Dame Hilary Mantel dies aged 70 leaving behind unfinished novel

·5-min read
Dame Hilary Mantel dies aged 70
Dame Hilary Mantel dies aged 70

Dame Hilary Mantel has died at the age of 70 after suffering a stroke, leaving behind an unfinished historical novel.

The acclaimed author of the Wolf Hall trilogy was regarded as one of the finest writers of her generation.

She spoke last year of plans to return to historical fiction. “I have another novel on the go but it’s too soon to talk about it,” she said, but disclosed that it was set in the 18th century, a period she visited in her 1992 novel, A Place of Greater Safety.

At the time of her death, she was working on a television adaptation of The Mirror and the Light, the final instalment in the trilogy. The first two books were both Booker Prize winners, and the three together sold more than five million copies worldwide.

Dame Hilary and her husband, Gerald McEwan, recently purchased a house in Ireland and were in the process of moving from their home in Budleigh Salterton, Devon.

However, her agent and publisher announced that she had died “suddenly yet peacefully” on Thursday, surrounded by close family and friends. She had a stroke three days earlier.

In a joint statement, they said: “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 had suffered from ill health throughout her adult life, stemming from endometriosis which went undiagnosed for many years.

Dame Hilary - Shutterstock
Dame Hilary - Shutterstock

Bill Hamilton, her agent at AM Heath, said she was an author of “enormous generosity” towards budding writers, who “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 was and felt things us ordinary mortals missed, but when she perceived the need for a confrontation she would fearlessly go into battle,” he said, adding that she dealt stoically with chronic health problems.

Dame Hilary was unafraid of controversy, and in 2013 was criticised for giving a lecture in which she likened the Duchess of Cambridge to “a shop-window mannequin” and “a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung”. She was made a dame two years later.

More recently, she spoke in support of JK Rowling, saying that the attacks on the Harry Potter author over her stance on trans issues were “unjustified and shameful”.

Rowling tweeted upon news of Dame Hilary’s death: “We’ve lost a genius.” Bernardine Evaristo, a fellow Booker Prize-winner and president of the Royal Society of Literature, said: “We were so lucky to have such a massive talent in our midst.”

Ben Miles, who played Thomas Cromwell in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage adaptations of the Wolf Hall novels, also paid tribute.

“She was an extraordinary woman. A good friend and a close colleague. I feel so honoured to have known her and to have contributed in a small way to the work of one of the greatest writers of our time.

“I shall dearly miss her kindness, her humour and her gentle tenacity. The indisputable genius of her words remains as some small consolation to this tragic loss,” Miles said.

Dame Hilary was planning a move to Ireland because she no longer wished to live in the UK post-Brexit. “Much as I love where I live now - in the West Country, by the sea - I feel the need to be packing my bags, and to become a European again,” she said last year.

In her final interview, published two weeks ago in the Financial Times, Dame Hilary was asked if she believed in an afterlife. “Yes,” she replied. “I can’t imagine how it might work. However, the universe is not limited by what I can imagine.”

Hilary Mantel's acclaimed books

She is the author of seventeen acclaimed books including:

  1. Every Day is Mother’s Day

  2. Vacant Possession

  3. Eight Months on Ghazzah Street

  4. Fludd, winner of the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, the Cheltenham Prize and the Southern Arts Literature Prize

  5. A Place of Greater Safety, winner of the Sunday Express Book of the Year award

  6. A Change of Climate

  7. An Experiment in Love, winner of the 1996 Hawthornden Prize

  8. The Giant, O’Brien,

  9. Beyond Black, shortlisted for a 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize and for the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction

  10. Learning to Talk

  11. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

Her non-fiction work includes the memoir Giving up the Ghost - her collected writings from the London Review of Books, Mantel Pieces and most recently The Wolf Hall Picture Book - a photography collaboration between Hilary Mantel, Ben Miles and George Miles.

In 1990 she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, in 2006 awarded a CBE and in 2014 she was appointed DBE.

Dame Hilary was patron of Scene and Heard, a theatrical mentoring project, Governor of RSC and President of the Budleigh Festival.

Tributes to Dame Hilary Mantel

Bill Hamilton, her agent at AM Heath said: "I first met Hilary in 1984 after she sent in the manuscript of Every Day is Mother’s Day.

"It has been the greatest privilege to work with her through the whole of her career, and to see all the elements that made her unique come together spectacularly in The Wolf Hall Trilogy. Her wit, stylistic daring, creative ambition and phenomenal historical insight mark her out as one of the greatest novelists of our time."

Nicholas Pearson, former Publishing Director of 4th Estate and Hilary’s long-term editor said: "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."

Charlie Redmayne, CEO HarperCollins said: "We are so proud that 4th Estate and HarperCollins were Hilary’s publisher, and for such a peerless body of work. A writer to the core, Hilary was one of the greatest of her generation – a serious, fearless novelist with huge empathy for her subjects."