Hilary Mantel, acclaimed historical fiction writer whose sympathetic take on the life of English powerbroker Thomas Cromwell in the “Wolf Hall” trilogy went from page-turners to PBS’ “Masterpiece Theatre,” died Thursday at age 70.
The Man Booker Prize–winning author died “suddenly yet peacefully” while surrounded by close family and friends, publisher HarperCollins told The Associated Press.
The cause of death was a stroke, The New York Times reported, citing her literary agent Bill Hamilton. “She had so many great novels ahead of her,” Hamilton said, adding that Ms. Mantel had been working on one at the time of her death. “It’s just an enormous loss to literature.”
Mantel was considered one of the top modern English novelists, and the first to win the Booker Prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award, twice – for “Wolf Hall” and its sequel, “Bring Up the Bodies.” The final book of the trilogy, “The Mirror and the Light,” was a finalist for the 2020 prize.
The success of the series is credited with helping to recharge interest in historical fiction.
“Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies” were adapted for television by the BBC with Mark Rylance as Cromwell. The first episode premiered on PBS in April 2015 and now streams on Amazon Prime.
Rylance shared news of Mantel’s death on Twitter, but did not issue a statement.
“Her beloved works are considered modern classics,” Harper Collins said in a statement. “She will be greatly missed.”
Born Hilary Mary Thomspon in Derbyshire, England, Mantel studied law at Sheffield University but abandoned her education because she couldn’t afford to finish. She briefly worked as a social worker in a geriatric hospital, an experience that was reflected in her first published novel, “Every Day Is Mother’s Day” in 1985 and her second, “Vacant Possession” in 1986.
In 1977, she moved to Botswana with her husband, a geologist. In 1982 they lived in Saudi Arabia, where she would set her third novel, “Eight Months on Ghazzah Street.” She continued writing well received but modestly successful novels throughout the 1990s, winning a variety of literary prizes along the way.
Her popularity soared with the 2009 publication of “Wolf Hall,” and the subsequent adaptations.
“I’m very keen on the idea that a historical novel should be written pointing forward,” she told The AP in 2009. “Remember that the people you are following didn’t know the end of their own story. So they were going forward day by day, pushed and jostled by circumstances, doing the best they could, but walking in the dark, essentially.”
Outspoken politically and an opponent of Brexit, Mantel drew criticism from the British press and politicians in 2013 when she referred to Kate Middleton, the wife of Prince William, as a “shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own.” She later said she was referring to a view of then duchess constructed by the press and public opinion, not her the woman herself.
Mantel lived with chronic pain for much of her life, reports said, and had no children. She is survived by her husband, Gerald McEwen.