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Hilary Mantel | Biography

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Early Life and Education

Dame Hilary Mary Mantel was born Hilary Mary Thompson on July 6, 1952, in Glossop, but she was raised in Hadfield, Derbyshire, England. She is a Catholic, and she came from a broken home. After the end of her parents' marriage her mother partnered with her longtime lover, and Hilary's father disappeared from her life. Hilary was then given the surname of her mother's partner, Jack Mantel.

Mantel attended a convent school before studying law at the London School of Economics and the University of Sheffield. Although she earned her law degree, she instead began working as a social worker. She married geologist Gerald McEwen in 1972 at age 20 and moved with him to Botswana, Africa, where she lived for five years. After suffering from endometriosis, a debilitating reproductive illness, she returned to England and divorced McEwen, only to remarry him in 1982.

Writing Career

In Botswana and Saudi Arabia, where she and her husband moved in 1983, Mantel began to write. Her first novel, Every Day Is Mother's Day (1985), is about a social worker's difficult relationships. It received enough literary acclaim to prompt a sequel, Vacant Possession (1986).

Mantel and her husband returned to England in 1986. She continued to write and publish in a variety of genres, including a thriller, a mystery, and her first work of historical fiction, A Place of Greater Safety (1992), set during the French Revolution (1789–99), a social and political conflict that worked to move France toward democracy and ended with the rise of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Subsequent works included a coming-of-age novel, another work of historical fiction, short stories, and social comedies. She began collecting British awards for her work, including the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, the Cheltenham Prize, the Southern Arts Literature Prize (all for 1989's Fludd) and the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award for 1992's A Place of Greater Safety. She was made a Commander of the British Empire, an honor given by the queen for outstanding work in a field, in 2006. In 2009 she produced her masterpiece, Wolf Hall, her 10th novel. The body of her work includes:

  • Every Day Is Mother's Day (1985)
  • Vacant Possession (1986)
  • Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (1988)
  • Fludd (1989)
  • A Place of Greater Safety (1992)
  • A Change of Climate (1994)
  • An Experiment in Love (1995)
  • The Giant, O'Brien (1998)
  • Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir (2003)
  • Learning to Talk: Short Stories (2003)
  • Beyond Black (2005)
  • Wolf Hall (2009)
  • Bring Up the Bodies (sequel to Wolf Hall, 2012)
  • The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories (2014)

Literary Acclaim

Wolf Hall went on to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize and became an international best seller. The sequel, Bring Up the Bodies (2012), was the second in a planned trilogy. It too won the Booker. Both novels were adapted and produced as plays by the Royal Shakespeare Company and as a television miniseries in 2015.

Mantel was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2014; this honor, given by the queen for long and respected service in a field, surpassed her previous one. Sir Peter Stothard, chair of the 2012 Booker Prize, called her the "greatest modern English prose writer."

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