Dame Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall author dies 'suddenly' aged 70
J K Rowling and Bernardine Evaristo were among the leading British authors who paid tribute to the “massive talent” of Dame Hilary.
The British writer was best known for The Wolf Hall trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, which brought international acclaim and won two Booker Prizes.
Her publisher HarperCollins said in a statement that she died on Thursday surrounded by close family and friends.
Harry Potter author Rowling simply said “we’ve lost a genius” as she paid tribute to the late author on Twitter.
Evaristo, the president of the Royal Society of Literature, said she was “so sorry” to hear the news and that she felt the world had been “so lucky to have such a massive talent in our midst”.
The Booker Prize-winning author added in a public post: “I met her a few times and she was always so warm, down-to-earth and welcoming. RIP #HilaryMantel.”
Publisher HarperCollins said in a statement: “Hilary Mantel was one of the greatest English novelists of this century and her beloved works are considered modern classics. She will be greatly missed.”
Dame Hilary won the Booker Prize first for her 2009 novel Wolf Hall and again for its sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, in 2012.
She concluded her Wolf Hall trilogy in 2020 with the publication of The Mirror & The Light to critical acclaim, winning the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, which she first won for Wolf Hall.
The trilogy, which charts the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell in the court of King Henry VIII, has been translated into 41 languages, with sales of more than five million worldwide.
It was later adapted for the stage and screen, with the Royal Shakespeare Company putting on productions of the first two books in 2013 and in 2021 The Mirror & the Light was staged in London, having been adapted by Dame Hilary, with Ben Miles playing Cromwell.
The BBC also adapted the story into a TV series, which was first broadcast on BBC Two in 2015, starring Sir Mark Rylance as Cromwell.
The series was a critical success and won a string of awards, including three Bafta awards and a Golden Globe.
Dame Hilary also published a number of other novels and short story collections throughout the years, including the Every Day Is Mother’s Day series and a memoir, Giving Up The Ghost, in 2003.
Bill Hamilton, Dame Hilary’s agent at literary agency A.M. Heath, said it had been the “greatest privilege” to work with her throughout her career.
He said: “Her wit, stylistic daring, creative ambition and phenomenal historical insight mark her out as one of the greatest novelists of our time.
“She will be remembered for her enormous generosity to other budding writers, her capacity to electrify a live audience, and the huge array of her journalism and criticism, producing some of the finest commentary on issues and books.
“Emails from Hilary were sprinkled with bon mots and jokes as she observed the world with relish and pounced on the lazy or absurd and nailed cruelty and prejudice.
“There was always a slight aura of otherworldliness about her, as she saw and felt things us ordinary mortals missed, but when she perceived the need for confrontation she would fearlessly go into battle.
“And all of that against the backdrop of chronic health problems, which she dealt with so stoically. We will miss her immeasurably, but as a shining light for writers and readers she leaves an extraordinary legacy. Our thoughts go out to her beloved husband Gerald, family and friends.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also paid tribute, writing: “it is impossible to overstate the significance of the literary legacy Hilary Mantel leaves behind”.
She added: “Her brilliant Wolf Hall trilogy was the crowning achievement in an outstanding body of work. Rest in peace.”
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Oxford theology professor and biographer of Thomas Cromwell, said: “Hilary has reset the historical patterns through the way in which she’s reimagined the man.”
Nicholas Pearson, former Publishing Director of 4th Estate and Dame Hilary’s long-term editor said: “The news of Hilary’s death is devastating to her friends and everyone who worked with her.”
He revealed she had been working on a new book, saying: “Only last month I sat with her on a sunny afternoon in Devon, while she talked excitedly about the new novel she had embarked on.
“That we won’t have the pleasure of any more of her words is unbearable. What we do have is a body of work that will be read for generations. We must be grateful for that. I will miss her and my thoughts are with her husband Gerald.”
He added: “Hilary had a unique outlook on the world – she picked it apart and revealed how it works in both her contemporary and historical novels. Every book an unforgettable weave of luminous sentences, unforgettable characters and remarkable insight. She seemed to know everything.
“For a long time she was critically admired, but The Wolf Hall Trilogy found her the vast readership she long deserved. Read her late books, but read her early books too, which are similarly daring and take the reader to strange places. As a person, Hilary was kind and generous and loving, always a great champion of other writers. She was a joy to work with.”
Born in Derbyshire in 1952, Dame Hilary studied Law at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University.
She worked as a social worker and lived in Botswana and Saudi Arabia before returning to the UK in the mid-1980s.
In 1990, Dame Hilary was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was made a CBE in 2006 and a Dame in 2014.
She leaves her husband geologist Gerald McEwen.
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