Booker-winning author of the Wolf Hall trilogy, Dame Hilary Mantel, has died aged 70, her publisher HarperCollins has confirmed.
Mantel was considered one of the greatest Anglophone novelists of this century, winning the Booker Prize twice for Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, which also won Costa’s Book of the Year 2012.
The conclusion to her groundbreaking Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror & the Light, was published in 2020 to huge critical acclaim, becoming an instant Sunday Times bestseller and long-listed for the Booker Prize.
HarperCollins confirmed she passed away “sudden but peacefully” on Thursday, surrounded by close family and friends.
When asked by the Financial Times earlier this month whether she believed in an afterlife, Mantel said she did, but couldn’t imagine how it would work. “However, the universe is not limited by what I can imagine,” she said.
Bill Hamilton, who was Mantel’s agent throughout her career, said it was “the greatest privilege” to work with the writer. “Her humor, stylistic audacity, creative ambition and phenomenal historical insight characterize her as one of the greatest novelists of our time.”
“Hilary’s emails were sprinkled with fun jokes and jokes as she observed the world with relish, plunging into the lazy or absurd and nailed cruelty and prejudice,” he added. “There was always a slight aura of otherworldliness about her, as she saw and felt things that us mere mortals lacked, but when she saw the need for confrontation, she would go into battle fearlessly.”
To date, the Wolf Hall trilogy has sold more than five million copies worldwide and has been translated into 41 languages. Earlier this month, HarperCollins published The Wolf Hall Picture Book, a photo book by Mantel and co-authors Ben Miles and George Miles.
The author experienced a chronic illness throughout her adult life, with a severe form of endometriosis, for which she was unable to have children due to surgery. “Sometimes people try to convince me that somehow it made me a better writer, or that it meant I could keep the world at bay. But I’d rather deal with the world than with pain and the uncertainty that comes with it,” she told the Times in 2012.
Mantel was born in Glossop, Derbyshire on 6 July 1952. She studied law at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University and then became a social worker at a geriatric hospital. Mantel married geologist Gerald McEwan in 1972. The couple divorced in 1981 but remarried in 1982. In 1974, she began writing a novel about the French Revolution, which was published in 1992 as A Place of Greater Safety. In 1977 Mantel and her husband moved to Botswana, where they lived for five years. They later spent four years in Saudi Arabia and returned to Britain in the mid-1980s.
In all, Mantel published 17 critically acclaimed books, including the novels Every Day Is Mother’s Day, Vacant Possession, Beyond Black, and her memoir Giving Up the Ghost.
In 1990 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature; in 2006 she obtained a CBE and in 2014 a DBE.
Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were adapted for a stage production by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2013, a process in which the author was deeply involved. In 2021, The Mirror & the Light was staged at London’s Gielgud Theatre, adapted by Mantel himself, alongside actor Ben Miles, who also starred.
Many have tweeted tributes to Mantel after her death. Writer and broadcaster Damian Barr said her death is “such a loss”.
“With each book she redefined what words can do,” he tweeted, adding: “She’s the only person I’ve ever interviewed who speaks in whole, flawless paragraphs. I can’t believe we don’t have another book by her.” will get.”
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “It is impossible to overstate the significance of the literary legacy Hilary Mantel leaves behind. Her brilliant Wolf Hall trilogy was the culmination of an outstanding body of work. Rest in peace.”
Mantel’s long-term editor Nicholas Pearson said the news of her death was “devastating”.
“Hilary had a unique view of the world – she took it apart and revealed how it works in both her contemporary and historical novels – each book an unforgettable weave of luminous sentences, unforgettable characters and remarkable insight. She seemed to know everything,” he said. “She was critically admired for a long time, but the Wolf Hall trilogy found her the huge readership she long deserved.”
Mantel was not only exceptionally talented, but also “a pleasure to work with,” according to Pearson. “Just last month I sat with her on a sunny afternoon in Devon as she excitedly talked about the new novel she had begun. It is unbearable that we will no longer enjoy her words. What we do have is a body of work that will be read for generations. We should be grateful for that.”