. The series is a retelling of Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power in the court of King Henry VIII, and it’s what Mantel is most famous for. Mantel took great care with this series, doing extensive research on historical happenings during the time she was writing about to ensure that her stories would be as accurate as possible.

The first novel, Wolf Hall, was published in 2009 and won a Booker Prize. According to The Guardian, it was the most popular novel in Booker betting history. Wolf Hall would go on to receive several other awards, and it would eventually be turned into both a stage play and a TV series. The sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, came out in 2012 to similar success and earned Mantel another Booker Prize. The Mirror & The Light, the final book in the trilogy, came out just two years ago, debuting at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Other Works

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Although Hilary Mantel was best known for her Wolf Hall trilogy, she’s written much more than that. These range from some of her other popular novels like Beyond Black to her underrated short story collections, like Learning to Talk. Mantel also published her memoir, Giving Up The Ghost, in 2003. Mantel’s death is a tremendous loss for the entire literary community. All that we can do now is be grateful to her for the stories that she left with us and mourn the ones that will never be told.

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