Dame Hilary Mantel (LLD 2014)

mantel, ilary

Dame Hilary Mantel is one of the most distinguished writers of her generation.  She grew up in Derbyshire and was educated at a Cheshire convent school, LSE – where she spent her first undergraduate year - and Sheffield University, from which she graduated in law in 1973.  She was subsequently a teacher and a social worker, living for nine years in Africa and the Middle East. She became a full-time writer in the mid1980s, and is the author of eleven novels, two short story collections and a memoir, Giving up the Ghost. She was appointed CBE in 2006, and DBE in 2014. Among many prizes and honours, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by LSE in 2014.  

She has described her year at the School as “one of the most vivid times in my life”.   She has written about it in her novel, An Experiment in Love, and in Giving up the Ghost, in which she remembers her course as   “engrossing… taught by lawyers and academics of stature and reputation”. “The rattling, down-at-heel, overcrowded buildings”, she added, “pleased me better than any grassy quad or lancet window”!  

A writer of remarkable versatility who is equally at home producing fictional historical narratives, contemporary novels and short stories, Mantel is also an outstanding reviewer and essayist. Her best-known works to date are the first two instalments of a trilogy on the life of Thomas Cromwell: Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring up the Bodies (2012), both of which won the Man Booker Prize. She combines a playful wit, a mordant humour, a penetrating eye and a luminous intelligence with an encompassing human sympathy which brings even her most astringent characters alive to us as thinking, feeling beings; moreover she combines intensely psychological characterisation with a panoptic vision of the social world in which her characters move.  Remote in time as that world is from our own, and unsympathetic though many have found him to be, Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell is a man whose concerns and feelings are entirely legible to the modern reader. The research which went into the writing of these books is a major contribution to our understanding of “the causes of things”.  And, perhaps more than any other modern writer, Hilary Mantel has shared with her readers her reflections on the method and meaning of fiction, and of the intellectual and imaginative resources which combine to produce it.  Her legal education echoes through these reflections. In the preface to her book on the French Revolution, she says, “I have had many arguments with myself about what history really is. But you must state a case, I think, before you can plead against it.”