Hilary Mantel Speaks Out Against Censorship

Two time Man Book prize winner Hilary Mantel is sending a powerful message to all writers: speak up. As a child Mantel suffered from a fear of speaking. She spent the first 11 years of her life not saying a word. During an interview with The Guardian she said, “If they asked a silly question at school –what I thought was a silly question – I just didn’t answer.”

Ironically, after overcoming her muteness she became a successful writer. Something she quickly learned about being vocal about your opinions is that people are going to criticize you. But instead of receeding back into muteness she defended herself against her critics. In her autobiography Giving up the Ghost she writes, “If you don’t mean your words to breed consequences, don’t write at all,” Such advice, may sound like censorship, but is actually quite sound because it gives the subtle hint that we should at least think about what we say before we speak. 


When it comes to politics, religion, and economics, people on both sides of the argument are very sensitive. Triggering that sensitivity leads to anger, which then leads to a breakdown of communication. Mantel is telling writers to brush off people’s harsh judgment’s and simply, “try to mean what you say.” That is all a writer is expected to do, write purposefully.

Martell got into some hot water when she wrote a fictional tale about the assassination if Margaret Thatcher. However insensitive it may have been to write a story about glorifying the murdering process in which Thatcher was the victim less than a year after her actual death, Manetel still should not be censored. Speech is meant to be free, that is the only way ideas are able to flourish. 

Censorship is nothing new, it has been used as a method of oppression for hundreds of years at the very least. In one of her bestsellers Wolf Hall, Martell discusses a time in history when a rebel against King Henry VIII was executed. She commented on the scene by saying, “[Censorship] doesn’t change, and it seems there are no new thoughts, no new struggles with censorship and self-censorship, only the old struggles repeating.” Let’s be better than King Henry VIII and allow all speech to exist, even if it is in criticism of our leaders.


Fighting against censorship does not necessarily mean vomiting up every word and emotion you have ever had. Editor of Censorship magazine Rachel Jolley writes that, “thinking and listening are just as valid” as communication, “sometimes people forget that.” She went on to say that, “In societies that value freedom of expression, we should also value hearing the thoughts of others.” Speaking without listening is almost meaningless. First listen, then speak, and if anybody tries to cover up your words, stand against up them, the entire free world will be there to support you.


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